Parents’ insider guide to family travel: in lush Thai rice fields, Four Seasons Chiang Mai

Parents’ insider guide to family travel: in lush Thai rice fields, Four Seasons Chiang Mai

By on April 3rd, 2012

Picture this: handsome pavilions nestled among traditionally terraced rice fields, surrounded by lush, tropical palms and ferns; and in the distance, Thailand’s highest peaks. Set in the Mae Rim Valley, Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai is the place where you and the family can immerse yourselves in authentic Thai culture.

Chiang Mai, the “Rose of the North,” is the country’s cultural capital. It’s also a verdant oasis, just a one-hour flight from Bangkok. The resort’s cooking school showcases Northern Thai cuisine. Try yoga and tennis, perhaps a trip to a butterfly farm and “elephant camp”—trekking atop the giant beasts past tribal villages through the jungly mountains, steeped in legend and mystical lore.

Go in April to join the no-holds-barred Songkran (Thai New Year) fun and mischief. The one and only time in the year people allow total strangers to squirt them with a water gun or toss a bucket of water over their head! Lonely Planet calls the Songkran Water Festival one of the world’s best. (The water pouring symbolizes goodwill, love, compassion and thankfulness.) And Chiang Mai reportedly puts on the country’s liveliest, lasting six days. Celebrate with the locals in 2012 April 13 to 15.

Four Seasons offers special Songkran packages: at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai; also at Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok and Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui.

Another great time to visit is November’s Loi Krathong festival of lights celebration where residents launch thousands of candle-lit banana leaf boats onto ponds and canals; and also at this time release hot-air paper lanterns up into the sky. Or go in early February for the flower festival: the city’s magnificent parade and displays of chrysanthemums, orchids and Damask Roses.

Why go?

  • After the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, a respite and family bonding time in a relaxed-paced haven.
  • Cultural capital: the spiritual and artistic heart of Thailand—a must-see on any Thailand itinerary.
  • 300-plus Buddhist temples, or “wat,” (more than in the whole country combined)—many from the 13th century—in the area of the old walled city on the Ping River, a major trading route.
  • For a look into authentic Thai culture.

What the kids will love

  • The exotic setting.
  • Exploring the sprawling grounds (32 acres in all).
  • Constructing “sa” paper fans and umbrellas, picture frames; dabbling in Thai language classes and games at The Gecko Club/Kids For All Seasons*.
  • Making friends with the resident water buffalos. (See “5 Family To-Dos,” below.)
  • Elephants!

What you will love

  • Super spacious pool villas with seamless inside-outside living.
  • The infinity pool set right in a rice paddy field.
  • Golf at Summit Green Valley Chiang Mai Country Club.
  • The spa’s recently introduced kids’ treatments, in addition to the Four Seasons treatments inspired by ancient Thai rituals; using organic, native herbs, spices and aromatic oils created through traditional rural methods.
  • Friendly staff and meticulous attention to detail.

Look for

Every evening at 5 o’clock, gather around the resort’s lower pool to watch the procession of gardeners heading back home through the rice fields: many are smiling, some dance, some wave, some even play traditional drums. It is a small celebration of their hard work each day—and guests are welcome to join!

Eat this

Dine in

  • Sunday lunch at Terraces (open air, beside the main swimming pool; spend the day at the resort, lounge by the pool, the children can go to the kids’ club—a great family day). Kids will love the crispy spring rolls and noodle soup with prawn wontons.
  • Afternoon tea at Elephant Bar, an open, pavilion-style lounge.
  • Sala Mae Rim – Great views, plus authentic Thai cuisine. Try the Pad Thai Goong (Wok Fried Rice Noodles with Prawns); Gai Hor Bai Toey (Fried Marinated Chicken Wrapped with Pandanus Leaves); and Tom Kha Gai (Chicken Soup with Fresh Coconut Milk and Galangal).

Dine out

5 family to-dos

    1. Elephant trek – Get you very own elephants, at least for the day, at Elephant Life Experience. Hands-on mahout (elephant driver) training and trekking, picnic in the jungle. Exclusively reserved for one private party per visit.


    1. Mountain biking – Wake up early, choose a bike from our Health Club and explore the Mae Rim neighbourhood: charming villages nearby; the morning “wet” market; the local temple, Wat Pa Darapirom, where you can offer food to the monks. Don’t forget to say, “Sawasdee Jao,” and show your beautiful smile!


    1. Be a local farmer – In the land of a million rice fields, join us for planting at the resort’s rice paddies. Wearing a farmer’s traditional garb (Mar Hom), your family will learn about rice in Thai culture, and how to plant it. Kids will love seeing our resident water buffalos, Tone and Tong, who are usually milling around.


    1. Family cooking class – Hey Mom, what’s fish sauce? Why is this so spicy? Instead of a lengthy explanation your kid will likely forget five minutes later, why not sign up for a family cooking class at the resort’s Cooking School? Let the Chef handle all the queries—and inspire the kids to cook for you back at home. Group classes are in the morning; private classes in the afternoon; reservations required.


  1. Hit the road – Chiang Mai has tons to discover on foot, especially with kids. Wander around Chiang Mai’s old city to take in Northern Thai history and culture before heading up Doi Suthep mountain to visit the most sacred temple in the North, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Pay your respects to a holy relic of the Lord Buddha and enjoy a panoramic view of the city from the top (3,500 feet)—also the perfect spot for watching the sun set. Bonus: tire out the kids with the 300-plus steps leading from the parking lot to the temple grounds. After dark, try a Chiang Mai Night Safari: a fun and unique chance to see some of the region’s rare predators in a safe environment.

Read more on Chiang Mai in Four Seasons Magazine.

Post Author

Michelle Pentz Glave is the Have Family Will Travel editor. Before diving into communications/PR, she was a journalist for 25 years in the US and Germany including stints with The Wall Street Journal Europe, Gruner+Jahr (Bertelsman) and the Albuquerque Journal. Her work has appeared in Outside, Wired, Travel + Leisure, Sunset and Fortune. She has a Bachelor's in English from Yale and a Master's in Journalism from Columbia University. Michelle is passionate about family, food, farmers, her garden and taekwondo. She lives on Bowen Island, near Vancouver, Canada, with her husband and two kids: Sabrina, 12, and Duncan, 10.

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3 Response(s) to "Parents’ insider guide to family travel: in lush Thai rice fields, Four Seasons Chiang Mai"
Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai Activities for Kids | Four Seasons Family Blog says:
January 24, 2013 at 6:01 am

[...] might think it’s easygoing being a water buffalo at a cushy resort tucked among lush rice fields. But it’s a lot of [...]

Katie Dillon says:
April 5, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Chiang Mai has been on my bucket list for a long time. Just waiting for LJ Girl to get a little bit older – this is one trip I want her to really remember!

Kevin Ripa says:
April 4, 2012 at 10:40 am

After our second time here, we are convinced it is the greatest place on earth! The service is second to none anywhere on the planet, and I believe I am a pretty good judge, having spent 260 nights on the road last year! For as much as is promised, it is still understated, and we will certainly be back!

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