Seeing Lots of Large Animals - The Big Two
Taking in some wildlife is par for the course when visiting exotic Thailand, and Chiang Mai has plenty of choices on offer. Zoos, farms, and animal shows are great entertainment for families and those wishing to get up close with the exotic. Several noteworthy places are located close to town, and a few others are clustered just north towards Mae Rim, making it easy to combine a couple of different venues into one good day of touring.
The Chiang Mai Zoo is probably the most logical starting place if you’d like to take in a good half- to full- day’s adventure without traveling far. A quick tuk-tuk ride up Huay Kaew Road will get you there in less than ten minutes from Thapae Gate. The zoo’s animal displays are quite spread-out over a large territory, so it’s best to take the tram tours and get off at the stops where you’d like to explore the grouped animal exhibits more.
These days, the major draws to the zoo are the pandas on loan from China, and the newly revamped aquarium. The panda exhibit gives you a chance to admire the original couple and their cute offspring, recently born. The Chiang Mai Zoo Aquarium uniquely features an ancient temple ruins design in one area, and boasts the world’s longest underwater fish-viewing tunnel in another. The zoo will prove great fun for the kids, but you should keep in mind that unlike the West where one admission price gives you full park access, here you will be charged additionally to see the pandas and the aquarium- the main draws. Despite these additional costs, most agree that since these are the displays that make the trip worthwhile anyway, it’s best to pay admission for everything at the entrance and just enjoy yourself.
Another place to see large animals and pass half a day touring relatively near the city is the Chiang Mai Night Safari which occupies part of the Doi Suthep-Doi Pui National Park. There are many large cats, elephants, giraffes, kangaroos, and other exotic animals that can be seen there at distances unheard of in the West. It’s possible to go during the day and walk the trails, though a fair portion of the animals may be sleeping and out of sight. You can choose instead to go at night and take a tram tour of the park to see more diverse animals. At night there are several tram tours, with two of them specifically in English to take you around through the animals’ roaming territory. Some of the friendlier animals, like giraffes will come right up to the tram looking for a vegetable handout – on sale at the park, of course – which is quite thrilling for youngsters. As for getting a prize photo of wild animals at night, most people find that nearly impossible without proper lighting for the many creatures that remain in the distance, so it’s best just to relax and enjoy the moment.
Smaller Venues – Snakes, Monkeys, and Tigers!
There are also several venues that mix wildlife conservation with entertainment in unique ways only the Thais can do. Just north of Chiang Mai, towards Mae Rim and Mae Sa, you will find the highest density of these kinds of both plant and animal attractions.
Do be prepared that all of these stops are prime tourist points on most packaged tours as well, and you’re likely to be sitting among the bussed-in masses at shows, and then corralling thru walkways when touring gardens or displays. That point taken, you will still find some space and quiet time at every attraction and should be able to take some really fun and interesting photos too. Another point not to overlook is that, touristy as these shows may be, they’re still a lot of fun, and even most locals have been out to enjoy them at one time or another. If you choose to purchase tickets ahead of time at a travel agency in town for any of the many venues towards Mae Rim, it’s likely that you will have one or two of them bundled together for a better overall price.
You’ll get a chance to visit either of two snake show venues by taking a turn off of Highway 107 and onto the Mae Sa- Samoeng Road, about 20 minutes outside of town. They are both dedicated to snakes of all types, poisonous and non-poisonous, and feature exhibits, preservation efforts, and shows. The shows are usually quite enjoyable, maybe even funny, and usually involve getting to see a king cobra milked for venom and posing with fangs extended for pictures at the end. There should also be some opportunities to handle some of the safer snakes and take photos as well.
In that same area there are two monkey show venues available. Travel reviews of these places are mixed, though when taken with a grain of salt, the animals are arguably enjoying themselves and living well. Those that enjoy the shows find them quite entertaining and educational, and you will have a chance to see how monkeys are used for harvesting coconuts from trees. As with all places you will see animals in Thailand, the standards and approach to wildlife will be quite different from western ideas, so bear this in mind.
Finally, the park that is making the most headlines recently is a new arrival, Tiger Kingdom. They make a small effort to educate the public about tigers and their habitat, with a main emphasis on a chance to actually pose with these majestic big cats. For a considerable fee you’re allowed 15 minutes of one-on-one time with the tiger of your choice – with the largest adult and the smallest cub both collecting a premium price for picture time. Many visitors remark that the unusually placid tigers provide some pretty amazing photo opportunities, so if you love tigers and want a really unique picture that definitely says Thailand, this is your place !
Smaller Venues – Insects
If you’re really an insect fanatic, then probably the Siam Insect Zoo is more for you. It’s off the main road near the Monkey School and boasts thousands of insects from diverse species on display at various stages of their life cycles. Children will usually have very clear reactions to insects and this is the place to see which way they align as they get a chance to be up-close to real live bugs and insects. Though many tropical insects are large or even scary looking, the docile butterflies in the butterfly house are sure delight all. And typical of Thailand, some preserved specimens of the many different insects raised there can even be purchased from the gift shop to take home.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that there is one last chance to see many thousands of insects – though all in preserved form – at one of the city’s most endearing museums, The Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders off of trendy Nimmanhaemin Road. The internationally respected Dr. Rampa who has studied mosquitoes for most of her lifetime, together with her energetic husband Khun Manop has established a very unique and interesting venue. It’s packed with all manner of insect specimens and nests, curious rocks and crystals, fossils, and more from all around the world. The displays of the many shapes and sizes of beetles, butterflies, and mosquitoes are striking and cover the walls. Though technically not a zoo or wildlife show, their quirky and charming museum really does start to bring the insect world and other natural wonders of the world to life through their unique collection and displays.
Chiang Mai Monkey Center
Address: Soi 6, Mae Rim – Samoeng Road, Mae Sa
Tel: 053-297-700, 081-885-1912
Chiang Mai Night Safari
Address: Ratchaphruek Road at Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
Mae Sa Snake Farm
Address: 804/1 Moo 1, Mae Rim – Samoeng Road
Siam Insect Zoo
Address: 23/4 Moo 1, Nam Tok Mae Sa, Soi 6, Mae Rim
Tel: 089-184-8475, 089-755-0849
Address: 51/1 Moo 7, Mae Rim
Tel: 053-299-363, 053-860-704-5
The Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders
Address: 72 Nimmanhaemin Road, Soi 13