Less often trekked by tourists than its close-by cities Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, Chiang Dao is a small town in the very north of Thailand. In it you’ll find local restaurants and shops, but, also, beautiful views, hikes, and temples.
If you have a couple of days to spare, Chiang Dao is a gorgeous, rural retreat when you get tired of exploring the bustling cities Thailand has to offer.
How to Get There
We traveled there from Chiang Mai – the bus was about an hour and a half, and it cost 40 baht (about 1.60 CAD). It (supposedly) passes about once every hour. Once we arrived, we took a taxi to our hotel for about 300 baht, or 12CAD – there are only a couple of taxis in this town, so they fix their prices high.
Where to Stay
We stayed in what I can only describe as a paradise, ‘The Nest’. The Nest has two sections, and we stayed in the second one. It boasts beautiful cottages with mountain views like this:
It was the perfect escape from too many days of exploring bustling cities.
What To Do
We decided to spend our one day there exploring two of the attractions the town has to offer.
Wat Tham Chiang Dao Temple
If you stay in the area near The Nest, which is home to many hotels, the walk to this temple is about 15 minutes. From there, you’ll have a few hundred steps to go up before you reach the temple-top, and the beautiful view. Make sure you dress appropriately! Thai temple customs are very respectful.
Chiang Dao Cave
This attraction is one of the most unique sights we saw in Thailand. The cost to enter the cave is 50 baht, or 2CAD – once inside, you can opt to explore the very inside, which is a temple, or you can follow a tour guide for ‘200’ baht (but actually, 400 baht, because your tour guide will aggressively insist you tip them 200 more at the end of the tour). Note that you are not allowed to go alone; you will absolutely get lost, as the cave is massive, and fined at least 1,000 baht. Although I didn’t appreciate being hassled for extra cash, seeing the massive cave and its stalactites and stalagmites was very cool, and I would do it again.
Just Some Notes on Chiang Dao
- The city doesn’t wake up early – you really won’t see much open before 9AM.
- Getting around is a hassle – it’s not a major tourist destination, so there aren’t tuk tuks everywhere
- You’ll be eating in restaurants – street food is not as common here, like it is in bigger cities
Ensure you plan your route properly – we were planning on spending the next day in Chiang Rai, but getting there was actually harder than we thought. Essentially we had two options – we could bus up to Thaton and take a boat from there. However, this boat requires 4 passengers, and it was likely that we wouldn’t meet that in low season. You do have the option to pay for the missing passengers if you are in that situation. This is a good, and scenic option if you are there in high season. Our other option was to bus back to Chiang Mai, and then take a bus from there – we ended up taking this route, as low season made the other option unlikely to work. Our bus to Chiang Mai cost 60 baht (for 20 baht more, this bus was much nicer). We arrived back around 12, just in time to miss the bus to Chiang Rai, and so we bused there around 5 and arrived at 10.
Is It Worth It?
Chiang Dao is quite out of the way, and a bit of a hassle to navigate. However, if you are keen t hang out in a serene, natural area, this is the place to do it, and I would recommend it for sure.