Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Wed February 24 2016

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  • Shannon Wolf | February 24, 2016 9:00 PM ET

    The Best of Chiang Mai for the Budget Traveler

    The Best of Chiang Mai for the Budget Traveler

    PHOTO: Chiang Mai’s lantern festival was one of the best nights of my life — add this to your bucket list! (photos by Shannon Wolf)

    You’ve probably heard of Chiang Mai before, as it hosts the biggest and most beautiful lantern festival every November called Yee Peng (also known as Loi Krathong) and is home to a large group of digital nomad, artists and retirees.

    The city is a great place to explore by scooter and if you plan to stay for a few days, stay for a week and make it a priority to experience Yee Peng!

    Chiang Mai is full of affordable and delicious vegetarian options as well as healthy Thai food, beautiful and cheap markets for shopping, an endless supply of kitschy coffee shops with excellent Wi-Fi and funky bars with like minded people making you feel instantly at home.

    Getting Here:

    You have the option of either taking a train or bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai with overnight being your best bet as you save on accommodation.

    READ MORE: Thailand’s Islands on the Andaman Sea: A Backpacker’s Take


    Journey Time: 12-15 hours

    Fares: Trains can range from 300 baht for a 3rd class seat (expect not to sleep well) as high as 1,350 baht for a first class sleeper. Most backpackers will take the 2nd class as it is a bit comfier for such a long journey.

    Note: The trains always have their lights on, it’s cold and loud so pack ear plugs, a blanket/sarong and an eye mask.


    Journey Time: 10-12 Hours

    Fares: Overnight buses range from 200 to 700 baht depending on if you want a basic charter bus or VIP which gives you more leg room, comfier seats, pillows and blankets.

    Note: All buses give you snacks on board so you don’t need to buy much for the journey (especially on VIP).

    Money Saving Tip: Get a bus to Bangkok by showing up to the station on the day for a cheaper price (nearly 100-200 baht cheaper).

    Best Accommodation: RockPresso House (120 baht a dorm)


    • Free coffee

    • Comfortable dorm beds/small blankets/fan

    • Friendly staff

    Worst Accommodation: Bunchun

    Although this hostel is cheap and the people who stay here are great, when we were there, they had bedbugs and the beds were like sleeping on a brick.

    PHOTO: See a hilarious and fun cabaret show performed by some talented ladyboys.


    BEST Vegetarian Food:

    • Dada Kafe: Relaxed atmosphere with delicious smoothies and huge salads.

    • Blue Diamond: Tons of gluten-free and vegan dishes.

    • Khun Churn Thai Vegetarian Cuisine: Best vegetarian buffet for 169 baht.

    BEST Thai Curries:

    • Lemongrass: Whether you try the green curry, yellow curry or any of the curries here — you won't be disappointed.

    • Cooking Love: Mango curry and Young Coconut curry are to die for.

    Cheapest Eats:

    For the cheapest food, head to the night-market for great produce.

    READ MORE: Anantara Adds Bangkok and Chiang Mai

    Must Do’s:

    • Spend the day at an ethical elephant sanctuary called “Happy Elephant” where you get to play with incredible friendly giants.

    • Go cliff jumping at Chiang Mai Canyon (50 baht entrance fee with free drink).

    PHOTO: Get your adrenaline pumping by cliff jumping at the canyon.

    • Get a massage from ex-convicts for 200 baht.

    • Rent a bicycle for 40 baht a day and cycle to all of the temples (Note: careful of the roads as dirt paths are slippery).

    • Attend one of the many fun cooking classes in Chiang Mai.

    • Like beer? From 6:30-9:30 p.m. head to Club Corner for an all you can drink beer buffet!

    • Attend a free meditation retreat at Wat Umong for a week.

    • Head to Ansuarn Market and watch the ladyboy Cabaret! (so much fun!)

    • Feast at the food stalls: Chang Puak (north) and Chiang Mai (south) Gates.

    • Head to Wat Chedi Luang for the opportunity to chat with monks.

    • Climb the Bua Tong Waterfalls.

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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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