Chiang Mai is a popular tourist attraction because it is essentially Thailand’s second city to Bangkok. It is popular with families because it is quieter and a little slower (and safer). It was once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom, but it is becoming more and more tourist friendly. There are travelers of all kinds, including humanitarians and ex-pats. Many people will come here on multiple trips because they find that they love it so much – and that it really combines the feeling of adventure and tourism with relaxation and peace.
The city itself offers many things to do for the entire family, including structured events, animals, and unique experiences that go deep into the mountains. It is a special place that won’t leave your family for long after you leave it.
Here are some of the top things to do as a family in Chiang Mai:
1. Wat Prathat Doi Suthep
For families that like a little bit of movement and action, hiking to Wat Doi Suthep’s central shrine that has a seated Buddha is quite the experience. You can also take a motorbike or hop into a songthaew, local red trucks that act as cabs. This whole trip won’t take more than two hours. Please note that your legs, arms, and shoulders should be covered. If they aren’t, you will be given a sarong to cover them.
At the base of the staircase, you will find souvenirs, local artisans, and antiques. The climb is steep, so younger child may need some help, but the architecture and art is well worth it. You will see two demons guarding the entrance and many statues of Buddha. Pay special attention to the carvings and the artistry, because you won’t see it anywhere else. There is also a small museum to check out.
If you go on a clear day, you will be able to see forever from the top of the mountain
2. Wat Chedi Luang
We’re going to try to limit the amount of ruins we recommend because they aren’t always child friendly. However, the beautiful and absolutely haunting ruins of Wat Chedi Luang are a can’t miss for anyone going to Chiang Mai. The remain stem from a 1545 earthquake, so many of them are going back to nature, but they remain absolutely beautiful. You can still see the massive elephant carvings that children love.
When you walk into the site, you’ll see a huge gum tree and a beautiful little temple, the Lak Muang. This is from 1940 and the shrine is for Chiang Mai’s guardian spirit Lak Muang. The tree is somewhat of a beloved site because history says that if the tree falls, disaster will be soon behind it. If you can time it correctly, seeing the site at night is truly awe-inspiring.
3. Elephant Nature Park
As you may have garnered, elephants are a big deal in Thailand in Chiang Mai. There are quite a few “elephant camps” where you will see elephants. However, you have to be careful which ones you choose as some are abusive and don’t take proper care of the animals.
One that is sure to impress is Elephant Nature Park. Not only are the elephants well taken care of, but visitors are allowed to spend a day feeding them and bathing them in the river. A majority of the elephants are rescues that have suffered in circuses, elephant parks, and zoos. Some have even been used for labor. Once they come to Elephant Nature Park, they are treated like kings.
Spend a day here and you will learn a lot about the plight of elephants. Everything you pay for, including transportation and lunch, goes right back toward the elephants. This is definitely something you want to book in advance because it fills up quickly with locals and tourists.
Admission: 2,500THB per adult, 1,250THB per child
4. Doi Pui
For a touristy destination, Doi Pui is a small exhibit that shows what a village and the buildings within it look like. Instead of touring through villages that have been destroyed by such tours, this one allows you to get that authentic feel without doing damage. While in Doi Pui, you can go to different shops to purchase hand-woven textiles, handmade jewelry, tea, and other goods. You can even dress in traditional garb for a photoshoot.
For nature lovers, there is a large selection of plants that you can only find in Chiang Mai as well as breathtaking views. You have many options for smell restaurants that fit any budget. You will need to take most of a day out of your schedule to do this entire village, especially because the drive is quite long. However, it is a beautiful experience.
5. Documentary Arts Asia
If you are looking for something a little more low key to do with your family or something to do during the rainy season, Documentary Arts Asia is a place that focuses on the marginalized tribes and refugees that make their homes here. Documentary Arts Asia is a gallery space that often has documentaries and Asian film screenings as well as speeches, meetings, and demonstrations. You can also look at the library to see some of the political happenings of the area to fully immerse yourself into the culture.
This is an excellent place for a history lesson for your children to learn about not only Chiang Mai but Thailand and the rest of the region as well.
6. Doi Inthanon
The highest peak in Thailand is the Doi Inthanon. It has a national park that surrounds it, making it an incredibly child friendly location. You can do some hiking if your children are older or you can just explore the pavemented portions. There are several waterfalls and a hill tribe village that people can explore. Two pagodas honoring King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit are also quite popular.
This is a day trip and it is best to either hire a driver or rent a motorbike because you want to be able to see as much as you. It is about a two-hour drive from the city so make sure to wake up early.
Admission: 200THB for adults, 100THB for children
7. Huay Tung Tao
If your family is looking for a lazy day, Huay Tung Tao might be the way to go. With a lake to swim in and beautiful hills to surround you, this reservoir is popular with people from all walks of life. You can rent a hut on the lake and a huge tube to lounge on for just a few dollars. Instead of packing a lunch, you can order fresh fish and other dishes right there that are absolutely delicious and will even make your children happy.
To get to the Huay Tung Tao, you may need to set up a driver so that you can get there and back, so make sure to give yourself enough time.
8. 8. Night Bazaar
If your family likes to shop, there is no place better to shop in Chiang Mai than the Night Bazaar – just make sure you are comfortable haggling. This is an area that attracts many tourists, so they have marked up the prices.
Still, you can shop for clothes, scarves, carvings, and housewares here. Then, you can take in an even at the Muay Thai Boxing Ring at the stadium. These fights are a huge part of culture and add a lot of excitement to the Chiang Mai experience.
Of course, there are also many options for dining here.
9. Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls
This is a really unique experience for any family that comes here. It is a long day outside, so make sure to bring water and food and dress in sneakers because you will be moving around quite a bit. These “sticky” waterfalls allow you to climb up them because you don’t have to worry about falling. You’ll see many local teens and tourists here.
Try to go on a weekday, especially if you have younger children, because the weekends can get very full and it can be a little dangerous for slower people.
10. Tiger Kingdom
Finally, while elephants seem to get a lot of glory for travelers in Chiang Mai, tigers are extremely important as well. The Tiger Kingdom draws many crowds because it gives you an up close and personal experience with the tigers. You’ll have to make a decision for yourself, because some people believe that these tigers are mistreated and drugged. However, the official story is that they are so calm around humans because they have been raised by them since they were babies.
You can choose different packages based on which tigers you want to see, either babies or full grown tigers. You get 10-15 minutes with them in a caged area where you can pet them and take photos with them. It can be a bit nerve wracking and it is definitely for older children.
Admission: 420-620THB per tiger group. Special packages also available.
Opening Hours: 10am-6pm.