Planning a trip up north with the family? Check out BKK Kids’ top 20 activities for enjoying Chiang Mai with kids.
1. Take flight over the treetops
Glide over the rainforest canopy on zip lines! There are several companies that offer this unique family-friendly activity, including Flight of the Gibbon, with day trips that include lunch/dinner and other adventures, such as abseiling, sky boards and sky bridges. Daring kids, ages 4 and up, will especially love to soar above the jungle.
2. Meet the gentle giants
Chiang Mai features many elephant parks, treks and shows, and the Elephant Nature Park offers an amazing (and more ethical) experience of getting up close with these wonderful creatures, many of which have been rescued and rehabilitated. Here, you can feed elephants, wash them in the river and just spend the day hanging out. The park is about 60 kilometres outside the city. Advance bookings are required.
3. Partake in 3D fun
Immerse yourselves (literally) in 3D works of art at Art in Paradise. Located in town on Changklan Road, the museum’s range of life-size backdrops allow you to have fun in different scenarios, from being encased in an hour glass and scaling cliffs to embarking on underwater adventures.
4. Ascend Doi Suthep
You cannot visit Chiang Mai without climbing the 300-some steps to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a temple with a golden spire, beautiful architectural features, historic murals, intriguing shrines and expansive city views, on the 1,600-metre high Doi Suthep. The Naga serpent staircase may interest kids, encouraging them to climb all the way to the top. There is a small cable car too, for those who cannot make the climb and/or have small children in tow.
5. See Thailand’s panda celebrities
At the foot of Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai Zoo houses Thailand’s only giant panda family, which has enjoyed the limelight with the birth of Lin Ping in 2009. This beloved baby has returned to China to find a mate, but her parents Lin Hui and Chuang Chuang remain. The zoo is hilly, and shuttle buses loop the expansive grounds. The facilities are somewhat rundown, but kids will nevertheless enjoy seeing the animals.
6. Get an adrenaline rush
For those with fearless children and teens, Chiang Mai X-Centre offers a one-stop shop for heart-pounding activities, such as road trail biking, ATV tours, indoor drifter karts, xorb balls, bungy jumping and paint ball. Located in Mae Rim, a half hour drive from the city centre, the X-Centre promises a day of extreme fun!
7. Explore a bug’s life
Some of the inhabitants of the Siam Insect Zoo in Mae Rim might make your skin crawl, but it offers a fascinating (and very close) look at a variety of insects, including moths, butterflies, stick insects, beetles and scorpions. Explore a small butterfly enclosure and watch cocoons hatch, dig for squirmy beetle larvae, and check out exhibits featuring thousands of pinned insects.
8. Make (poo poo) paper
Be eco-friendly and recycle elephant poop into paper – the Poo Poo Paper Park in Mae Rim makes this a fun and educational (and non-disgusting) experience. Take a self-guided tour in a lovely outdoor space that encompasses a well-maintained park, fish pond, café, shop, fibre cleaning and pulp processing stations, and a crafts table, where kids can make their own poo poo paper creations.
9. See creatures after dark
About 12 kilometres from the city centre, the Night Safari offers the chance to see nocturnal animals, including predators (which are safely kept at a distance) on the prowl. Arrive around 4pm so the children can go on a 1-kilometre walking trail around the lake, where they can explore the grounds and see free roaming animals, such as cranes and rabbits.
10. Dine amid natural splendour
Seek out the Pongyang Ang Doi Resort on Mae Rim-Samoeng Road, about a half hour drive from the city centre, and head to its open air cliff-side restaurant. The food is good, with lots of kid-friendly choices and quintessential Northern dishes, but most people come for the fantastic views of jungle-covered mountains and a roaring waterfall.
11. Tour the tunnel temple
At the foot of Doi Suthep lies Wat Umong (or ‘tunnel temple’), one of Chiang Mai’s more unusual temples, set in tranquil, forested grounds. A series of mysterious underground passageways will captivate children. You can also walk around the premises, which are peppered with signs bearing moral teachings, and visit the lake to feed resident catfish and turtles.
12. Ride the rapids
During the rainy season from August to October, the rivers swell and become raging whitewaters. From July to March, Siam River Adventures operates full or multiple day whitewater rafting tours on the Mae Taeng River through lush, mountainous landscape. Adventurous families with teens will enjoy the challenge of paddling their way through grade 3 and 4 rapids.
13. Climb up a waterfall
About an hour’s drive out of town and into the mountains, Bua Tong Waterfall and Rainbow Spring Forest Park is a little seen gem. Amenities of the park include an open grass area, a bathroom and a refreshment stand. The main attractions are the unusual horsetail falls, where water flows over tiers of porous limestone. This imparts an almost sticky feel (and thus great traction), making them easy for children, including older toddlers, to climb. Kids will also enjoy playing in the water amidst lovely scenery, including lots of birds and butterflies.
14. Go biking
Join one of several great biking tours of Chiang Mai with Recreational Chiang Mai Biking, and zip past rice paddies, temples, handicraft villages and more. Standard rides are suitable for kids 12 and older; for those with younger children, the company can arrange a private tour, which will be more flexible and tailored to the little ones’ needs. From urban to rural tours, each trip includes a guide, drinks, snacks and a stop for lunch along the way.
15. Unwind at the park
Needing some green space in the city? Seek out Suan Buak Hat park, located in the southwest corner of the old town at the corner of Bumrung Buri and Bunreuang moat roads. While tiny, the park offers a nice break from the bustling streets, with small ponds (and fish to feed), bridges, lawns for picnicking and a playground for kids to expend some energy.
16. Be on top of the world
Take an easy day trip to Doi Intanon, the highest point in Thailand, at 2,565 metres (8,415 feet) above sea level. It is relatively cold up top, around 10 to 12 degrees Celsius at mid-day, so prepare some warm clothing. You can drive there yourselves, hire a car and driver, or join a mini-bus tour. The latter typically includes visits to the peak, two waterfalls, twin stupas, a royal development project and a Karen hilltribe village. The road is winding, so if anyone in the family is prone to motion sickness, prepare accordingly.
17. Stroll around Saturday Walking Street
From around 4pm to 10pm, the Saturday Walking Street on Wualai Road features plenty of local colour and character, with street food, artwork, souvenirs and more offered for sale. Wualai Road also encompasses the city’s old silver-making guild, and traditional workshops still exist. This walking street is less busy than the Tapae Sunday Walking Street down Ratchadamnoen Road; nevertheless, come early to avoid crowds.
18. Meet water buffalo
Visit the stunning Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai in Mae Rim, and meet Tong and Tone, the resort’s friendly resident water buffaloes, one of which is an albino. Take a break and enjoy a leisurely lunch or afternoon snack overlooking the hotel’s verdant rice paddies. Alternately, for an authentic feel for rural life in northern Thailand, check out the Sanpatong Saturday morning water buffalo market on Hang Dong Road, about 30 kilometres south of the city. Get there by 7am to witness the farmers in action.
19. Go shopping
Chiang Mai offers several interesting shopping venues, including Think Park, located on the corner of Rinkham Junction at the beginning of Nimmanhaemin Road. There are indie stores selling clothing and crafts, as well as several hip eateries and cafés. For a more unconventional experience, visit Baan Khang Wat, opposite Wat Ram Poeng, in Soi Wat Umong. Here, ten wood and concrete buildings house a book shop, library, DIY craft studio, café, ceramic store and more – all socially-minded enterprises that return a portion of their proceeds to society.
20. Visit eateries of “Note”
Udom “Note” Taepanich, a popular stand-up comedian, has opened a fun eatery, called Local Café, in Think Park. You can’t miss this venue – it’s the glass-enclosed space with the giant bronze cat sculpture out front. The fare is Northern Thai-Japanese fusion, with both savoury and sweet options. Also, Note operates iberry, an ice cream café on Nimmanhaemin Soi 17, which is a hit with kids for its delicious ice cream and frappes, and whimsical décor. You can walk around the small garden and check out Note statues and odd furniture.