After exploring Europe for two years in our world travels as digital nomads, we felt ready to explore a new continent with our tween girls! Enter, Asia! Our entry point into Asia was Bangkok, Thailand, where we explored for a few days before flying to the Northern city of Chiang Mai.
Upon arriving in Bangkok, we knew one of the first things we had to experience was riding in a tuk tuk! While not the safest mode of transportation for these Americans, tuk tuks sure are fun and really must be experienced at least once!
The Grand Palace, Bangkok
With only a few days to spend, we focused on seeing The Grand Palace, which is was the official residence and government buildings of Thailand until the 1920’s. Now it’s just used for ceremonial events. It is spectacular! All of the temples and buildings are adorned with explosions of color and mirrored tiles and are magnificent in design! Visiting the Grand Palace is the perfect introduction to learning about Thai culture and Buddhism. Just be sure to research the dress code before visiting. Our tween daughter had a hole in her jeans, so we were required to buy a sarong for her to wear to cover it.
Life-changing Chiang Mai
After a few days adventuring the streets of Bangkok, we flew to Chiang Mai, which is a popular hub for digital nomads with fast internet, co-working spaces and lots of social opportunities for families to connect. It’s also very inexpensive to live here!
Our first major activity in Chiang Mai (and still the highlight of our time here) was visiting the Elephant Nature Park for a full day of trekking through the jungle with elephants, feeding them, bathing them, and watching them just being elephants while we had an outstanding homemade Thai picnic lunch! Unfortunately, elephants in Thailand and surrounding countries are still being used for the tourist and logging industry, as well as circuses, and living in abusive and inhumane conditions. Elephant Nature Park (as seen in the documentary “Love and Bananas”), as well as many other sanctuary parks, rescue elephants from these conditions, rehabilitate them, and let them live out their days in a free, loving environment. It was an incredibly educational day for our girls (and us!), and being so up-close to these gentle creatures was an experience we will never forget. We began our morning cutting up watermelon and bananas to feed our 3 elephants. We also each got a bag of bananas to feed them as we walked them through the jungle for their daily exercise.
Midday, we stopped at an outpost for a homemade lunch, where we learned how to make papaya salad from scratch! We also made treats for the elephants. We were able to bathe the elephants in the river before heading back to the main camp. I cannot recommend a day with these elephants enough. It was truly life-changing!
If you ask our tween and our teen, they will tell you that the Grand Canyon Water Park in Chiang Mai is hands-down their favorite attraction in Thailand. The Grand Canyon is an inflatable wonderland set in an old quarry, complete with zip lines, cliff jumping, wake boarding and a cafe with excellent food. We have been twice so far and the whole family can’t get enough! Life jackets are required, so you can just let the kids run off and adventure all day without worry. There is even a section for small children and babies. It’s definitely a must-do while in Chiang Mai if you have water-loving tweens! Everyone will be exhausted by day’s end and likely sore in the morning! While falling into the water is fun, it requires a good dose of upper body strength to get back up!
Our most anticipated event in Chiang Mai was the Yee Peng Lantern Festival, which is celebrated on the full moon of the 12th lunar calendar month. Just imagine thousands of floating lanterns in the sky (like the movie, “Tangled”!) You let all of the past year’s misfortunes go and make a wish for the new year as you send your lantern into the sky. It truly is a magical experience! There are a few mass lantern events in the city that you will need to buy tickets for months in advance as they sell out quickly. While not inexpensive for a family, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that was absolutely worth it! The lantern festival also coincides with the Loi Krathong festival, and there are events all week long in Chiang Mai that week, including a massive parade through town.
While we did plan to be in Thailand during the biggest festivities of the year, there is no shortage of activities to experience any time of the year in Thailand (the food… the friendly locals… and more temples than you can possibly explore!) There are fantastic museums, cooking classes and never-ending night markets for shopping! Thailand is definitely one of the most tween and teen friendly countries we have experienced out of over 39 countries. There really is something for everyone!
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