Chennai for the budget traveller

Sudhish Kamath lists out a few options for those who want to get the most out of the metropolis without burning a hole in the pocket. Illustrations by Satwick Gade.

The city can expect a surge in tourist traffic, what with The New York Times listing it among the must-see places of 2014.

Premium Hotels
$50-$100; Budget Hotels: $20-$40; Lodges: $10

Do NOT book a hotel until the day before your arrival. Chennai has enough hotel rooms waiting to be given away at throwaway prices as last minute deals. Go to to find four-star hotel rooms for less than $50 and five star rooms for less than $100. Pick ones that seem about 10-15 kilometres from both the airport and the railway station (they are at two different ends of the city and about 21 kilometres apart) to ensure you have found accommodation right at the heart of the city. If you are willing to slum it out, you will find unlisted lodges for $10-$15 on arrival in Triplicane.

$2/five km.; Autorickshaws: $1/five km.

Call taxis charge Rs.100 for four km. and around Rs.18 for extra km. (approximately twice as much when you book a prepaid cab from the airport to the city). You can’t call for a cab all the time, so just wave when you see the yellow three-wheeler Chennai loves to hate. Insist on the meter. will help you calculate distance to your destination.

SIM card

Pick up a local SIM card with a starter pack (usually about a $1 ) and you will need to recharge it with talk time for another $2 to last you for a week. All you would need is identity proof and a photograph. Activate internet if not enabled. Now you are ready to explore the city, thanks to Google Maps.

Breakfast: $1; Lunch: $2; Dinner: $3

Head to the nearest Saravana Bhavan, Sangeetha or Murugan Idli Kadai. You didn’t come all the way to eat McDonalds, KFC or Subway. Besides, none of those places open as early as the local joints. Start your day with the typical Chennai breakfast: idli-vada-pongal served with an assortment of chutneys and sambar. Or a masala dosa. Eat with your hands for the local experience. Finish off with a filter coffee.

Try the Unlimited meals around lunch for about $2. The mini tiffin is a personal favourite.

For the authentic Chennai dinner experience, head to Buhari’s on Anna Salai that takes orders till as late as 1.45 a.m. (last order)

Movie ticket

Catch a local Tamil movie at Escape in Express Avenue Mall. It is the most economical top quality movie watching experience you will get anywhere in the world. The tickets are priced at less than $2 and the multiplexes here are state of the art.

Train ride by the beach
Less than 10 cents

You might find the beach a little too crowded if you are an outsider. But take a joyride on the MRTS line (the elevated local train line that runs parallel to the beach) to get a bird’s eye view of the second longest beach in the world… A ticket from Madras Beach to Lighthouse would cost you Rs. 5. Take a round trip for Rs. 10.

Less than 50 cents

Don’t leave town before you try out the sandwich at the Balaji Sandwich Stall, outside Alsa Mall where you get the best Cheese Omelette sandwiches. (Rs.30 – That’s two sandwiches for a dollar!) They also have a wide range of sandwiches made with their specialty spicy mint chutney. You won’t be able to stop with just one.

Fruit Juice
50 cents-$2

The Fruit Shop on Greams Road is another unique taste of Chennai. Fresh fruit juice with a twist. Most of their signature juices are a blend of fruits. One of the healthiest drinks you can get in this town. Though this originated on Greams Road, you will find branches around the city. Lest you be confused, all of them are called Fruit Shop on Greams Road.


Since you’ve saved enough money eating, it’s time to hit the pubs. Illusions – The Madras Pub, on Radhakrishnan Salai, is where you want to start. Their cocktails are priced at less than $5. If you find the crowd a little too young for your taste, you might want to try Zara’s Tapas Bar, also on Radhakrishnan Salai.

Friends for life

Drop by Amethyst or Anokhi and sit with a book. Or Lloyds Tea House if you prefer tea. You’re bound to make friends.

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 6:47:46 PM |

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