Chiang Mai located in the north of Thailand is only an hour plane ride away from Bangkok. We decided this year, since we were home for the Christmas holiday, we would plan a trip to leave on Christmas day in the afternoon because we didn’t want to miss our family back home. We had our Christmas morning, played with our toys and headed to the airport with our new NASA space shuttle from Santa in tow.
A quick flight later, we landed in Chiang Mai and were greeted by our driver that I had prearranged. If you are looking for a driver, I was referred to Mr. Pon from a friend here in Bangkok, who has used him several times. He was very knowledgeable of the area, patient, a safe driver and his English was great.
There are many touristy things to do in Chiang Mai. It is the second largest city in Thailand so they are prepared for the tourist crowd. We wanted to focus more on the outdoor options for our trip. Here are the fun things we did on our trip that I am sure your little one will enjoy.
This is a beautiful temple situated in the mountains that offers a beautiful view of the city. During our visit, there was a lot of smog blocking our view but I can imagine it’s very beautiful. This complex was full of shrines, monks and people paying their respects. Apparently this temple is an important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists and little did we know, the New Year time is a very busy time at the temples. Mr. Pon thought it would be too busy but to be honest it seemed the same amount of people that you would have at the temples in Bangkok. I had given my son a little kid camera for Christmas since he loves to take photos like mommy. This location was the perfect opportunity for him to wander around and check it all out with his camera.
Hill Tribe visit: Baan Tong Luang
I made it very clear to Mr. Pon, I wanted to visit an authentic hill tribe village and not the touristy setup like I had been told about but that didn’t seem to translate well since he took up to the fabricated village containing seven different hill tribes. I was a little disappointed at first but when traveling with a toddler the ability to see a lot in one afternoon and in one stop does make life much easier. The complex is set up in a big loop; as you enter you start to see the different hill tribe people working on their handicrafts in their traditional garb. They will let you take their photos and at times will let you partake in the craft making. Our son enjoyed walking around seeing what everyone was working on and chasing the chickens that were all over the village. I would only recommend this location if you do not have time in your itinerary to go to the actual hill tribe villages and would like to see a lot in a short amount of time. It was interesting to see the different outfits and the making of the handicrafts but really this is just one big market.
Chiang Mai Zoo
We wanted to do something that was just for Killi; so we decided the morning at the zoo was a must. The Chiang Mai Zoo is massive! Plan for an entire day here, we spent most of the day and didn’t see everything they had to offer. The zoo is so massive in fact, it’s best to hop the tram that they offer. We thought we could see most of the complex by walking and we did walk for a good majority of the day but towards the end of our day and our patience, we couldn’t trek anymore so we took the tram back down to the exit. Little did we know there was so much more to see and had we walked all that way, I would have been a very unhappy wife carrying a toddler who only wants mommy to hold him when he is tired up the rest of the mountain …
The Chiang Mai Zoo really allows its guests to get up close and personal with the animals; making it fun to feed them but at the same time I do not like being that close to wild animals. We saw a lot all within arm’s reach but the best part of the day was seeing the panda. This was our first time seeing a panda in real life; it’s a little anticlimactic as they just sleep but it was cool nonetheless.
Temple hopping in the old city
I have been in Thailand for two years now and to me all temples are starting to look the same; just as when you see tons of castles in Ireland… they all look the same after a while. We decided on our last few hours in the city before our flight, we would have our driver take us around the old city to see the coolest temples. He took us to one that was a big complex that housed a school for monks and the other was the silver temple. This was about the time our son was over Chiang Mai and was ready to head home so we didn’t get to see much of the silver temple, in addition to the fact that women are not allowed to enter the temple. Chris did take a few photos so I could see the inside. Temple hopping is always an easy sightseeing adventure with the toddler; we can pretty much set him lose to walk around and explore as he wants. Just be careful of the heat; as you and your kids can get dehydrated quickly.
Muang On Cave & Sankampaeng Hot Springs
We thought we would be able to do more hiking in Chiang Mai since it’s up in the mountains but that wasn’t the case. Our driver did take us to a cave temple in the mountain, which was the closet we got to hiking. We climbed an enormous naga stair case; this is a great workout for dad when you have the little one in the baby backpack. Once at the cave, you then descend flights of steep and narrow stairs to the bottom where you will see several different shrines and a 30 foot reclining Buddha. This was a leg workout for sure but a lot of fun to do something out of the ordinary. After we made our way out of the cave, we could have continued up the mountain another 20 minute hike to see a viewpoint where another Buddha is situated but after climbing so many stairs already and with a toddler on dad’s back we decided we were good and made our way back down the mountain.
After our adventure to the cave temple, we went for a visit to the Sankampaeng Hot Springs. This was a huge complex with areas for people to camp and relax, kids could play on the playground, or go for a dip in the natural hot spring. I noticed baskets of eggs and the stench of rotten eggs as we were walking around. We made it to the main hot spring and this is where everyone was putting in the basket of eggs to boil and eat as a snack! It was a nice break after our hiking/climbing all of those stairs.
Chiang Mai was a nice change of pace from the busy city. The fresh air, the low-rise buildings, and hardly any traffic really helped us to relax and enjoy.
If you would like to see more photos from our vacation check out my photography post!