Head to the cooler climes of northern Thailand and the pretty hillside retreat of Karma Royal Bella Vista on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. Here are seven activities Thailand’s northern capital has to offer visitors that won’t cost you a penny!
Learn mindfulness from monks
You don’t need to commit to a 10-day silent retreat to kick start your meditation practice. Head to the Wat Sri Gerd temple on a Monday at 3pm and get a 101 on Buddhist style meditation that you can hopefully turn into a daily practice! It’s free – but it’s always nice to leave a donation!
Thailand is famous for its elaborate temples with their iconic Chedi bell towers typically covered in gold leaf, multiple tiered roofs and elaborately carved walls and friezes. There are scores of beautiful temples in Chiang Mai – most of them free to visit. Check out Wat Umong, Wat Lok Moli and Wat Chiang Man for a start!
Browse for curios at JJ Market
Just north of the Old Town, Jing Jai aka JJ Market is like Bangkok’s famous Chatuchak – expect relaxed, unhurried and with ample room to move about and explore the many stalls. You’ll find a cornucopia of goodies from plants to fashions to spirit houses – and yes, all kinds of curios and antiques too…open from 10am till 6pm each day.
Hang out riverside
Chiang Mai’s Mae Ping River offers a number of attractions – head to the riverside Warorot Market that serves a bewildering variety of foodstuffs. Or for a fully laid back experience, make your way to the Narawat Bridge area, where there a number of spots to relax and watch the day’s traffic passing by and the lights changing on three different bridges.
Consult a Bhikku
Have a question about the nature of reality? Want to get something off your chest? Or simply interested in Thai theravadan Buddhism? Many Chiang Mai temples – including Wat Srisuphan – offer the opportunity to have a chat with one of the monks. About whatever’s on your mind, really!
Head for the Hills!
You’re missing out if you don’t make it out of the city and into the surrounding foothills – the countryside around Chiang Mai is truly beautiful. Doi Inthanon is Thaialand’s highest mountain and it’s easy to explore its many trails on a day trip out of Chiang Mai. Some require guides, but not all.
Discover indigenous cultures at the hill tribe museum
Chiang Mai’s mountainous surroundings are home to seven indigenous groups – including the Hmong, Karen, Lasu and Akha – who migrated to northern Thailand from other parts of the region. Learn more about their unique cultures at this free ethnographic museum.