The cool weather in Chiang Mai offers a pleasant setting to explore the wonders of northern Thailand. Once upon a time, this region was the Lanna Kingdom. Ancient brick walls and centuries-old moats still surround the old area of the city.
Part of the magic of Chiang Mai is just to wander, stopping for a leisurely photo session in front of ancient ramparts, a quick meal of noodle soup, a refreshing fruit smoothie, popping into a serene temple compound and admiring the monuments, shopping streetside vendors for hill tribe souvenirs.
Beyond the wonderful wandering are several must-see experiences for families. See our Top 6 Highlights for Chiang Mai Family Holidays below:
Panda cub Lin Ping has been a national star in Thailand since her birth in 2009. In fact, the country even has a 24-hour TV channel devoted to nothing except streaming video of Lin Ping in the panda environment at the Chiang Mai Zoo.
Visit Lin Ping and her mommy and daddy and stop by to see other residents of the Chiang Mai Zoo, from white tigers, another highlight of the zoo, to the monkey islands and free-flight aviary full of tropical birds that you can get up close and personal with.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is a famous Chiang Mai shopping extravaganza. Fun, relaxed and casual, every visitor to Chiang Mai makes it to the night market. Pick up your choice of local handicrafts, Thai silks, cute wood carvings and toys, and souvenir t-shirts, while dining on local snacks and sweets.
The Night Bazaar is located along Chang Klang Road. As it’s a big attraction for tourists and locals alike, you will have no problem finding it!
Another fun shopping experience is the weekly Saturday night and Sunday night shopping streets. If you’re here on the weekend, make sure to be there! These are great opportunity to buy more local Chiang Mai style crafts, as the selection is even more picturesque and authentically Lanna Thai. The best of these two days is the Sunday Walking Street on Ratchadamnoen Road. It’s fantastic! The Saturday night market on Wualai Street is also quite nice.
Elephant Owner for a Day
Learn to care for an elephant! The Patara Elephant Farm is a responsible tourism initiative caring for rescued Asian elephants and supporting conservation efforts through a dedicated breeding program. The unique Elephant Owner for a Day experience teaches you and your family how to care for an elephant – bathing and brushing the gentle creature, learning elephant commands, taking the elephants for a swim, going on an elephant-back trek to a local waterfall or temple.
The cost for this amazing experience is 5,800 baht/person. Staff will pick your family up from your hotel early in the morning and take you to the Patara Elephant Farm in the Hang Dong Valley, 30 minutes south of Chiang Mai. Then enjoy an unforgettable day together with the gentle giants.
Family Hill Tribe Visit
Many families and other tourists to Chiang Mai say one of their favorite parts of the trip was a visit to one of the many Hill Tribe villages located in the mountains that surround Chiang Mai and extend north, west and east towards both Burma and Laos.
Trips may include overnight stays or even trekking and rafting excursions or may simply be a day trip. Local travel agencies all over Chiang Mai city offer a variety of hill tribe tours. Some of these hill tribes have lived in Thailand for centuries, other villages are populated by refugees from Burma.
Like ethnic minorities in many countries, Thailand’s hill tribes often face numerous difficulties with legal and citizenship problems, access to education and healthcare and making a living. To be sure that your visit is supporting the local hilltribe communities directly, make sure to purchase some souvenirs directly from the villagers during your time with them.
A close encounter of the wild kind! Watch a baby tiger cub play – or even play with it! Tiger Kingdom offers you the rare opportunity to interact with tigers, to feel them, pet them, and see these giant cats closer than you ever have before.
Tons of family travellers rave about their amazing experiences at Tiger Kingdom. As part of the experience, staff will take dozens or sometimes hundreds of photos of you, your children, and the striped cats, and you may purchase these at the end of your visit. Well worth it for the memories!
Note: Some travellers claim that the tigers have been drugged to be more docile. While I can’t claim to know the behind-the-scenes working of Tiger Kingdom, I doubt this is true, as do many visitors who come first hand. Tigers are nocturnal creatures and naturally sluggish during the day. And when the keepers bring out the toys and engage the tigers in play, they typically become much more animated and full of energy. Such claims of tiger drugging are old news in Thailand, where backpacking tourists have long whispered similar things about the famous Tiger Monastery in Kanchanaburi province. The tigers at Tiger Kingdom look healthy, happy and well cared for, and by and large, families LOVE their experiences here.
Break through the mist as you travel up the slopes of Doi Suthep to visit the famed temple Wat Phra That Doi Suthep with its shining architecture and magnificent views. The mountain, located a short 16 km drive from Chiang Mai, is a must-do excursion during your time in northern Thailand. In fact, it houses one of Thailand’s most sacred temples.
Near the summit of the mountain you will find a long staircase, 306 stairs to be exact, with banisters sculpted in the form of nagas, mythical dragons. Climb the staircase or take a tram to the top. Here you will find a shimmering golden chedi, or sculpted Buddhist tower-monument said to contain relics of Lord Buddha. Magnificent Buddha statues and other sculptures surround the chedi, shining in the sunlight.
Trips to Doi Suthep can easily be arranged on the ground by travel agents, often with a few other sights and stops built in. Alternatively, you can travel there and back on Chiang Mai’s local red trucks. The main departure point is in front of Chiang Mai University at the end of Huay Kaew Road.