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Insider’s Guide to Chiang Mai

What to see and do in northern Thailand’s popular creative and cultural hot spot

Travellers are flocking to Chiang Mai, northern Thailand’s largest city, and it’s easy to see the appeal. It has a tropical climate, a wealth of cultural attractions and a vibrant culinary scene. It’s calmer than Bangkok, and it’s gained a reputation as a creative hub filled with hip, tech-savvy locals and digital nomads, but it’s also considered a family-friendly destination with plenty of activities to keep children and their parents occupied. Add these stops to your itinerary.

Wat Phra That

This beautiful temple inside Doi Suthep-Pui National Park is one of Chiang Mai’s top attractions. It’s also one of northern Thailand’s most venerable Buddhist sites – the monastery was established in the late 14th century – and its lofty location affords amazing views of the city. Wat Phra That’s most prominent feature is a 24-metre golden spire. The temple also has murals, statues, shrines and one of the world’s biggest gongs (yes, you and your kids can ring it!).

Saturday Walking Street

On Saturdays, this popular outdoor night market sprawls along Wualai Road. You can haggle for anything from authentic Thai handicrafts and musical instruments to jewellery, paintings and clothing by local designers. Equally tempting are the tasty snacks from food stands. If you can’t go on Saturday, take your family to the similar Sunday Walking Street on Ratchadamnoen Road instead.

Nimmanhaemin

You’ll find amazing eats all over Chiang Mai, but make a point of visiting trendy Nimmanhaemin (or Nimman). It offers a world of enticing dishes, including Thai, Indian, Italian, fusion and vegetarian, at all price points. For a deeper cultural experience, take a class – English-speaking instructors at Nimman Thai Cooking School will teach you five dishes you and your family can feast on at home.

Baan Kang Wat

This charming eco-friendly artists’ village in Wat Umong district features independent galleries, studios, cafés, an amphitheatre and more. The vendors focus on handmade, organic, sustainable products. On Sunday mornings, you’ll even find an organic food market. Visitors can attend workshops to learn about jewelry making, pottery, woodcut printing and more. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Art in Paradise Chiang Mai

This quirky, family-friendly “illusion art” gallery is designed to put you in the picture. The 130-plus paintings here are flat but look 3D. The whole gang will have fun exploring six themed zones ranging from classic art to underwater scenes to Ancient Egypt.

Elephant Nature Park

Chiang Mai has several sanctuaries for rescued elephants. Formerly abused or exploited in the tourist trade, these majestic creatures are cared for and given natural spaces to roam. For a fee, you and your family can hang out with the herd, for an experience that’ll leave a lasting impression on kids and parents alike. Choose wisely, though – not all facilities are as virtuous as they appear. The ethical ones never allow the elephants to give rides or perform tricks. Instead, visitors can feed and bathe the animals. The area’s largest sanctuary, Elephant Nature Park, has a solid reputation and has received many awards.

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