We’ve covered the excellent Chiang Mai Aquarium and Nakorn Ping Aviary but haven’t yet given you an overall rundown on the city’s famous zoo; so, it’s about time! Chiang Mai Zoo is situated at the foot of Doi Suthep, just behind Chiang Mai University, and covers a large area of secondary forest, foothills and stream valleys backing on to the national park itself. The natural forest setting certainly helps to elevate the zoo above regular city zoos such as Bangkok’s Dusit Zoo or Regent’s Park but yes, it is a zoo and not a safari park. (We are not including the notoriously badly run Chiang Mai “night safari”.)
As zoos go, this is a pretty good one and it’s definitely the best the kingdom has to offer. Most animals appear well looked after in spacious cages or fenced off areas and though some enclosures, such as that for the monkeys, still leave a lot to be desired, the zoo is always upgrading and improving its facilities.
Other than the aviary and aquarium a wide cross section of native fauna live at the zoo: elephants, tigers, crocodiles, bears and gibbons for starters, plus imported species such as koalas, giraffes, zebras and penguins.
The zoo’s star animals are undoubtedly the pandas, which are on a 10-year loan from China, and for which you have to pay extra to see. That’s partly because they have to live in an air-con enclosure, which rumour has it even has occasional artificial snowstorms… which brings us on to the “snow dome”, another popular attraction for Thais who’ve never seen snow before, and which also charges a separate entrance fee. The snow dome, of moderate interest to Westerners, is a kind of overgrown deep-freeze with a toboggan slope and igloo among its attractions.
Other non-animal viewing attractions in the zoo include go-carting, elephant rides, inflated plastic balls on the lake, a trained bird show and an “adventure railway” ride. The latter is so kitsch it’s good, and involves a brief ride around a deer and goat enclosure with added plastic dinosaurs that move their heads when you pass and a giant King Kong that roars and flashes his red eyes. Even odder are the model Akha and Mabri exhibits.
The zoo is large and you’ve got three options for getting around: foot, monorail or bus. Most of the main sites can be included in a walking itinerary but be warned: it’s a fair old walk and there are plenty of hills. Much of it is however in the shade and cafes and snack bars are liberally sprinkled around the site. Allow two to three hours to do a loop around the central area on foot.
The monorail (stations marked on above map) does afford good views but will set you back 100 baht. We found it somewhat rickety and weren’t completely at ease on it though maybe we’re just particularly nervous. The buses can be slightly nerve-racking too, as they hurtle up and down steep hills and speed round corners, but at least they are on the ground and they only cost 20 baht. You need to buy a single ticket at the main entrance train or bus stop, and it allows you to get on and off as many times as you like around the course.
This site has plenty more details. To get to the zoo by public transport, a 20 baht red songthaew ride will do it or you should be able to get a tuk tuk for 120 baht or so from downtown.
Chiang Mai Zoo
Top end of Huay Kaew Rd, just after the arboretum and immediately before the road starts to climb up Suthep (see map)
Open daily 8:00 to 17:00
Admission fee to zoo: adults 100 baht, children 50 baht (unclear what age they consider children to be)
Extra for pandas: adults 100 baht and children 50 baht
Extra for snow dome: 150 baht
(The disgraceful two-tier pricing system is in place: be warned.)
How to get there
The zoo is located at the top end of Huay Kaew Rd, just after the arboretum and immediately before the road starts to climb up Suthep. To get to the zoo by public transport, a 20 baht red songthaew ride will do it or you should be able to get a tuk tuk for around 120 baht from downtown Chiang Mai.
By Mark Ord.
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