Before arriving to Chiang Mai, I expected it to be a budget-backpacker paradise. For years I’ve been hearing (and reading) about how affordable it is to live in Thailand, and Chiang Mai in particular. However, I also found the city to be luxurious, too. My personal travel style is one that bridges the gap between the two.

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I’m all about saving money but I also can’t resist a relaxing massage or a few hours by the pool. Luckily, Chiang Mai gives travelers many options, thus allowing you to save and splurge. Here are five ways to travel like a bohemian backpacker and pamper yourself like a posh princess.

Budget Travel Guide to Chiang Mai

Where to Shop

Normally, I wouldn’t recommend visiting a busy city on a weekend, Chiang Mai is an exception to that rule. Why? Well, during the 48 hours I was there, I managed to visit three major markets. On Saturday, head to Wua Lai Road (located opposite Chiang Mai Gate) anywhere from late afternoon until midnight. My flight landed Saturday in the evening so I reached the market around 8pm and it was in full swing. Shop for everything from street food to crafty souvenirs. The next night, I swung by the Night Bazaar before shopping at the famous Sunday market along Rachadamnoen Road. The Night Bazaar is open every night of the week so if you are in town for the weekend, skip it and go straight to the Rachadamnoen Road. Many items are made locally and prices are usually negotiable.

Boho-Luxe Guide to Chiang Mai

Where to Eat/Drink

I also recommend eating and drinking at markets mentioned above. I was really impressed by how tasty (and cheap!) the street food is, especially because there is so much competition at the markets. During the day, there are several restaurants and stalls set up along Rachadamnoen Road. Since there are so many temples within close proximity, you never have to go out of your way for a good meal. Alternatively, upscale hotels offer high-quality food, too. I ate my breakfasts (free with hotel stay) and dinner on my first night and was perfectly fine paying a little extra cash. When you’re tired and hungry, convenience is key. In terms of what to ear, that’s the fun part! One of my favorite dishes was the Khao soi, a northern specialty with spicy coconut curry, chicken and noodles.

food guide to Chiang Mai

Where to Sleep

My two-night stay at the Rachamankha is what dreams are made of (pun intended!) Flight Centre Hong Kong knew that I gravitated toward boutique hotels that are centrally located. This is super important if you’re only in town for a few days. Because the Rachamankha is located within the walled city, it made sightseeing so much easier. The first thing I noticed about the property is that it is so quiet. Considering the main road is two blocks away, this is surprising. That, plus the spacious pool instantly put me at ease. Architect Ong-ard Satrabhandhu aimed to bridge the gap between tradition and modernity, with decor celebrating Lanna historical heritage. While I highly recommend the Rachamankha, here are a few more options that look equally enticing.

boutique hotels in Chiant Mai

Image: Facebook/Rachamankha (lightly edited)

Spas and Wellness

With so much walking around and temple visits (more on that in a later post!) you’re bound to need a breather. Instead of walking into one of hundreds of little spas scattered throughout Chiang Mai, I went the lazy route and booked a massage through my hotel. If you are on a tight budget, you’ll have no trouble finding a cheap (I’m talking like $5) hour-long foot or Thai massage. That said, ambiance can sometimes make or break your experience and even though my treatment cost significantly more than local joints, the serenity of the space instantly put me in a relaxed mood. For travelers on a tighter schedule than me, you can actually get a foot massage at the night markets. Sure, it’s not the most scenic backdrop but it’s right int he heart of all the action.

Thai massage treatments

What’s the best weekend getaway you’ve taken? Tell me in the comments below!

My flights were provided by Flight Centre Hong Kong. I was a guest at the Rachamankha during my stay. All opinions are my own. 

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