The best things to do with kids in and around Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai’s relaxed atmosphere, affordable lifestyle and unmatched versatility makes it an outstanding vacation spot for families in search of fun, ease, education and unforgettable moments.

While it might not boast the overt child-centric amenities found in other parts of the world, Thailand holds a deep respect for children. This respect translates into a number of unique privileges, including priority seating on public transport, free entry to many attractions (especially on Children’s Day weekend in January) and a shared community approach to childcare. In Thailand, it’s not uncommon for a random auntie to coo and cradle your little one or for a restaurant server to scoop up a child and keep them entertained while you finish your meal – a culture well worth embracing, especially if you need a break. 

Needless to say, Chiang Mai offers a wide range of kid-friendly experiences. From toddler to teen, young travelers are guaranteed to receive a hearty welcome while parents are equally catered to – a satisfying experience for the whole family. 

A child laughs as an elephant reaches its trunk towards him to take a banana
Few children will forget their first encounter with an elephant © Cavan Images / Getty Images

Is Chiang Mai good for kids?

With so many brand new experiences to be had, there are fewer places in Southeast Asia that offer such a high concentration of activities than Chiang Mai. Seeing your bundle of joy grin from ear to ear, face to face with an elephant is a truly unforgettable experience. For them, a fresh mango ice cream served on a banana leaf will likely become an equally significant core memory.

Where is best in Chiang Mai for kids?

Chiang Mai has something for all ages, from toddler-friendly air-conditioned soft play in shopping malls to water slides and genuine hill tribe educational experiences. While there’s no one “best place” in the city or surrounding mountains specifically for families, most destinations are self-contained making picking what to do a little easier.

For kids who appreciate the outdoors, waterfalls, elephant sanctuaries (only the good ones, please) and anywhere you can get your hands dirty are bound to be winning choices. For those who prefer to stay inside, play zones, museums and scheduled theater events are sure to pique their curiosity.

Best things to do in Chiang Mai with babies and toddlers

Chiang Mai is on the whole very toddler friendly, but if they’re not used to the climate, getting your ball of energy adjusted to the high temperatures is often the first step towards a fun and rewarding Thailand holiday.

Chiang Mai’s Hidden Village is probably the city’s most toddler-friendly attraction, packed full of dinosaur sculptures and imaginary creatures that marry the familiarity of an outdoor museum with the charm of Thais’ love for everything kitsch. Right behind it you’ll find Elephant Parade Land, the home of the famous fundraising elephant statue that’s toured the world. Here you can visit the museum, enjoy a behind the scenes tour of its production studio and even paint an elephant statue in any way your imagination takes you.

Sticking to the theme, Elephant Poopoopaper Park is sure to make little ones giggle as they get hands on making paper out of elephant poop. Just up the road, the slightly dilapidated Siam Insect Zoo offers a close up view of colorful creepy crawlies that are certain to intrigue.

Four young children climb a staircase towards a jungle-like setting
Young children will love running free in Chiang Mai’s beautiful jungle landscapes © Smith Photographers / Getty Images

Best things to do in Chiang Mai with school-age kids

Experience the region’s wonderful nature and wildlife

Outdoor destinations and activities are some of Chiang Mai’s biggest draws, and that’s likely why you’re here. The activity-rich Mae Sa Valley is Chiang Mai’s mountainous theme park, with everything from pick-your-own strawberry farms, mountain-top glamping on Mon Cham and Thailand’s only jungle roller coaster, Pong Yaeng Jungle Coaster & Zipline. 

Further away from the city in Chiang Dao, and you’ll find mysterious caves that you can only explore with lantern-carrying guides, natural hot springs perfect for splashing around in and a morning market famous for its buzzing array of edible insects and jungle-foraged food. 

However, Chiang Mai is probably best known for direct interactions with wildlife, namely the Asian Elephant. And while there are many elephant camps and sanctuaries in Chiang Mai who are making some effort to ensure ethical and sustainable practices, there are few that actually achieve this. Meeting an elephant for the first time is a profound experience, so be sure to do your due diligence and choose an ethical elephant experience in Thailand. 

For something more “full throttle”, kid-friendly ATV excursions can be found at Huay Tung Tao while the X-Centre in Mae Rim has a wide array of buggies, motorbikes, ATVs and bungee jumping packages to choose from – all suitable for bigger kids, requiring parental consent of course.

A freestanding black chalkboard sign stands outside a building. The sign reads: "Kids Yoga Garden. Tuesday: cooking, art, science. Welcome".
Keep an eye out for kids’ classes, including cooking courses © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet

Check out Chiang Mai’s kid-friendly cooking courses and theater groups

If the outdoors feels a little too adventurous, the city of Chiang Mai has just as much to see. Weekend walking street markets are guaranteed to overload the senses, packed with food, trinkets and dense crowds. For something more controlled, a number of cooking classes offer kid-centric courses that include tours of local wet markets that offer a great opportunity for kids to learn and perhaps even brave new flavors. Most, if not all, cooking classes will accommodate kids, but notable names include Zabb E Lee Thai Cooking School and Baan Thai Cooking School. Or, if you want to splurge, the Four Seasons children’s cooking class features three popular kid-friendly Thai dishes available for those ages six to 11.

The city’s main malls also have soft play facilities and a number of activity shops that can keep little ones entertained while parents shop for gifts, while AFTER School Chiang Mai is a popular cafe hangout for parents, with regular puppet shows and play activities. 

Glom is another name to keep on your radar, a child-centric theater group in Chiang Mai that hosts the GLOM GLOM Children’s Festival in January, as well as an array of immersive performances and events throughout the year aimed at kids.

And if you’re ever at a loose end, simply hail a rickshaw or tuk tuk and have them tour you around the city stopping at temples, ice cream shops and the odd souvenir shop to kill a few hours before it’s back to the hotel pool for happy hour. 

Cool down at waterfalls and water parks

Given Chiang Mai’s warm climes, water is always your friend. Aside from endless bottles of water keeping your family hydrated, avoid heat stroke and cool mood-swings by spending an afternoon at a waterfall or water park.

The popular Grand Canyon Water Park and more modern Tube Trek Water Park both promise comprehensive mayhem complete with lifeguards, slides, inflatables and more. For a more natural option, venture out of town to Nam Tok Bua Tong (AKA the Sticky Waterfall) and literally climb up a three-tiered waterfall without anything but your bare feet. 

The Mae Sa Valley, as well as roads towards Pai, Mae Kampong, Mae Wang and Chiang Rai are also riddled with wild waterfalls, most of which you can swim in, making for a perfect waypoint on a long journey littered with “are we there yet?”. 

A busy night market running down the centre of one of the main roads in Chiang Mai's old city. A stream of people (blurred to indicate they are in motion) walk alongside the stalls.
Older kids are likely to appreciate the buzz of Chiang Mai’s numerous markets © Toa55 / Getty Images

Best thing to do in Chiang Mai with tweens and teenagers

Tweens and teens can be hard to please at the best of days, so it could be beneficial to stick to nighttime attractions instead. The free-to-enter Princess Sirindhorn AstroPark is a great place for older kids and teens to learn about space and get hands on with giant telescopes that are pointed to some of the solar system’s most impressive celestial bodies. It also has a dedicated investigation zone which encourages exploration of light, gravity and other space-themed phenomena.

The Highland People Discovery Museum and Lanna Folklife Museum are where you can learn about the history and indigenous cultures of Chiang Mai and nine hill tribes of Northern Thailand. On the other end of the spectrum (but equally cultural), an evening stroll down Chiang Mai Night Bazaar can enlighten in other ways, from glorious cabaret shows to open-air traditional Thai dance performances and Muay Thai boxing.  

For something cheap, easy and unexpected, visit Wat Fa Ham on the banks of the River Ping and rent a 50B kayak that you can take out onto the river and moor up at numerous cafes, bars and restaurants as the sun sets over the mountains. This is a great experience for bigger kids who enjoy their freedom.

Two young children, dressed in coats and furry hats, take a selfie together in Chiang Mai, with a temple stupa visible in the background.
Children will receive a warm welcome everywhere in Thailand © Sasi Ponchaisang / EyeEm / Getty Images

Planning tips

Logistically speaking, Chiang Mai is not without its issues. Sidewalks and roads tend to be uneven at best, meaning those with a stroller may prefer to opt for a carrier instead of risking the flat tarmac of car-heavy roads. And while most places may not have dedicated changing facilities or separate kids’ menus (in Thailand children tend to eat the same food alongside their family), the flexibility and friendliness towards parents, pregnant people and kids in general, makes for a fun and painless experience in Chiang Mai – minus the sweltering heat of summer or the health risks of the smokey season. 

Nappies are available at pretty much every convenience store in Chiang Mai – for example 7-Eleven or Lotus – although the brands likely won’t be familiar. The ingredients in baby formula might differ to what your baby is used to, and the instructions can be hard to decipher, so if you’re able to, bring a trusted brand from home with you.

Kids-go-free offers usually occur on or around Children’s Day (the second Saturday of January), with places like Chiang Mai Zoo and Chiang Mai Night Safari famous for the offer and the crowds that can spill out onto the roads for miles. Some deals are worth planning for, while others are not worth the crowds they attract.

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