Night market in Chiang Mai

The 411 on Chiang Mai with Kids

If you’re planning a trip to Thailand with kids, your first stop may be the many beaches and islands to the south of Bangkok.  Many families don’t think of Northern Thailand, as it was once known for the backpackers and singles crowd.  Well, I can assure you it is very family friendly, especially in and around Chiang Mai.  This slower paced city is surrounded by nature and plenty of educational opportunities for the kids.

If you have the opportunity to visit Chiang Mai with kids, here are our top 4 recommended family friendly activities, accommodation with nature activities for the kids and our favorite place for you to eat while you are there.

Activity 1: Experience Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park
You can feed and even bathe with the elephants while visiting Chiang Mai with kids.

There are few words to describe how magical, educational, and special this place is.  If you don’t do anything else in Chiang Mai, you really need to visit Elephant Nature Park.  This is a full-day adventure and you will experience over 39 rescued elephants.  Your hearts will be touched forever.

The day begins with pick up at your accommodation in Chiang Mai in a mini bus.  You will venture about 75 minutes to the northeast of the city into the lush green mountains.  Along the way, you may pass some elephant camps providing rides for tourists, but that isn’t what Elephant Nature Park is about.  Here they rescue elephants from poor living conditions, being overworked or being mistreated.  Your day will be spent leaning how to care for elephants and then actually taking part.

You will feed each herd and experience the excitement of letting them take that fruit right from your hands with their trunk.  You will then feed another herd of elephants and even bathe them in the river.  They really enjoy eating and being bathed, so prepare to splash that water around and have a good time.

During your time, you will also learn about the history of the founder and the elephant trade in northern Thailand.  After feeding the elephants all morning, your tummy may be rumbling.  Not to worry as a full vegetarian buffet lunch is also included in your day.

Activity 2: Tantalize Your Senses at the Saturday Night Market & Silver Temple

Start your visit to Chiang Mai's night market with a dusk view of the Silver Temple (Wat Sri Suphan).
Start your visit to Chiang Mai’s night market with a dusk view of the Silver Temple (Wat Sri Suphan).

As with most cities and towns in Thailand, you should experience the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the Saturday Night Market in Chiang Mai.  Of course the market itself is free, but I would have some cash handy and be prepared to negotiate for your goods.  If you want to try some new foods, this is the place to give it a go.  You will find many things to eat here that will stretch your comfort zone, but you will also find some comfort foods, even mini ice cream cones.

The Market starts on Bumruung Buri Road, near the south gate (Chiang Mai Gate) of the old city, and runs along Wua Lai Road.  They begin setting up about 4:30 or 5:00 pm and it will be buzzing until at least 10:00 pm.  I would recommend arriving just before dusk, so you can also see the colors of the beautifully lit silver temple (Wat Sri Suphan), which is located at the far southwest end of the market.

Activity 3:  Quench Your Curiosity with a Monk Chat

Ask away! Monks stand ready for your questions in Chiang Mai.
Ask away! Monks stand ready for your questions in Chiang Mai.

You will notice men in the orange-colored robes all around town and this will likely peak the curiosity of your kids and even the adults.  Not to worry as many of the temples around offer a free Monk Chat for you.  A monk chat can last 5 minutes or a couple of hours.  It is a time when the monks are available for anyone to ask them anything.  The chat we attended was very informal and we could ask whatever we liked.

Don’t feel like you are asking too many questions, as you will find the Monks are also very curious about you.  The Monks participating are usually part of the university program and are attending these chats to improve their English and learn about others.  So don’t be surprised if they ask you about your life as well.

Monk Chat at Wat Suan Dok

  • Free – Monday, Wednesday, Friday 5-7pm
  • MCU Buddhist University Chiang Mai Campus, Suthep Road (opposite Chiang Mai Neurological Hospital)
  • Tel: 053-278-967, ext. 210; 084-609-1357
  • Website: http://www.monkchat.net/

Activity 4:   Take an Interactive Scorpion Tailed River Cruise

You can float in many a boat in Chiang Mai, but the Scorpion Tailed River Cruise offers a boatload of information on your journey.
You can float in many a boat in Chiang Mai, but the Scorpion Tailed River Cruise provides a boatload of information as you travel.

If you are looking for a standard float along the river in a boat, you can select a day cruise from just about any tour agency in town.  If you are looking for something a little more memorable and educational, then the Scorpion Tailed River Cruise is the one for you.

Not only will you enjoy your tour along the Ping River, with an English-speaking guide, you will also experience the extra bonus of having a stop over at the owner’s property along the river.  Here he will serve you mango sticky rice and juice, but that’s not all.  You will also get a private tour and history lesson in his garden.  You will learn about the indigenous plants of Northern Thailand and their common uses, such as citronella.  This really is a great afternoon activity and the kids will be mesmerized.

How to book with Scorpion Tailed River Cruise:

1 Great Place to Stay: Chai Lai Orchid

One hour from the city feels like a world away when you stay at the Chai Lai Orchid eco resort.
One hour from the city feels like a world away when you stay at the Chai Lai Orchid eco resort.

Nestled in the lush jungle, just 50 meters across a suspended bridge from the road, you will find an oasis like no other.  Only one hour out of Chiang Mai, you will find the affordable family friendly Eco Resort, Chia Lai Orchid.  But this is far more than just a resort, it is a place to enjoy nature.  The river babbles below your tree house like rooms and the elephant trek route runs right through the resort.

You can spend your day playing in the river by tubing, kayaking or taking a ride on the bamboo raft.   Both the staff and the accommodation are lovely.  There is one restaurant on site and all of the food is enjoyable, but we especially loved the cashew chicken and the Asian salad.  This is a nice break from the city and transportation is easily arranged through the hotel.

1 Great Place to Eat: Blessed Food

Blessed Food
Simple, straightforward meals abound at Blessed Food restaurant in Chiang Mai.

This is a very simple, clean and low cost place to eat in Chiang Mai.  There is nothing fancy about it, but you will love the food.  It is traditional Thai food at street food prices.  There are only 8 tables in the restaurant, but they are almost always full.  Blessed Food is located off of Nimman Road, about one block down on Soi 6.  Try the cashew chicken; it is absolutely wonderful.

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Heidi Wagoner

Nomadic Mom & Family Travel Blogger at Wagoners Abroad
Heidi and Alan are passionate about travel (50+ countries) and authors of the popular travel blog Wagoners Abroad. In August of 2012, they left the “perfect American life.” They quit their jobs, sold their belongings and moved to Southern Spain with their two kids (Lars and Anya). After nearly two years in Spain, they became nomadic and explored Southeast Asia for 11 months. They have recently returned to Spain as their home base to travel more in Europe. They have inspired hundreds of people to visit Spain and helped many actually move to Spain as well. They are a true source of inspiration and proof you can make your dreams come true. Follow them on
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