In this post we will be sharing with you, our wonderful readers, the best things to do in Chiang Mai for families. If you are planning a visit to Thailand (then you are one very lucky person), don’t skip Chiang Mai. In our opinion, Chiang Mai is one of the best areas in all of Thailand!
Chiang Mai is a province 700 km (435 miles) north of Bangkok. It is a region very much worth exploring and we loved our time there. It is easy peasy to catch an hour and 15 minutes non-stop flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. We flew on Bangkok Air.
See our Highlights of Bangkok Three Day Itinerary here!
Chiang Mai is known as the Rose of the North and we could not agree more. Northern Thailand is characterized by green forested mountains, where elephants are still being used in forest management. This region is home to many colorful hill tribe people. Chiang Mai is the principal city of the north and a good place from which to explore and discover this magical and mystical region of Thailand. Interestingly enough, many of the worthwhile sights are located outside of the city, but we will include them all here. When you plan your family vacation in Asia, we highly recommend making this trip!
The 6 Best Things to do in Chiang Mai for Families
1.Visit Doi Inthanon National Park
Allow a full day
South of Chiang Mai about 90 kilometers (56 miles)
One of the best things to do while in Chiang Mai is to get up early and get outside of the city and explore the most famous National Park in the area; Doi Inthanon. The park is located in the highest mountain in Thailand and is 2565 meters (8415 feet) above sea level. This national park is a paradise of forests, glittering waterfalls and is dotted with ancient temples. You can explore to your heart’s content.
Visit the Hill Tribe Villages within Doi Inthanon
Within Doi Inthanon are many hill tribe villages that survive on subsistence farming. We wandered through a little village inhabited by the Karen. Small houses were built on stilts, dogs and cats ran free and the villagers were hard at work farming their crops. It was like a little community with everything they needed for survival. We passed a small room where women were weaving traditional clothing and nearby children played outside the one-room schoolhouse. They greeted us fondly and we sat down to visit and sing with them.
After our village visit, a “trek leader” from the village escorted us on a hike through lush valleys with shimmering streams and trees covered with lichens and orchids. We eventually came to two waterfalls that were equally beautiful and empty. A few other people were there but not many. What a refreshing change. The highlight of our hike was when we came upon a large green viper curled up on a branch in a tree maybe 10 feet from the trail. We observed her for awhile and she was a stunner. We were so excited to have spotted her. Rare birds are also seen along the way.
Many companies provide day excursions to Doi Inthanon. Check on Trip Advisor for possible options for your family. Make sure the hiking etc. is age appropriate for your children. Beckham (age 4) ended up needing to be carried quite a bit of the way, but we all had a fabulous time!
2. Take a Thai Cooking Class
Allow 4 hours
Several minute walk from the Chiang Mai City Center
Raise your hand if you love Thai food!!! Me, me, me. May we suggest that one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai for families is to take a cooking class. There are many companies right inside the city who offer cooking classes! We went to Baan Thai.
We started the evening by going with a guide from the school to the local food market to learn more about traditional Thai ingredients. Our guide was funny, engaging and accommodating. He taught us many words in Thai. A few of the veggies had words in Thai that sounded A LOT like some serious profanities in English!! My older children thought that was so funny, and my 4-year-old grandson was clueless to it all. Haha!! Good thing.
After our market visit, we were driven back to the school where we learned to prep and prepare several dishes including fried rice, coconut soup, papaya salad, and green curry. It was a menu that we had chosen beforehand. We ate our finished dishes as our dinner. Having never prepared Thai food before, we were very proud of ourselves. It was a fun family night. BUT be prepared for tight cooking quarters and it was a bit toasty in the kitchens. In the end, you get to eat all of your yummy food and get a recipe book to take home with you.
3. Be an Elephant Caretaker for a Day at an Elephant Sanctuary or Farm
Allow a full day
Patara Elephant Farm is 39 km (24 miles) from Chiang Mai
A visit to an elephant farm is a must do for many families. There are different ones located throughout the region and our Thai guide told us this one was his favorite. There is much controversy over the treatment of elephants in Thailand and we did our very best to research and pick the best option for our family. We ended up visiting the Patara Elephant Farm. This was also the location that was recommended to us by an American tour company that we really respect and trust. You will want to do your own research and pick what elephant sanctuary (if any) that you feel good about and choose what works best for your group.
What this entails
We started our day by observing a few elephants just eating and milling about. There were two Mama elephants with young babies. One of them was only 8 days old and so little and so cute. She was still wobbly on her feet and she kept nursing from her Mom. The other was a month old and still so little and cute. We loved just watching them and petting them. The Mama’s were busy eating and didn’t mind us giving their newborns a little love by petting them and talking to them:). We took a lot of pictures.
After we were given detailed instructions about what the day would entail we set off to become elephant caretakers for the day. We were each assigned an elephant to care for and get to know for the day. Our duties included feeding them, learning how to communicate with them, guide them and bathe them.
Each of the elephants had their own distinct personality and my daughter Savannah was assigned to a Mama and her 9-month-old baby girl. That little baby elephant had a serious attitude and was full of sass. When Savannah would rub her in a way she didn’t like (or do anything she didn’t like, HAHA) she would either kick Savannah (don’t worry, it didn’t hurt) or give her a firm headbutt! It was so cute and funny to see.
This was a real highlight for us and was the absolute favorite for the little four-year-old in our group!!!
*Patara does allow a bareback ride at the end of the experience. Some members of our group chose not to ride while some of our group did. Like mentioned above, do your research and find out what you feel comfortable with and choose what is best for your family.
*Click here to preview our Chiang Mai coloring page for kids!
4. Visit The Night Market
Allow 2 hours
Anusam Market is within the Chiang Mai City Center
Okay, some say it’s touristy and it might be a little but it’s still something you must experience. Whether it is this one or another in Chiang Mai-your kids will love it. There are many small stalls with artisans selling their wares; anything from handmade greeting cards to jewelry, to giant Buddha statues. You will enjoy your time perusing and haggling for the best deals. Our family is NOT much on souvenir buying but I will tell you that every one of us walked out of this market with at least one special thing to take home with us from Thailand.
We only spent about 2 hours here but enjoyed the time wandering about, laughing, listening to live music, shopping and enjoying a warm evening together. Good times!
5. Give Alms to the Buddhist Monks
Allow about 1 hour
You can do this in many areas in and around Chaing Mai but we did ours at a little village at the Base of Mount Suthep which is about 10 km (6.2 miles) from Chiang Mai City Center
We arose early in the morning and were taken to a Buddhist temple to offer alms (food and drink) to the Buddhist monks. Most of the monks were young but there were all different ages represented. Each morning the Buddhist monks walk the street in a single file line waiting for someone to offer them their food to start the day. Our guide was a former monk so we learned a lot about this tradition (and Buddhism in general).
The monks have not eaten since around noon the day before so they are hungry. This is the only food they will get for breakfast. Dressed in their orange robes, heads shorn, the walk barefoot up and down the street waiting to be summoned. They are not allowed to ask for food but only accept once they are summoned. Neither are they allowed to speak. Once you have given them some food, they will give you a blessing in the form of a chant.
There is a great connection between the community and the monks. This is not considered to be a charity but is seen as a bond; the monks and communities supporting each other. The community providing physical sustenance for the monks and the monks, in turn, provide spiritual sustenance to the community.
The monks then go back to the temple and divide evenly what food was collected that morning.
This is a short activity in terms of time but one that my family and I will not soon forget. Beckham (4 years old) was engaged and participated joyfully. You can either take with you food; rice, juice, fruit etc.. or there are street vendors that are selling “packets” of food to offer for only a few dollars. We chose the latter.
6. Climb the Steps and Visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Allow 2 hours
15 km (9 miles) outside of Chiang Mai
This impressive temple is visible from Chiang Mai high atop a mountain outside of the city. The temple is often referred to as “Doi Suthep” although that is actually the name of the mountain it is located on. If you have been in Thailand awhile and are feeling a little “templed out” you STILL have to see it. This is a must do and was one of our favorite things to do while in Chiang Mai. We too saw LOTS of temples in Thailand but this one is special. Our guide told us that if you have been to Chiang Mai but have not seen this temple, then you really haven’t been to Chiang Mai. To the residents of Chiang Mai, it is a holy place.
To reach the temple, you must ascend maaaany stairs. There is a lift for those of you who don’t want to climb the stairs. You must take off your shoes to enter the temple but once you step inside you are transported to another glittery place! Do not miss this. The entire complex is adorned in gold and is lavishly decorated from wall to wall. There are bells everywhere; big ones and small ones. There are big gongs, and small Buddhas and big Buddhas and fat Buddhas and skinny Buddhas and candles… you get the picture:)
The day we visited it was rainy and we nearly had the entire complex to ourselves. We had fun even sloshing around in bare feet in the puddles. Fabulous! Stunning pictures. It was misty and magical due to the rain. The downside to the rain is that the view toward the city of Chiang Mai below was obscured.
DON’T FORGET TO ADD SOME ADVENTURE!
Our friends over at the Executive Thrill Seeker has an AMAZING post about all of the adventurous activities and more that you can do while in Chiang Mai and Chaing Rai. If you like epic experiences, their post is a must!
A Few Pointers for Visiting Chiang Mai
Depending upon the time of year it can get quite chilly. We visited in December and at times we needed something substantial to keep us warm and dry. Make sure to check the forecast specifically for when you will be visiting.
I wish someone had told us this before we traveled to Thailand. All temples and lots of other places require you to remove your shoes before entering. CAN YOU SAY YUCK??? If you are wearing sandals or some kind of footwear that does not require socks, make sure you have an extra pair of socks stuck in your purse, backpack, diaper bag etc. so you do not have to walk barefoot into the different sites. I promise you will thank me.
Clothing for Temples, and Modesty in General
You must not have bare shoulders or any clothing above the knee or you will not be permitted into temples and other sacred sites. Thai people are serious about their modesty… my daughter was asked to cover up while riding a bike in her one-piece swimsuit (and she was not in a sacred site). . . So you will want to be prepared with proper attire.
Want more Asia posts? See our Top 10 China here!
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