[disclosure 5 years later: i feel ignorant and ashamed to have taken the children to places in Chiang Mai where the animals were likely not treated fairly. The tiger kingdom as well as the Maesa elephant camp – the 2nd one – that I reference below are places that i would absolutely avoid today, because animals are most certainly treated badly or sedated in order to attract visitors and entertain them. I am glad that we are all more informed today, and aware of the danger of animal cruelty in tourist centres, so we can make responsible choices in our itineraries.]
The beauty of going to Chiang Mai is really to spend time close to nature. At first, we were surprised to discover that it’s actually a big city, the 2nd largest in Thailand. But it’s such that you can easily get out of town and 30 minutes away, you find yourself surrounded by the jungle, rice paddies and all sorts of animal sanctuaries.
Children love it, it’s full of tourists with families of all nationalities, and everything caters to the tourist. As I said in the earlier post, it was a bit too “pre-packaged” to my taste but again, with children, it’s good sometimes to have it real eazzzy. We had a fun time and here’s what we loved doing most and would recommend:
– Our guesthouse Pak Chiang Mai was just perfect. Great location in the old part of town, spotless clean, tastefully done, delicious breakfast and easy with children. It felt like a home. The four of us were very comfortable in the Chiang Mai suite ,which is the room to book.
– Everybody’s favorite day was at the Elephant Nature Park. A lifetime experience. It’s an orphanage for elephants (there are 34 of them), and you get to spend the whole day bathing them, feeding them, learning about each of them. It’s quite magic and very well done. Far from the circus-like typical elephant parks. Lek, the founder, is a bit of a mother-teresa in the elephant world. You can learn more about the camp, or sponsor an elephant, or simply donate by clicking here. They also organize 1 night or 1 week volunteering stays, which must be a great experience with older children.
– We had another very full day visiting successively the Maesa Elephant Camp (it really pales in comparison with Elephant Nature Park), Tiger Kingdom (Marcelo will never forget cuddling with a baby tiger!!), the King Kobra farm (Amalya had a whole one around her neck!!!), the Queen Sikirit Botanic garden (gotta be a real plant-lover to enjoy if you know what I mean!).
You’re much better off hiring a driver for the day as all of these activities are located along the same road. Ours, Mr Poopuangchant (firstname.lastname@example.org) was a pleasure to be with (he charged US$50 for the day). Lunch break was at the Four Seasons hotel facing the rice paddies, a real treat.
– The Chiang Mai zoo is famous for the family of (3) pandas that it hosts. So we went. Marcelo still talks about it 5 days later so I guess it was worth it…but if you ask me, I found it a real drag for just 3 pandas!!! Oh..and there were koalas too.
– One meal worth recommending was at Huen Phen restaurant on 112 Rachamankha Road (walking distance from the guesthouse). They specialize in Northern Thai cuisine in a pretty setting. Otherwise, street food was so tempting…but with young western children, we did not dare much.
– And riding on a tuk tuk, a first for Marcelo and Amalya. Of course they loved it. And I still cannot believe that Amalya was even able to take her nap on a tuk tuk in the traffic of Chiang Mai…
That’s it for Chiang Mai. 4 nights was the right amount. We then flew to Siam Reap in Cambodia, via Bangkok.
Had we known that there are direct flights to Luang Prabang in Laos from Chiang Mai, maybe we would have done it… it’s nice to always keep a bit for another time, a reason to come back.