When I came to Thailand, I knew things would be cheap.  Exactly how cheap, I could not have predicted.  Here’s a guide to a fun day out in Chiang Mai that won’t break your wallet.

1. Breakfast

Breakfast has always been important to me, and the quickest place to grab food is the 7 Eleven right outside my apartment building.  My go-to meal is a Thai custard bun and a fruit juice.  Together, this costs around 35 Baht, or a little over $1.  After this, I’m ready to go until lunchtime, though snacking on street food often occurs.  There are many cafes and bakeries within walking distance, so there’s no lack of options.

2.  Transportation

While taxis and public transportation are the norm in big American cities, the easiest way to get around in Chiang Mai are songthaews or tuk-tuks, both of which were completely new to me when I arrived.  Songthaews (literally “two rows” in Thai) are red trucks with two rows of parallel seating in the back and can hold you and up to 9 or so of your friends.  Tuk-tuks are small motorbikes with seats attached to the back, typically hold 3 people, and are a little more expensive.  If you know how to bargain, a songthaew ride can cost as little as 10 Baht, approximately $0.30.  (Of course, drivers often try to take advantage of tourists.  Knowing a little Thai also never hurts.)  Assuming 4 Songthaew rides at 20 Baht each ride, that’s 80 Baht, or around $2.50.

A Songthaew dropping the TEAN Thailand group off at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a famous temple in Chiang Mai

3.  Chiang Mai Zoo

Just one of the many attractions in Chiang Mai, the zoo is a 45-minute walk from the apartment building but could have just as easily been a quick songthaew ride.  Spread out over a huge area, the zoo has tons of exhibits.  It costs 150 Baht (around $5) to get into the zoo itself, and the aquarium and panda exhibit cost a little more.  Walking around is a workout because it’s built on a hill, but it’s worth the sweat.  Many of the natural trees and plants were left alone during construction, so there’s a cool jungle feel to the whole place.

A baby hippo with its family

4.  Walk through Campus

The one thing I’ve always wished my home university had more of is green.  Here at Chiang Mai University, there is plenty.  The campus is huge, almost a self-contained mini-city.  Luckily, it’s not just all academic buildings and residence halls.  So far, I’ve seen two gardens, soccer fields, basketball courts, two festivals, and a lake with stunning mountain scenery behind it.  There’s even a nightly market right outside the gates where students like to eat and shop.  Whether you decide to take the free university shuttle or walk, there’s plenty to see and explore.  On a hot day, I recommend a cold Thai tea, which costs 30 Baht (less than $1) for a generously sized cup.

This beautiful lake on campus is a popular location for graduating students to take photos in their gowns

5. Lunch and Dinner

For lunch and dinner, I’ve never been so inundated with options, and could write an entire post about Chiang Mai’s food scene (and may do so at some point).  The walk from my apartment to the main road alone provides at least 10 dining establishments, and the main road itself is lined with 50 or more food carts in addition to a plethora of restaurants, serving everything from Thai food to American.  The “trendy” area of town, a short drive from campus, provides even more options including Italian and Sushi.  A very expensive meal costs no more than $6, and a typical one costs much less.

Chad Stein  is a student at the University of Pittsburgh and a TEAN Featured Blogger. Chad is currently studying abroad with TEAN on the Thailand/Vietnam semester program.