We found a bunch of fun family activities in Chiang Mai. While known for temples and culture (not always high on the list for a family vacation), Chiang Mai actually has a lot to offer for family travelers.
This is our list of fun kids activities in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai Zoo
Zoos are a classic activity for kids and the Chiang Mai Zoo is no exception. It is a vast expanse of hilly terrain filled with all manner of animals from all over the world. Highlights include a hippo exhibit where you can actually feed the hippos yourself, a chance to see giant pandas, and several other animal feeding opportunities (leopards, emus, flamingos, and more).
The zoo is huge. You can walk around it, but you probably don’t want to. We used the internal shuttle bus system and that worked pretty well, though we sometimes had to wait a bit for the bus (up to 20 minutes).
Tickets for the shuttle cost us 100 baht ($3, total for family) and allowed one loop around the park, hopping on and off at each of several stations. There is also a monorail but it’s much more expensive and only operates on certain days. You can rent little electric golf carts too, for even more money (350 baht for the 1st hour, 300 baht/hour thereafter).
Admission to the zoo was 740 baht ($23) for the 4 of us. There’s also an aquarium on site (separate admission) that we didn’t get to.
Chiang Mai Umbrella Factory
The umbrella factory, about 15 minutes by songthaew from the old city, is a great Chiang Mai kids activity. It’s interesting to see all the detailed hand work that goes into manufacturing the gorgeous umbrellas.
The big draw at the umbrella factory is the opportunity to get a custom hand painted image on one of your possessions. The artists who paint the umbrellas also make themselves available to paint anything from t-shirts and hats to cell phone cases (or the phones themselves) and even camera lens hoods.
The artists have boards with example images or you can ask for something completely new. Prices are negotiable based on the size and detail of the image, but very reasonable. I got a really nice Buddha image on my iPhone case for 100 baht ($3). It’s held up really well and looks great after 2 months of being carried around in my pocket every day. The kids also each had their Kindle Fire covers painted as well for 100 baht apiece. They’ve held up equally well.
Park and Playground
The Chiang Mai public park at the southwest corner of the old city is a quiet break from the hustle and bustle of the city streets. The park is pretty small overall but big enough to escape the traffic and relax among the gardens and trees.
For kids there’s a small playground at the west end of the park. Most of the play structures are pretty beat up (some actually dangerous – just look before you let your kids play), but Jasper and Aurora still had fun climbing around each time we stopped by.
Most days there’s food stalls just outside the south gate, and an ice cream vendor or two within the park. There’s also public restrooms available for a small fee.
Wat Umong is a temple complex set in the forest just outside the old city. Of all the temples we went to, this was the one the kids liked best. The temple features a series of underground tunnels which you can explore. There’s a large chedi above the tunnels and several stone statues in the surrounding jungle.
The giant fish and turtle pond makes this a great Chiang Mai kids activity. We went through at least 2 bags of food (10 baht). Hiding beneath the murky water are huge catfish and turtles. When we threw the food pellets into the water dozens of the freaky looking catfish came swirling at the surface, whiskers flailing. The temple was cool, but feeding the fish and turtles was an awesome kids activity worth the trip all by itself.
We hired a tuk tuk from our old city hotel for 150 baht ($5) to drive us to Wat Umong. You could probably also take a songthaew. We didn’t pay to have our driver wait and that worked out fine. We found another tuk tuk within a few minutes when we were ready to leave. If you’re visiting at a particularly quiet time of year you may want to have your driver wait, as Wat Umong is off the beaten path a bit.
Wat Doi Suthep
In general the kids aren’t huge temple fans, but this one was ok. First, you can ride a funicular up the side of the mountain to reach the temple itself. While the funicular is shrouded inside a tunnel without a view, Jasper and Aurora still considered it a “ride” worthy of excitement.
The temple is so ornate, with glimmering gold everywhere you look, that our kids were still impressed (at least for a short time). You’ll get a good view back over the city too, assuming it isn’t too cloudy or hazy.
We visited Wat Doi Suthep as part of a day-long excursion with a songthaew that we hired. We also stopped at several other spots that day including the Bhubing Palace, Mae Sa Waterfalls, and Chiang Mai Insect Zoo (see below). For the day we paid 2,000 baht ($62) for the songthaew and driver and considered it money well spent for a long day of driving us around between activities.
The Bhubing Palace is a royal residence in the mountains above Chiang Mai. Surrounding the building are acres of lush gardens and a big reflecting pool. It’s worth a visit to walk around and see the wide variety flowers and plants. There’s lots of space for kids to run and burn off energy – a big plus for any kids activity.
Admission to Bhubing Palace was 100 baht ($3) for all of us.
Siam Insect Zoo
Jasper and Aurora are not, generally speaking, bug lovers. They’ve had plenty of opportunities to get familiar with giant spiders, beetles, and other creepy crawlies during our travels, and are still more likely to scream and jump than investigate. However, both had a good time at the Siam Insect Zoo nonetheless.
The best parts of this attraction are the exhibits in the back including a butterfly garden and lots of opportunities to hold and touch a big variety of both fun and scary looking bugs. We held bugs that looked like leaves and sticks and had butterflies land on us.
We even held giant scorpions. These guys definitely made our hearts race but no one got stung and the guides assured us these particular scorpions were very docile.
Admission was 400 baht ($12) for the four of us.
Mae Sa Waterfalls
Swimming is a great activity for kids in hot weather and the Mae Sa waterfalls just north of Chiang Mai were a perfect way to cool down after a day of touring. There are several levels and pools as the water cascades down over the rocks. There’s one particular big pool and waterfall where we hung out swimming and collecting treasures from the riverbed.
Admission here was 430 baht ($13) for the four of us.
Chiang Mai Flower Festival
You have to time this one right, as it occurs just once a year, but the Flower Festival is a great Chiang Mai activity for kids. Held in February each year the flower festival is a multi-day event involving displays all over the city and an enormous parade. The parade features gorgeous floats decorated with thousands and thousands of blossoms. The costumes on the parade participants are amazing too. Check it out if you’re in Chiang Mai in February, especially if you are traveling with kids.