Thailand attracts tourists with a wide range of interests. The beautiful beaches and natural landscape lead the charge of why travellers flock to this stunning corner of the world, but the country is a melting pot of experiences, places to visit and sights to see.
Every part of Thailand is unique in some way, whether you visit the cities, top up your tan on the beaches or immerse yourself in the gastronomic side of Thai life. While much of the sights in and around Chiang Mai focus on the area’s history, culture and religion, there is still some good, wholesome family fun to be had at the Chiang Mai Zoo.
The Chiang Mai Zoo was the first of its kind in Northern Thailand and is located in the foothills of the Doi Suthep Mountains, a short 10-minute drive from the Aleenta Retreat. It began as a small operation in the early 1950s and was privately owned by an American missionary, Harold Mason Young. While his reason for starting the zoo is unclear, at the time, he was teaching forest survival to soldiers at the Korean border, and the assumption is that his love of animals and interest in their behaviour was the driving force behind the development of Chiang Mai Zoo.
Over the years since its inception, the zoo has grown in size from just less than 24 acres to almost 200. The zoo incorporates a small part of the ancient city of Wiang Chet Lin, with ruins of the city’s canals and dykes still visible. The expanse of the area has allowed for the separation of the zoo into several zones, each focusing on a different type of habitat and the flora and fauna that thrive in those conditions. The zoo also incorporates an aquarium accessible by the world’s longest underwater tunnel.
The first zone you encounter on entering Chiang Mai Zoo is the Huaykaew Zone. Here, you will primarily find animals originating from parts of Africa, but there is also a small section dedicated to Australia and an area with Pandas and Snowdome.
In a large portion of this “African” zone, animals like giraffes, zebras and hippos can wander freely in a natural setting, separated from visitors by walls that are sometimes relatively low in parts. Visitors can observe these popular African animals at close quarters and even feed them with special food purchased from the zoo. Lions and tigers also reside in this zone but are not included in the feeding zone for obvious reasons.
Before leaving the Huaykaew Zone, you will come across the giant panda enclosure. While there is an additional charge for this area, the chance to see these gentle bears in their natural habitat shouldn’t be missed. Lin Hui and Chuang Chuang arrived at the zoo in 2003 on loan from China for the zoo’s panda research project and have proved to be a top attraction for visitors.
One of the primary features of the Suthep Zone is the Aquarium, with more than 250 species of sea life and a fascinating underwater tunnel. At 133m – 66.5m of sea tunnel and 66.5m of the freshwater tunnel – it’s one of the longest aquarium tunnels in the world and provides unique views of the aquatic life. The waters teem with life, including several sharks, like the Whitetip Reef Shark and Sleeper Shark, and rays, such as the Eagle ray and stingray. The ecosystem exhibition provides a close-up view of fragile marine ecosystems like the coral reef and deep water ecosystems.
If you want to leave with extraordinary memories from your visit, why not participate in one of the more unique ways to view the sea life in the aquarium? You can snorkel or scuba dive with the fish, including the sharks! – or, if you’re not feeling that adventurous, you can help feed them.
A Kids Zone with indoor and outdoor play areas is ideal for letting your children expend some pent-up energy, and on hot days the Kids Waterpark is the best place to let them cool down. A small additional fee may apply for the waterpark, but it is worth it when the temperature rises.
A wander through the peaceful tropical rainforest of the Suthep Zone will lead you to the Doipui Zone. Starting with the Orang-utan enclosure, the zones weave through several Asian species, including the Sambar and Albino Barking Deer, the Banteng and the Red-Shanked Douc Langur monkeys before ending at Gibbon Island. Here, you can observe several species of these long-armed small apes as they swing through the trees, eat and play.
This fourth and final zone in the Chiang Mai Zoo houses the very popular Nakhornping Bird Park. Built-in 1992 in honour of the King’s 50th year on the throne, the park served as a place to study both local and foreign bird species. The park mirrors the tropical rainforest ecosystem of the Doi Suthep-Pui forest, with natural flora thriving alongside hundreds of bird species. The temperate climate and soft natural sounds make this bird park a hit with bird lovers worldwide.
Once you’ve exhausted the bird park, you can catch a glimpse of some of the larger mammals in the zoo. Sighting the Malayan Sun Bear, African Elephant, and Asiatic Black Bear is a fitting way to depart the fabulous Chiang Mai Zoo experience.
The zoo may sound exceptionally large, and indeed it is a modest size, but don’t let that deter you from visiting, as there are several ways to make your way around the circular route through the various zones. Walking is possible, but some better, more comfortable options are to drive, use the shuttle busses that stop at designated places throughout the zoo, or hire a golf cart.
Favourite Animals at Chiang Mai Zoo
Elephants: The Asian elephant is one of the most iconic animals in the zoo and is a favourite among visitors. Watch these gentle giants roam around their enclosure, take a ride on one or admire them from afar.
Tigers: Chiang Mai Zoo is home to several species of tigers, including Bengal, Indochinese and Sumatran tigers. Watching these powerful cats in action is a thrilling experience. Check out the Tiger Temple, where you can get up close and personal with these majestic animals.
Bears: From polar bears to sun bears, the Chiang Mai Zoo has a variety of bear species. Stop by the Bear Habitat to look at these fantastic creatures.
Monkeys: Monkeys are always a crowd-pleaser at the zoo. Whether it’s watching them swing from branch to branch or marvelling at their naughty behaviour, there’s no denying that monkeys are one of the most popular animals in the zoo.
Birds: The aviary at Chiang Mai Zoo is home to various exotic birds worldwide. Please enjoy their beauty while learning more about their natural habitats.
Reptiles: From turtles and iguanas to snakes and lizards, the Chiang Mai Zoo has an impressive collection of reptiles. Get up close and personal with some of these fascinating creatures.
Rare Wildlife: Chiang Mai Zoo is home to rare and endangered wildlife species such as snow leopards, red pandas, black rhinos and more. You can take time to appreciate these unique animals and learn more about their conservation efforts.
Exotic Species: From kangaroos and koalas to Komodo dragons and cassowaries, Chiang Mai Zoo has a variety of exotic species from around the world. Stop by the Exotic Animal Habitat to look at these incredible creatures.
Endangered Species: Chiang Mai Zoo is dedicated to conserving endangered species such as white rhinos, snow leopards and red pandas. You can take some time to learn more about their conservation efforts and appreciate these amazing animals.
Small Mammals: The zoo is home to a variety of small mammals, such as meerkats, groundhogs and chipmunks, that often go overlooked. Make sure to stop by their habitats for a chance to get an up-close look at these fascinating creatures.
Nocturnal Animals: From bats and owls to hedgehogs and possums, Chiang Mai Zoo has a variety of nocturnal animals that often go unnoticed during the day. Visit them during night hours for a chance to see them in action.
Aquatic Animals: The aquarium at Chiang Mai Zoo is home to various aquatic animals such as fish, sharks, jellyfish and octopuses. Please explore their habitats and learn more about them up close.
Chiang Mai Zoo FAQs
What are the opening hours?
The Chiang Mai Zoo is open daily from 8 am-5 pm.
What types of animals can I expect to see?
The Chiang Mai Zoo is home to many animals, including tigers, elephants, sea lions, pythons, monkeys, bears, birds, and more.
Is there a restaurant on-site?
Yes, a restaurant on-site serves a variety of Thai dishes and snacks.
Is it suitable for young children?
The Chiang Mai Zoo is suitable for young children, with plenty of interactive activities and shows that will keep them entertained.
Is there a good selection of souvenirs?
Yes, there is a wide selection of souvenirs available at the Chiang Mai Zoo, such as stuffed animals, t-shirts, and other items.
How much does it cost?
The cost of admission to the Chiang Mai Zoo is 500 THB for adults and 250 THB for children.
Is there a good selection of activities?
Yes, the Chiang Mai Zoo offers various activities for visitors, such as interactive animal shows and educational talks.
The Chiang Mai Zoo is great for animal lovers of all ages. With its wide variety of animals, interactive shows and activities, souvenir shops, and restaurants, it’s sure to be an experience that everyone will enjoy. Whether you’re looking for an educational experience or want to enjoy some time with nature, the Chiang Mai Zoo is an excellent destination for a fun day out.
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