6 Child-Friendly Things to do in Chiang Mai
Six activities for the family in Thailand's northern center. Story and photographs by Marisa Marchitelli
1 Pet an Elephant
Spend a day as a volunteer feeding, bathing and learning about the plight of elephants in Southeast Asia. Take your kids north to Mae Taeng, where Elephant Nature Park, a sprawling 70-hectare rescue and rehabilitation center, skirted by a river, which is home to 35 free-roaming elephants saved from abuse and street begging. Longer stays are also possible in their rustic a-frame bungalow accommodations boasting expansive views of the property. +66 5 327 2855; elephantnaturepark.org.
2 Fly through the forest
For children as young as five years old, the Flight of the Gibbon’s recently extended, 3.5 km-long zip line course offers 100-meter-high, 800-meter-long soaring views above the jungle floor. As you glide between canopies or rappel down sides of centuries-old strangler fig trees, you might catch a glimpse of one of the original gibbons released at this reserve and their newborn baby. There’s also the option of an overnight homestay with local villagers. +66 5 301 0660; treetopasia.com.
3 Zip through town
There’s no better way to convince your kids to take in the historic sights than a Segway tour. After a 15-minute safety talk and test drive, glide through Chiang Mai’s old city center, zipping in and out of temples, monuments and markets. Choose from a one- or two-hour tour with periodic stops for photo ops and coffee breaks. Ages 12 and up will enjoy the tour the most, and you must weigh at least 40 kg to properly balance on the device. +66 5 301 0660-3; segwaygibbon.com.
4 Be a farm hand
Learn all about green building, biodiversity and seed saving, hands on, at The Panya Project. This 4-hectare organic farm, set in the Mae Tang valley, offers permaculture design courses as well as the option to stay and experience sustainable ways of living. Daily activities include farm work every morning, followed by communal lunches prepared as a group. You can also roam through the expansive food forest, boasting some 40 species of fruit trees, to the “natural” sauna in a mud brick house. +668 7 181 8821; panyaproject.org.
5 Cook your own lunch
Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi offers two half-day classes daily where you and your family can concoct 3-course central or Northern Thai meals in a Lanna-style teak pavilion. The morning class even includes a market tour with the chef. The MO boasts a brand-new organic farm on-site, where you can handpick key ingredients straight from the ground. If you’re on the north side of town, Four Seasons Resort has a cooking school set atop a hill, peering down into a rice-paddy-filled valley. With daily regionally themed menus, you get an hour’s added bonus: the art of Thai vegetable carving. Oriental Culinary Academy +66 5 388 8888. Cooking School at Four Seasons Resort +66 5 329 8181.
6 Climb a mountain
Here’s a day-trip with a bit of everything: head to the Doi Suthep Temple first thing in the morning to beat the sweltering heat and hoards of tourists. Continue further up the mountain passing hill-tribe coffee plantations cascading down the slopes and sample a fresh local brew at any of the rustic coffee shops alongside the road. Go further up to the serene Doi Pui Camp Ground where you can hitch a tent for the night or take a modest 1 km hike through the pine forest. While there are many trails along this mountain range, they don’t connect with each other so driving up to this seemingly private spot is your best option. End the day at Changkian Village, an authentic Hmong community where you can shoot a crossbow and arrow for 10 baht or try your hand at grinding rice flour, hill tribe style. Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, Huay Kaew Road, Suthep; +66 5 321 0244.