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Traveling with Toddlers: Chiang Mai

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It took us an entire year to make it to Northern Thailand for a visit to Chiang Mai. The long weekend due to the Constitution Day holiday, which marks the institution of the nation’s democratic monarchy, gave us the perfect excuse to get out of Bangkok. Aside from the change of scenery, this trip served as an excellent test run to see how we may fare in our holiday travels to Vietnam later this month. Both of these trips are without the luxury of our helper, so there is much anxiety involved on my end.

I’m eager to travel around Asia as a family. Instagram and travel blogs are abundant with images of families on idyllic adventures, with children young and old, in varying accommodations. Each day seems crammed with activity (cultural, educational, physical) and happy children eating the local delights. Everyone always looks so relaxed.

Here are the blogs and other sites that helped me in my planning for our trip:

Where to stay:

What to do:

If you are a parent, I don’t have to tell you how big of a lie that is. Kids remain unpredictable creatures. The key is planning for the children you know you have rather than those you wish you did. At three years old, my girls are petite jet setters. They know the drill when they get to the airport, and things generally go smoothly, except if they are hungry, sleepy or without entertainment (Makes sense that the same things that make us cranky would also get to them).

Strangerphotos
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They even handle the people who want to take pictures with them better than me. While we can’t always control the sleep part, I make sure to travel with charged iPads, their preferred brand of milk and juice and some easily transportable snacks. Any time we forget or run out of these things, we all suffer. This time I made some assumptions about products that would be available to us. I mean, it’s not like we were leaving Thailand. How hard could it be to find the same products in Chiang Mai that we buy in Bangkok? Turns out not very easy since we stayed in rural accommodations outside the city limits. Lesson learned…

So with a few days in Chiang Mai with three-year-olds what’s a family to do? Here’s my take:

Attractions

Chiang Mai has a lot to offer families. What appealed most to me were the – mostly outdoor – animal-centered attractions like the Night Safari, the Chiang Mai Zoo or an elephant sanctuary out in the countryside. We would have loved to take the girls to see elephants, rather than the Night Safari to avoid sleepy, cranky toddlers. I even saw several places in the Old City to arrange a tour, but it was not easy to verify its practices without prior research. Since I didn’t get enough time to research a sanctuary that treats the elephants ethically thoroughly, and in line with current standards, I thought it best to save that activity for another time.

Sightseeing

After a late start on Saturday morning, we spent the afternoon wandering the Old City and Nimmanhaemin Road. Chiang Mai is known for its many temples, over 300 in fact. Just walking the streets, we saw several. With little ones, we could only walk by most of them, but we spent the most time at Wat Phantao, a teak temple built in the 14th century. The kids were quickly over it, so we switched gears and went to Nimmanhaemin Road to check out the shopping. I’m sure that the highlights for the kids were the tuk-tuk ride and getting to pick out a toy.

On Sunday morning, we took a spectacular bicycle tour of southern Chiang Mai. It was a perfect activity to do with the girls since they were still small enough to sit in the child seats on the back of our bikes and it wasn’t too grueling for us parents. They loved being outside, running around, and eating donuts. My husband and I learned a lot about the region, saw miles of countryside, more temples, and ate some yummy Khao Soy Kai, a favorite local dish.

Food

Fish dish in Northern Thailand
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I’ve got two words to describe it: crazy good! Similar to Bangkok, many options are available no matter what you want. Our family does not have food allergies, so I’m not sure about what the situation is like for people who seek vegan options – for instance. In addition to eating as much khao soy kai as we could find, toddlers and adults alike indulged in local cuisine at this gem of a restaurant walking distance from where we were staying called Bucoliq. We only ate Thai food, and it was all fantastic. Then on Sunday, when they were closed, we took the girls for pizza at Italics.

Have you checked out Chiang Mai with little ones? I’d love to hear about your travels with toddlers.

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