Located just 77kms north of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, Chiang Dao is a spectacular mountain region boasting authentic hill tribe villages, deep valleys, fast rivers, steep limestone cliffs, enthralling caves, and magical temples. Still relatively undeveloped and inexpensive, Chiang Dao offers a host of attractions and activities.
Many visitors to the area head straight to Chiang Dao Caves, located at the base of towering Chiang Dao mountain (Thailand’s third highest peak at 2,175m), which consist of an extensive cave system housing an important Buddhist temple. The cave is lit but for 100 baht you can take a longer, lantern-lit guided tour through the deeper network of caverns and passages. Highlights include the limestone stalactites and stalagmites, as well as the ancient Buddhist statues.
Continuing through the village, you will discover a Hindu Ashram with a resident guru. A little farther down this same road, past Chiang Dao Nest guesthouse, you come upon Tham Phla Plong – another sanctified cave which is distinguished by a striking chedi above it – and worth the 15-minute walk up steps to this hidden gem. It commemorates a much revered monk who set up a meditation retreat in this cave.
Double back a kilometre on this road and take the right fork for a spectacular climb up around the mountain, ending at a remote village high on the upper reaches of the Mae Tang river.
Chiang Dao offers perhaps the most varied range of activities in such a small area of any location in Northern Thailand. Chiang Dao National Park is full of trekking and hiking opportunities, while the sheer limestone cliffs are a haven for rock climbers. Elephant trekking through the jungle is possible, as is white-water kayaking and bamboo rafting down the Mae Tang river (July-December is best). Overnight stays at hill tribe villages (Hmong, Lisu, Padang, Lahu) in the area are popular and can usually be arranged by your place of accommodation. Mountain biking and caving complete the range of adventure opportunities, while birdwatchers can keep themselves occupied trying to spot the 300-plus species recorded in the area.
Chiang Dao town is quiet (apart from the traffic passing along the highway) and has a number of interesting, authentic markets. The morning market opens at 06:30 and features insects, pigs’ heads and other interesting sights. Every Tuesday hill tribes come down from the surrounding mountains to sell their goods, and this is a great place to pick up unique items at bargain prices as the market is not intended for tourists.
Turning left off the main road some 20kms north and heading in the direction of Doi Angkhang for a further 20kms is worth the effort simply to admire the very pretty Sri sangwan Waterfalls. They are distinguished by limestone deposits which give this multi-tiered forest cascade a lovely veneer.
Chiang Dao is a popular stop on the way from Chiang Mai to Tha Ton, where travellers with their own transportation can head for the border town of Mae Sai via Mae Salong, while those using public transportation can catch a boat down the Kok river to Chiang Rai before going north to Mae Sai. From Mae Sai, the Golden Triangle beckons with its reputation and charming Mekong towns of Chiang Saen and Chiang Khong (border crossing for Laos).
Recommended Accommodation in Chiang Dao
Aurora Resort Chiang Dao: It’s a 10-minute drive from Chiang Dao Cave. All rooms equipped with air conditioning, a private balcony, TV and a bathroom with a shower. The on-site restaurant offers both international and local cuisines…more details and booking
Azalea Village: Conveniently sits in the north of Chiang Dao, a 5-minute drive from the downtown. It features outdoor pool, spa treatment, massage service, free WiFi, restaurant, parking and garden. All units come with air conditioning, LCD TV and a bathroom. An ideal to escape from the crowds…more details and booking
Baandin Chiangdao: Ideally sits in the north of Chiang Dao, a 15-minute drive from the downtown. All units come with basic facilities like TV and a private bathroom. A perfect place to relax and unwind…more details and booking
Chiang Dao Hut: Located 70km from the city center. Features a variety of recreational facilities such as massage parlour, gardens, children’s playground and parking. The hotel provides everything you need for a nice stay…more details and booking
Chiang Dao Nest: is one of our personal favourites – a modest and quaint place tucked beneath the mountain near the caves. It’s run by Englishman, Stuart Cavaliero, and his wife Wicha – an internationally-trained cook who produces good food. 144/4 Moo 5, Ban Tham, Chiang Dao. Tel: (053) 456 242.
Chiang Dao Roundhouses: Surrounded by nature and greenery. A 10-minute drive from Chiang Dao downtown. Features bungalows with semi-outdoor bathroom with hot-water shower. Free bicycles, massages and barbecue facilities can be arranged…more details and booking
Chiangkham Luang Resort: Sits 1.5km from the city center and easy access to the main attractions. Features top facilities such as free WiFi, parking, restaurant, sauna, fitness and garden….more details and booking
Huan Chiang Dao Resort: Sits 12km from Chiang Dao National Park and 7km from Chiang Dao Cave. Features outdoor pool, lush gardens, free WiFi, parking, laundry and massage service. Clean and comfortable rooms come with air conditioning, satellite TV and bathroom with a shower. The on-site restaurant serves Thai and internation cuisines…more details and booking
Malee’s Nature Lovers Bungalows: Sits 7km away from Chiang Dao downtown. Features a wide range of facilities include free WiFi, parking, outside pool, massage service, children’s playground and garden…more details and booking
Marisa Resort & Spa Chiang Dao: Located in the north of Chiang Dao. This eco resort offers outdoor pool, free WiFi, parking, spa treatment and restaurant. All comfortable rooms come with air conditioning, satellite TV, minibar and a private bathroom. It’s an ideal place to relax and unwind after a busy day…more details and booking
Activities in Chiang Dao
Trekking: Can be arranged through Chiang Dao Nest which has a good track record. Malee’s also offers treks.
White Water Rafting & Kayaking: On the nearby Mae Tang river can be arranged through Siam River Adventures, the only company qualified in swift water rescue. 17 Ratchawitee Rd., Phra Singh. Mobile: (089) 515 1917, Email.