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When in Chiang Mai, you can guarantee a fun filled time for couples or families by visiting a working elephant camp. We went to the Chiang Dao camp, a bit more than an hour's drive north of Chiang Mai. It's been in existence for more than 40 years.
First you see where the elephants are kept and trained, you are allowed to feed the elephants bunches of bananas, and then you are taken down to the river where the mahouts (each elephant has a "driver" that remains with him for years) bath the elephants. Then you go into a small amphiteater where the mahouts put on a brief exhibition with their elephants. The elephants carry logs, march in columns, follow commands, and one elephant even draws a painting with a set of paints and brushes. The paintings are for sale if you're interested.
Then they attach a seat atop each elephant and you go in pairs on an elephant ride through the forest for about 90 minutes. You sit in the seat and the mahout sits in front of you on the neck of the elephant to guide him/her. You stop halfway to visit a small village and then return to the camp.
To end the half day's activity, we went on a bamboo raft trip several kilometers down the river. You go over a few mild rapids, but it's really a fun experience that it is entertaining for young and old.
If you are travelling with smaller children, chances are you'll want to find a quiet playground at some part during your trip.
Buak Haad City Park: In the Southwest corner of this lush park, you'll find a small playground with few and somewhat outdated equipment. Update 11/12/11 - this playground has been rebuilt with new equipment. There is also now an aircon coffee shop in the middle of the park. The location is nice though and the ice cream vendor is certain to pay a visit, even on weekdays. Outside the main entrance to the park are a few fruit, food and drink vendors. Inside the park you can rent a straw mat to sit on and even get an outdoor massage. Click here for location on a map.
700 Year Stadium
This is a big sports complex on the edge of town. It will take you about 25 minutes to get here from a city-centre hotel, but well worth it for your kids once they've had enough of temples and markets. Massive open spaces, a big play ground with swings and some great (but a bit old) helicopter climbing frames. Also tennis courts - 50 Baht/person/hour, with racquets to hire, and an Olympic sized swimming pool (60 Bath adults/ 20 Bath children), plus badminton courts, basketball courts etc (free). Thais come to exercise from about 4.45 pm - in the winter the sun sets over the mountain at about 5pm, so perfect for about an hour of running around for your kids from then. Plenty of drinks/snack vendors in the complex.
City Municipal Stadium: City centre. This is a large playground with much new equipment for kids aged 2-7. Lots of shade on the area itself. Some worn BMX ramps nearby and an outdoor basket ball court also. Many drink vendors and a single food vendor nearby. Few visitors on week days, more on weekends, where you might also see a youth football game through the open fence to the stadium. Ask your driver to take you to the stadium. Click here for location on a map.