From the soft rumble of traffic that runs along the streets lined with rustic buildings, to the open friendliness of the people that live there, there is a charm to Chiang Mai that is hard to put into words and can only fully be understood by experiencing it for oneself. Chiang Mai is big enough to have enough on offer to keep young children entertained, without the hectic rush that comes with Bangkok. It is this that makes Chiang Mai the perfect place for families who want to experience a different culture, without being too far out of their comfort zone.
On arriving in Chiang Mai, we realised that Bear had caught chickenpox during our time in Bangkok and after speaking to a friend of ours who is a doctor and a local pharmacist, we knew he would be contagious for the first five days of our time in Chiang Mai. This meant that we had to alter our initial plans and keep Bear in the hotel we were staying. Thankfully we had chosen a wonderful accommodation, with a large outdoor area and plenty to keep him occupied.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai with young children
Gongkaew Chiang Mai Home is set in an idyllic setting, hidden away behind the rumbling streets of Chaing Mai. It is so serene in its surroundings, it is hard to imagine just minutes away lies the bustle of Chiang Mai’s streets. The accommodation itself is split into two different types. The more basic, cheaper, hostel style accommodation comes complete with bunk beds, temperamental shower – and in our case – an array of ants in the bathroom to keep us company. The slightly more expensive, but much nicer accommodation is what we moved to for the later part of our stay. The apartment style accommodation comes complete with a fully functioning shower, larger room and a generally more comfortable stay. My advice would be to splash a bit of extra money for the apartment style room as the price doesn’t actually vary too much, especially when booking it in person.
With birdsong surrounding you in the day and the chorus of frogs in the evening, there is a lot to keep children occupied at Gongkaew Chiang Mai Home. The boys loved exploring the complex looking for lizards, frogs, different birds and watched in awe as bats came out at dusk in search of food. The staff are incredibly helpful, books and games can be found in the communal area, toast, tea and coffee are available in the day and each morning a free breakfast is on offer as well, which was perfect for the times we wanted to just mooch about the complex rather than venturing out. We absolutely loved our stay and would really recommend checking out Gongkaew Chiang Mai Home if visiting Chiang Mai with young children. We wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again.
Where to eat in Chiang Mai
Merely minutes from Gongkaew Chiang Mai Home are a number of different restaurants. Turning right out of the complex, you will find yourself on a main road lined with a coffee shop, different restaurants, a smoothie bar and a mini supermarket. Turning left out of the complex you will find a number of smaller, more intimate restaurants, a coffee shop, laundrettes and further along another main road. Turning left again on this main road will bring to another set of shops, restaurants and side roads harbouring hidden gems. We visited a number of different restaurants in this area during our time in Chiang Mai and I just had to share some of our favourites.
This is a low budget, family run restaurant that has a wonderful, relaxed atmosphere. There is a lot of traditional thai dishes, but also a selection of pastas, which are great for fussier eaters.
Tikky cafe is a great place to stop by for a fresh coconut, an amazing fruit platter and some great traditional thai food. The staff are incredibly friendly, welcoming and make the effort to make dining with children that bit easier by providing smaller bowls for little ones. I highly recommend the cashew chicken, it is quite possibly the best I’ve ever eaten!
This is a quirky restaurant that serves some amazing food at a really cheap price. In the centre of the restaurant is a little, rectangular fish pond that you step over to get to the back of the restaurant. This provides a great distraction for little ones while waiting for food and makes for a quirky dining experience.
This is an open air restaurant near the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. It is quite expensive for Chiang Mai, but is the perfect stop for some cocktails over dinner. The service is brilliant and with it being so close to the market place is a great place to stop after a busy evening of shopping.
While exploring Chiang Mai, you will notice a number of different street food venders. We love trying the local food, it was generally incredibly cheap and everything tasted delicious. The boys loved choosing their food and paying for it themselves, which added to the experience.
Things to do in Chiang Mai
As Bear was quite poorly with chickenpox at the beginning of our stay in Chiang Mai we spent a lot of time in the hotel and so myself and Mr. C decided to take in turns to do a half day excursion. Mr. C set off on a bike tour of Chiang Mai city and I went to a meditation retreat morning. It was much needed time out of the hotel and kept our cabin fever at bay until Bear was feeling better and could come exploring with us.
Half day Chiang Mai experience (on bicycle)
The morning starts by loading up at the office in the centre of Chiang Mai, preparing for the day. The tour takes you on a journey around a couple of Chiang Mai’s temples and the lesser known ruins, which tend to be quieter than Chiang Mai’s tourism hotspots. The guide talks you through each location and the history behind it, before taking the group to a local market to buy a snack after the long bike ride around the city. This is a great way of exploring the city in a slightly unusual way, with insiders knowledge of these beautiful buildings.
Half day meditation retreat
The day begins with a hotel pick up and a short drive to a flower stall to buy our gift to Buddha. The guide then drives the group further into the mountains to a temple nestled next to a waterfall. The guide then teaches the group seated, standing and walking meditation. Following on from the meditation, the group is taken to place of worship and shown how to pay respect to Buddha. The tour finishes with a drop of back at the hotel, while the guide discusses Buddhism with the tour group. This was such a wonderful experience and something that made me realise how much of the day to day I miss by moving from point A to point B without taking in things around me.
By the end of the week Bear was feeling much better and we were able to go on our Elephant Freedom day with the Elephant Nature Park. After being collected from our hotel we were taken into the mountains to meet with some local elephant owners who have joined The Elephant Nature Park in their ‘saddles off’ project. We were able to feed, bath and trek with the elephants, which was an incredibly humbling experience and the highlight of our time in Chiang Mai. If you find yourself in Chiang Mai, definitely look at what The Elephant Nature Park has to offer, as it is a wonderful experience and one we will remember for a lifetime.
Visiting Temples and coffee shops
One of our favourite days in Chiang Mai was our day wandering the streets close to our hotel, visiting the local temples and stopping in at coffee shops for tea and cake in-between each temple. It was such a relaxed day and doing it ourselves meant that we could go at our own pace, with our own breaks. The monks in the temples were really welcoming and each one showed the boys something different, from allowing the boys to watch people in worship to inviting them to ring the temple gong and showing them the fish in the pond. It was such a wonderful experience and an amazing way to introduce the boys to a religion different to our own.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
During out time in Chiang Mai, we took a few evening trips to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. The stalls started setting up around 3pm, but we aimed to get there around 6pm as that was when most of the stalls were already set up, but it was still relatively quiet. The boys loved meandering down the street and looking at all of the colourful items for sale and we picked up some new clothes for bargain prices. It is expected that people will barter on the price, so the seller will always quote a high price to begin with. Bartering is all part of the fun when it comes to visiting the bustling market, but do keep in mind that the average Thai wage is a lot lower than the average wage in the United Kingdom and to be mindful not to knock the price down too low when bartering.
Arts and Culture Festival
During an evening stroll looking for food, we stumbled upon the Arts and Culture Festival. The festival had a centre stage, where a variety of different performances took place throughout the evening including; traditional Thai dances, an acting performance and an acoustic singer. It was such a great atmosphere and the whole festival was set up for children, with faceprinting, crafts and a sandpit. The boys had such a great time at the festival and it was the perfect way to end our time in Chiang Mai.
Take a look at our vlog on our time in Chiang Mai:
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