Chiang Mai Zoo ranks very highly on our three year old's list of top things to do. So much so, that we now have membership which allows for unlimited free entry for two years . Membership doesn't include entry to the pandas, the aquarium or snow dome but is excellent value for money, especially if you plan to visit the zoo quite often. Ask at the main entrance about membership and the staff will direct you to a building just to the side of the entrance where you can apply.
Nestled amongst the forested slopes, at the foot of Doi Suthep, the zoo isn't far from the centre of town but does feel a world away. It covers a very large area and is quite spread out. The easiest way to get around is by taking your own car, using the zoo's hop on hop off bus or hiring a self drive golf buggy (beware of the brakes - on the buggy we had the brakes weren't quite as sensitive as we'd have liked and we found going around corners down steep hills a little hair raising). You can also simply get around on foot, though on hot days this can become quite a slog. There used to be a monorail, however this appears to have fallen into disuse years ago.
The zoo is very popular with locals, expats and tourists, but one of the nice things about it is that it never feels overwhelmingly busy, even during the weekends and public holidays. The zoo's population is pretty impressive, with the usual suspects of monkeys, lions, tigers, giraffes, hippos and elephants. But there are also pandas, koalas, meerkats, capybara, turtles and tortoises, sheep, goats, birds, reptiles and much more. There is free entry to the bird and sea lion shows. We still haven't made it to the sea lion show but the bird show is worth seeing if you are in the area at the right time. At the end of the show you can hold the cockatoos and the macaws.
The aquarium and panda sections require separate tickets which you can either buy at the main entrance or at the attractions themselves (it's worth noting that it is cheaper to buy one of the combination tickets on offer at the main entrance than to buy the tickets individually). The aquarium is very good, with a large variety of fish and reptiles. The highlight is the tunnel under the aquarium and the frontage of the tank at the end of the tunnel which allows you to get close to the fish. You can also see staff cleaning the tank and feeding the fish here. There isn't much to say about the pandas - on a lucky day you might catch them awake and pottering about, but more often than not, they are napping and oblivious to their many young fans.
A number of the enclosures have stalls where a limited amount of animal food is provided. Each basket of food costs 10 baht (apart from the jaguar which costs 20 baht for a piece of steak on the end of a very long rod). This is one of our three year old's favourite parts of our trips to the zoo - spending her pocket money feeding long green beans to the sheep and giraffes, sweet potatos to the hippos and carrots to the goats and the deer.
There are also plenty of refreshment stands for visitors, a good food court serving a variety of mainly local dishes and an air-conditioned seating area.
Another attraction is the water park which opened last year, located next to the koala enclosure. This looks more like a huge paddling pool than one with flumes, but looks to be hugely popular.
The zoo is pretty old, and there are some enclosures and areas that still reflect the era in which it was built. But a renovation programme has been underway for awhile and looks to be ongoing for sometime (at the moment the hippo enclosure is being rebuilt), and overall the zoo is a wonderful place to visit, especially if you have children. That said, there are many tourists without children who also visit the zoo. Because of its design and management, it feels part traditional zoo, part safari and part petting zoo, all within the fabulous backdrop of a mountain forest.
Given its location, a trip to the zoo could be combined with a trip up Doi Suthep to see the famous Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple. On the way back to the city, an option is a detour to Maya Lifestyle Shopping Mall to cool off or grab a bite to eat.
Zoo Tickets & Times
Opening Times: 8am - 5pm
Address: 100 Huaykaew Rd, Chiang Mai, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200
Ticket Prices: ADULT 150 Baht; CHILD (under 135 cm.) 70 Baht
Vehicle Admission: CAR 50 Baht; MOTORCYCLE 10 Baht; BICYCLE 1 Baht
Zoo Bus Ticket: ADULT & CHILD 30 Baht Each
(Information correct at time of writing please see the Chiang Mai Zoo website for more information.)
Additional Attractions & Ticket Prices
Panda House Ticket: ADULT 100 Baht; CHILD 50 Baht
Chiang Mai Zoo Aquarium Ticket: ADULT 520 Baht; CHILD 390 Baht
Aquarium Opening Times: Monday - Friday 10.00 am - 5.00 pm; Weekends & Holidays 9.00 am - 5.30 pm
Snow Dome Ticket: ADULT 150 Baht; CHILD 100 Baht
Snow Dome Opening Times: open daily 09.45 a.m. - 05.40 p.m.
Bird Show Times: Monday - Friday: 11:30 & 15:00; Weekends & Holidays: 11:30, 14:00 & 15:30
Seal Show Times: Monday - Friday: 11:30 & 14:30; Weekends & Holidays: 10:30, 13:30 & 15:00
(Admission is included in the zoo ticket to these shows)