CHIANG MAI, Thailand - 6 Fun Things To Do with KIDS
Updated: Feb 17
Last time we were in Chiang Mai, pre-children, it was a brief 3 day visit before we headed up to Pai, where we stumbled upon a reggae music festival and partied all night long with locals and fellow backpackers. This time, with 3 kids (2 of our own plus our 3 year old niece joining in), partying in Pai wasn't exactly in our plans. We admit, we didn't have the fondest impression of Chiang Mai back then, but what a difference it makes staying 30 days versus just 3. So much fun was had by all during our month-long stay, in a city that offers quite a lot of things to see and do for the whole family. These are just a few of our favorite outings...
1) BUA TONG STICKY WATERFALLS
Although we didn't plan for poor weather, the torrential downpour we encountered on arrival was a blessing in disguise. Not only were there very few people, but we were rewarded with these beautiful, multi-tiered waterfalls gushing in full force. The grippy, calcium carbonate deposits on the limestone makes you feel as if you are defying gravity when you are effortlessly climbing up against the rushing water. Even toddlers, like our 3 year old niece, can tackle the climb with supervision. There are small, shallow pools at the bottom, with the occasional bug-eyed crab scurrying about, perfect for younger kids to play in and explore. The green algae patches can be a bit slippery but there is a rope to guide you upwards for some of the steeper parts.
IF YOU GO:
No entrance fee for this one, but you need to arrange your own transport or book a tour. We hired a driver for a day to take 3 adults and 3 kids there and back for 1500 baht, $65 CAD. (This was an 8hr day)
Be prepared for lots of stairs, (some quite steep) heading down the waterfalls. You can choose to take the stairs back up or climb the waterfalls. You can just go there to take photos and admire the nature without getting wet.
There are washrooms where you can get changed, and a few cheap restaurants with decent food at the entrance, but food is limited so packing some snacks is a good idea.
Don't forget a wet bag, waterproof case for your phone, change of clothes, towel, and bug repellent.
2) RESTAURANTS with PLAYGROUNDS
TRIPLETS EAT AND PLAY - This well-known family-friendly restaurant is in the Hang Dong area.Their bamboo playground structure is a thing of beauty. It provides lots of shade for those scorching hot days. It also allows for that fun element of danger that the kids so enjoy. Not that these are not safe or structurally sound, but it is designed to allow a bit of risky play that is lacking in a lot of the modern playgrounds we see today. There is also a mesh-enclosed trampoline. The owner is French and the menu is mediterranean influenced, but they also serve local favorites like pad thai and fried rice. It is a bit pricey, but you are essentially paying for free use of the playground, and the food was incredibly delicious.
NIC's RESTAURANT AND PLAYGROUND - This one is also in the Hang Dong area but not quite far south as Triplets. Similar bamboo playground as well, but bigger, with a ship, a slide and a hut. There is also a trampoline in the back. It is a larger establishment, with lots of seating, including a separate, quiet "romantic room" for adults who don't want to be bothered with noisy children. Food menu was extensive and also expensive (compared to the local fare), but everything we ate was generously portioned and tasty. So keeping in mind the quality of the food and unlimited free use of the playground, it was worth the money, considering we spent 5 hours here. The vegetable massaman (below) was quite good.
3) BUDDHIST TEMPLES
With over 300 temples in the city, it's hard to choose which ones to visit without overwhelming the kids. Wat Umong and Wat Chet Lin, though not the biggest or the most popular, were uniquely different than the rest, and the ones the kids enjoyed the most.
WAT UMONG - Also known as the "Forest Temple" or "Tunnel Temple", it is located on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. The jungle surroundings and the underground tunnel complex makes this 700 year old temple particularly special. Lots of overgrown ruins and a large, well-preserved stupa stands at the top of the stairs. There is also a pond nearby, with plenty of catfish to feed. Many orange-robed monks are seen walking by. You can hear their meditative chants echoing from quite a distance.
WAT CHET LIN - This temple, located inside the old wall, is a peaceful oasis in the midst of the city's hustle and bustle. There is a large pond with lily pads, turtles and fish plus a wide bamboo bridge adorned with colourful lanterns. At sunset, the golden glow on the temple reflected on the water is a stunning sight. We've met Thai locals who say this is their favorite temple in Chiang Mai.
A 3D Illusion Art museum with locations also in Bangkok and Pattaya. There are over 130 paintings with 6 different zones in Art in Paradise: underwater, wildlife, classic art, Ancient Egypt, Dinosaur and East Zone, which includes famous Korean, Thai and Khmer architecture.
This is a good rainy day or hot mid-day indoor activity for families. It is a bit run down, and the paintings could definitely use some touch ups, but the kids didn't notice or care. From precariously hanging at the edge of a high building, to confronting a giant curious kitten, they loved posing and pretending to be in mortal danger. Lucky for us, it wasn't too busy when we went on a weekday afternoon, because lining up and waiting for others to finish getting that perfect photo could get tiring after a while. We also downloaded an app that added animation to the paintings which the kids enjoyed watching after we got back to our place. Here are some of our favorites.
IF YOU GO:
The admission price is steep, (400 baht/ $17 CAD for adults, 200 baht for kids) but we saved a few dollars buying tickets online in advance, via TRAVELOKA. It doesn't hurt to always google "discount tickets" for current deals.
5) ELEPHANT POOPOOPAPER PARK
Elephant Poopoopaper Park is a gem of a place, located north of the city centre in the Mae Rim District. This eco and kid-friendly tourist attraction is more like an educational, outdoor museum than just a park. An english-speaking guide led our ~20min tour, which included lots of hands-on displays, information about the history of paper, and the process of paper-making from elephant poop fibers. This was all done with enough doses of toilet humour to keep the kids giggling and fully engaged.
The fun part was the crafty D.I.Y. station in the end, where you can choose to decorate a paper item like a fan, journal, card or bookmark, with lots of pre-cut paper designs. You do have to pay extra for this activity, with price depending on what item you choose to decorate. Our kids LOVED it so we found it worthwhile. They also have a lovely gift shop with all things made of elephant poop and other eco/organic materials.
IF YOU GO:
Must hire your own transport to get here. It cost us 500 baht ($20 CAD) for a return trip with a driver, including a couple of hours of wait time.
Admission is 100 baht per person ($4 CAD) and free for children under 5.
It is worth just hanging around after the tour to enjoy the beautifully maintained gardens which surrounds a large fish pond. You can purchase fish food for 10 baht and watch the fish feast wildly. There is also a cafe on site.
6) NONG BUAK HAD PARK
We love checking out parks and playgrounds wherever we go. It's a free way to keep the kids active outside with the possible opportunity to meet other kids. This city park in the south west corner of the old walled city, is very well maintained with lots of mature palm trees providing much needed afternoon shade. You can buy fish food at the vendors nearby and feed the koi in the large pond, with pigeons at your feet also looking for handouts (clear signage discourages pigeon feeding). Young couples, joggers, yoga enthusiasts and napping locals all can be seen enjoying this lovely greenspace. It gets particularly busy on the weekends, with lots of families and children enjoying one of the few outdoor playgrounds in Chiang Mai. Molly and Owen also loved trying out all the different outdoor gym equipment that are located on the periphery.
THINGS WE DIDN'T GET TO DO
How is it that we didn't get to do everything when we had one month in Chiang Mai? For one, we have become more selective with the activities we choose to do as a family. Also, the longer we stay in one place, the less we plan ahead. Sometimes it's nice to have nothing on the agenda and just see how the day unfolds. It may sound boring or lazy, but doing "nothing" opens the door to spontaneity...to discoveries that can only be made by you and cannot be found in guidebooks, tripadvisor or blogs like this one. And while the big outings and sightseeing days are amazing, sometimes it's those small, simple pleasures that the kids especially appreciate. Stumbling upon a litter of kittens. Trying a new spicy dish at the night market. Finding out that unripe, green mangoes are actually delicious! That's the beauty of slow travel...and Chiang Mai had a lot of those little moments for us which were just as memorable as the big ones.
(NOTE: We also visited an elephant sanctuary with the kids, but we did not include it on this list, as it deserved closer attention....so, more on this on another post!)