This post is my final post regarding my trip to Thailand in February 2019. It has taken me so long to finally finish all these posts, but I’m glad they’re done! My trip consisted of a few days in Bangkok (check out my post on the city’s street food scene), a week in Chiang Mai, and a little less than a week on the island of Koh Lanta. Read below for one more destination I hadn’t covered until now: Chiang Dao!
Up until this point, my 2-week whirlwind tour of Thailand had been fairly predictable. Victor and I visited Bangkok for a few days, then headed up to Chiang Mai, and up next planned to visit one of the islands. However, between Chiang Mai and Koh Lanta we decided to take a bit of a risk and head deeper into the North. I wanted to experience something quite different, and perhaps more (for lack of a better word) authentic. Raw. Whatever that word may be. Without a rented car or motorcycle this is quite challenging, but we settled on Chiang Dao.
Now, where in the world is Chiang Dao? Well, it’s only a 30 minutes drive north of Chiang Mai and if you’re not renting a car/bike yet, a bus runs quite frequently. But you might also be asking, what is Chiang Dao? It’s a small, rural town but attracts some tourists because of the lovely natural wonders around it. There are waterfalls, caves, hot springs and mountains. It’s definitely a place of calm, and I think perhaps the key is to open your heart to whatever Chiang Dao may offer you. It’s not a surprise that Chiang Dao translates to “City of Stars” as the wilderness truly allows you to enjoy the beautiful skyscape. Tap into your inner explorer! I certainly did.
We decided to stay on a farm deeper in the wilderness called Doo-Dao-Doi. It was just the kind of rural, quaint and charming place I was looking for! A river runs through the property which attracts lots of wildlife, not to mention the chickens next door. You also have lovely views of the mountains in the distance.
The bungalows are lovely, and are equipped with mosquito nets and a giant, powerful fan (much needed during the day). Each bungalow has a little terrace, which is perfect to sit on during your morning coffee. This may be a rural spot, but there is free WiFi and parking. The farm is technically a bed and breakfast, so you also get a freshly cooked breakfast every morning! For other meals, there’s a fully equipped outdoor kitchen. We used it on numerous occasions, and it was a great thing to have.
Needless to say, I can’t recommend this lovely farm enough!
The Town of Chiang Dao
I mentioned above that we decided not to rent a car or motorbike, mostly for safety reasons. Instead, we had a go-to songthaew driver who drove us around Chiang Dao. This may be a little more expensive, however we felt incredibly safe and the driver obviously knows Chiang Dao as well as anyone could.
Our driver dropped us off in the middle of the actual town, and so we explored on foot. We didn’t see a single other tourist, but obviously visitors had come before because no one was startled or particularly amused by our presence. In fact, the only stares we got were why we were walking everywhere and not driving!
Chiang Dao’s Caves
The most well-known attraction in Chiang Dao is the Chiang Dao caves. In fact, these caves are the most visited caves in all of Thailand. Its cave system runs for 12 km, however only five of the caverns are open to the public. The caves have been “known” to locals for over 1,000 years and therefore it is unsurprising that the caves have also been a long-standing place of worship. Walking through the entrance you’ll come across tons of Buddhist statues carved into the cave walls, as well as several spots to make offerings. Perhaps not the most beautiful caves you’ve ever seen, but what is fascinating is that the caves are really like a temple. It’s a unique aspect of local legend and culture.
We had read a lot about entering the caves before our trip and were forewarned regarding the entrance fee. There are two parts of the cave, one being the external area which is free, and the other which goes into the depth of the cave. If you’d like to explore the internal caverns, it adds up to 200 baht (as you pay for entrance, a lamp, a guide), which really is nothing but you’re also expected to pay a tip. I would never, ever recommend anyone to explore the caves on their own. Your only option is to pay for a tour guide who will lead you by lantern through the maze of caverns. As a word of warning, you will need to be able to climb through small spaces and tunnels, so would not recommend if you are at all claustrophobic or have mobility issues.
The caves are indeed impressive, with several alien-like formations and structures. Victor also swore he saw the biggest spider he’s ever seen running in the shadow of our guide. Eek! Being guided by just a lantern was a really unique experience and we’re really glad we mustered up the courage to just go with the flow on this one.
The caves are surrounded by a sort of complex full of temples, cafes and hiking trails. The day began to become blazingly hot, so we made our way to our accommodation via our songthaew driver — time for some lunch!
Lunch at Nest
After the cave, it was time for a special lunch. Up until now, our meals in Chiang Mao consisted of ingredients or ready-made meals from 7-11. We used the small help yourself kitchen at our accommodation. But, this time around, we treated ourselves to lunch at Chiang Dao Nest II Restaurant. Nest offers two resorts, each with their own high-end restaurant. Nest I has a European-style restaurant while Nest II has a Thai-style one. We went with the latter, and wow it was such a lovely experience. The views are spectacular!
The food is tasty and refreshing, reminiscent of traditional Thai flavors but with a bit of a more modern twist. We chose some delicious noodle salads, one with sauteed mushrooms and the other with fresh peppers and apples. We also had some fried tofu sticks to balance out all that healthiness! Everything was delicious, and felt quite special especially out in the middle of the outskirts of town. And I’m going to say it again, those views though!
Local Hot Springs
One thing I should mention is that I was still quite sick at this point! I felt queasy the day before after walking through Chiang Dao on our first day there. I’m pretty I got sick from that sweetened coffee stuff that Thais love so much. However, I managed to muster enough energy to last a few hours each day. After lunch I felt a bit sick again so had to rest a while. But then, I had some more energy and so trekked down to the local hot springs. I say trekked, but it really was only a 5-minute walk down to the springs. You can really tell this is a local haunt, as we were surrounded by kids playing ball and vendors selling skewers. There were also a fair amount of dogs, surrounding the meat stand.
The area has several little, concrete bathtubs where the hot spring water is guided through a pipe that leads to each bathtub. Temperatures inevitably vary between bathtubs, but generally the temperate is at 46.2 Celsius aka 115.16 Fahrenheit! It was really nice to enjoy the hot springs. I’m sure they have some sort of healing power because of course later on I felt I had almost fully recovered from my illness! Huzzah!
Saying Goodbye to Chiang Dao
All in all, Chiang Dao was a rather unique experience. It was upsetting to be sick most of the time, but I did make the effort to explore as much as I could without going too far. The people of Chiang Dao are incredibly friendly and welcoming. I can’t count how many times we had to ask for directions, or ask for huge favors and we hadn’t thought some things through. I’m grateful for their hospitality.
I’m also grateful that I made the effort to go out and do something outside my comfort zone. Chiang Dao makes you go off the grid, tap into your inner adventurer, and discover whatever comes your way.
Do you take any risks while traveling? Do you regret them, or do you feel more fulfilled because of those chances you took?