Karen Village Elephant Sanctuary: Chiang Mai, Thailand

4 Days in Chiang Mai, Thailand: KKday Travel Itineraries

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From the bustle of Bangkok to the holiday fever of Pattaya, every city in Thailand is bursting with personality. But for the ancient city of Chiang Mai, the charm lies in its laid-back atmosphere. This growing backpacker destination is scenic and peaceful, without ever being boring.

Day 1: Play with the Elephants

Visit the Karen Village Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

For the Thai, the elephant carries immense cultural significance—from the ancient kings of Siam who rode them into battle to common folk hauling materials to build temples. And if you only have a day in Thailand, spend it with these gentle giants in their natural habitat, deep in Thailand’s mountain region.

Chiang Mai: Karen Village Elephant Sanctuary
Spend a day with Thailand’s gentle giants

Change out of your day clothes into traditional Karen attire and get a quick lesson on elephant history, behavior, and Chiang Mai’s elephant preservation efforts. You won’t be riding the elephants or see them perform along the town streets. Instead, you’ll feed them bananas and sugarcane, while you have traditional Thai food lunch for yourself.

Karen Village Elephant Sanctuary_2

Go down and join the elephants by the river where you can bathe and brush them. After the river, they’ll lead you to a therapeutic mud spa, where the baby elephants become especially playful! Snap a picture with your new animal friends before saying goodbye, as you end your day with a scenic drive back to your hotel.

Day 2: Nature Calls

Explore Doi Inthanon National Park

Get up early and make the most of the day when you visit Doi Inthanon National Park, part of the Himalayan mountain range and an incredible expanse of Thailand’s most stunning natural attractions.

As you hike along the trails, the next thing you’ll hear is the Wachirathan Waterfalls, crashing from heights of up to 80 meters.

Doi Inthanon Waterfalls

You’ll also notice the birds, which you’ll hear before you see. The lush mountain landscapes make the park one of the best bird watching sites in the country.

Doi Inthanon Bird Watching

Be sure you’ve packed a jacket before making your way to the peak of Doi Inthanon, where temperatures drop to as low as 10 degrees Celsius. At 2565 meters, you’ll overlook all of Thailand and beyond.

Doi Inthanon Park

Day 3: An Old New City

Pay your respects at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

While Chiang Mai translates to ‘New City,’ the former seat of the Lanna kingdom is steeped in over 700 years of history. The most prominent sign of this is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of Thailand’s oldest and most sacred temples. To reach the wát, many Buddhist devotees climb the 306-step staircase, but you can opt to take an elevator lift for 20 baht.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Outside, you’ll see a magnificent gold umbrella, a symbol of Chiang Mai’s independence from Burma and its union with Thailand. The temple enshrines a bone fragment said to belong to Buddha himself, carried by a sacred white elephant. Follow the walkway to the glimmering gold chedi that holds the relic, where you can leave lotus blossoms as an offering.

Visit Bhubing Palace

Not far from Doi Suthep is the Bhubing Palace, the Thai royal family’s summer home. Because of the cool mountain climate, Queen to raises a stunningly colourful garden filled with exotic flowers, especially roses.

Bhubing Palace

The late and well-loved Thai King—who was also a saxophonist and inventor—left his own imprint in the gardens: the musical water fountain plays his compositions.

Watch a Khantoke Show at Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center

Khantoke Show

End the day with a Khantoke Dinner, the northern Thai way of eating—seated on a floor mat at a low table with the food served on large platters. As you eat, enjoy a traditional dance performance. The shows include the Fon Lep (‘Finger Dancing’), Fon Thean (‘Candle Dancing’) and Ram Dab (‘Sword Dancing).

Day 4: Do as the locals do

Take a Thai Cooking Class

Mama Noi's Cooking Class

On your last day in Chiang Mai, find ways to bring a bit of it home with you. You’ll start by selecting ingredients from the local market. With the help of the chefs, you’ll be able to prepare green curry, pad thai, and the sweet, sticky rice with mango.

Bargain Hunting at the Marketplace

End your trip with a leisurely trip to any of Chiang Mai’s marketplaces as you haggle your way to the perfect outfit, jewellery piece, or souvenirs to bring home.

Sunday Market (fortes)

Check out the Night Bazaar, open seven days a week, that has all your shopping desires as well as live music and traditional Thai dancers. If you’re in for the weekend, visit Saturday & Sunday Night Walking Street, which is filled with artisan items, local handicrafts, and unique clothing. Our advice? Purchase a handmade elephant pendant to wear as a small, happy reminder of your trip.

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