About one hour north of Chiang Mai on a mostly four lane highway, Chiang Dao is a beautiful, peaceful, and mountainous area.
In the vicinity, there is trekking, bamboo rafting, hiking, elephant rides, elephant shows, many different groups of mountain people (hilltribe villages), abundant nature, Thailand's 3rd highest mountain, mountain / forest temple, meditation possibilities, and the Chiang Dao Cave.
There are several guesthouses and resorts in the area.
How to get there
Chiang Dao is 72 km north of Chiang Mai on Highway 107 to Fang and Tha Ton.
The nearest major airport is in Chiang Mai. A metered, air conditioned taxi will cost about 1000 - 1200 Baht one-way (~$35US).
The easiest and cheapest way to get in and out of Chiang Dao, is to stay next to, or near Highway 107. Anywhere along side the highway, one can wave down a bus or Songtheaw to either go towards Chiang Mai (40 Baht), or Fang (40 Baht). Buses run quite often (between 6am - 6pm every half hours)
There are buses six times daily from Chiang Mai to Tha Ton, which stop at Chiang Dao along the way. 90 minutes, 40 baht.
You can ask the driver to stop anywhere along the side of the road, which is better than getting off at the Chiang Dao bus stop, where Sontheaw drivers charge 100 Baht or more to take you one way to a resort.
Most guesthouses can arrange motorcycles for rent for around 200-300 baht/day. This is the cheapest option as there are very few taxis in the town and they employ a price fixing strategy, be prepared to pay 150 baht per ride from one of these regardless of how much you barter.
Taxis usually stay in town close to the 7-11, better to negotiate with taxi drivers directly, instead of asking the guest houses as they mark their prices sometime quite dramatically.
What to see
Chiang Dao Cave, 5 km off the main highway. The best-known attraction here, offering 12 kilometers of stalactite-laden caves — although only five of the caverns are accessible to the public. Entry 10 baht. You can tour the lighted part of the cave alone, or hire a guide with a lantern to view the unlit caverns.
What to see
Waterfall in Chiang Dao National Park
The town of Chiang Dao is adjacent to Chiang Dao National Park, which covers over 1000 sq.km. of the stunning craggy mountains in the area. Being fairly high up, it's noticeably cooler and drier than on the plains and can get downright cold in the winter. The local flora is semitropical, with extensive bamboo forests and several mountain streams and waterfalls. The area is popular for trekking, as besides the mountain views there are many Lisu and Karen hill tribe villages scattered in the park.
Doi Luang Chiang Dao at 2225m is the highest peak in the area (and the third-highest in all Thailand) and doable as a two-day trip.
Chiang Dao Nest Tours and Trekking, offers a wide variety of 2-3 day treks in the national park. Small, private groups led by local hill tribe guides, priced at roughly 1000 baht/person/day all-inclusive.
Doi Luang Chiang Dao is a limestone mountain in the Chiang Dao Wildlife Reserve area, Amphoe Chiang Dao. This cone-shaped mountain is 2,195 metres from sea level, which makes it the third highest mountain in Thailand after Doi Inthanon and Doi Pha Hom Pok. Narrow plains on top of the mountain overlook spectacular views that include a sea of fog on the Amphoe Chiang Dao side, Doi Sam Phi Nong, the Chiang Dao mountain range, and the far end of Doi Inthanon. The peak is cool and windy. It is full of rare highland flowers, birds, and butterflies. Visiting Doi Chiang Dao needs an approval letter from the Director of Wildlife Reserve Division, Royal Forest Department. It must arrange at least 2 weeks before traveling. Call 0 2561 2947 for more information.
Getting there: The peak is accessible on foot. At Chiang Dao cave, guides, porters, and chartered transfers to the starting point of the trail are available. Rented local trucks costs around 900 baht and, a porter is 300 baht per person. There are no tourist facilities on Chiang Dao Mountain. Visitors must bring their own sleeping bags, food, and water.
Descending the mountain is possible on the trail near Ban Tham, which is located near Chiang Dao cave. The trail is rather steep; nevertheless, it could shorten the walking distance on descending. It is quite difficult to climb up.
Every Tuesday the town has a market with many hilltribe people coming down to trade.
Where to eat
Star Cafe. Just beside the 7-11 in the middle of Chiang Dao village, offers clean and tasty food, catering for western style Thai foods ( Not too Spicy). at a good price in pleasant surroundings, now with free Internet and wifi for patrons.
Take Cafe, Japanese restaurant, Run by a Japanese gentleman and his wife on the road between Chiang dow village and the cave very reasonably prices, jovial host and enjoyable budget Japanese food.
Mallee's Nature Resort. Close to Chiang Dao Cave. Reasonably priced selection of local Thai and some western foods, makes a great breakfast with fresh home made bread and jams. (Next to Chiang Dao Nest)
Chiang Dao Nest (western food) and Chiang Dao Nest 2 (Thai food) Take highway 107 North from Chiang Mai towards Fang (Chang Puak Gate from the old city) , At 72km, in Chiang Dao town ,just after the Chiang Dao Inn Hotel, turn left towards Chiang Dao Cave and Malee's. Delicious, fresh, local ingredients, high quality. Worth a stop even if you're not staying at the nest. Beautiful setting in the mountains to boot.
Where to Drink
There are also a few Thai Karaoke Bars in and around Chiang Dao, for those who are a little more adventurous.
Where to stay
Chiang Dao now offers quite a few guesthouses and resorts, some located right near the Chiang Dao - Fang Highway, others near the bypass or near the cave and mountain temple.
Chiang Dao Nest, +66-60171985 run by English/Thai couple Stuart and Wicha is a self-proclaimed mini resort with views of the mountains around and Thai/Western food. 11 bungalows with fan, attached bathroom, hot water, from 495 baht/night. Some Thai/Western couples claim to have been harassed (Thai wives accused of being 'bar girls') by the rather officious Wicha, she can also be very unreasonable with guests when things don't go so well.
Nature Home, is a nice and quiet place, offers nice rooms with private bathrooms for 400 baht/night. The owner are a local couple that speaks no English, but is very friendly. If you are lucky, you might get some kind of breakfast for free in the morning.
Malee's Nature Lovers Bungalows, +66-53456426 is a nice and quiet place set up in 1995 offers bamboo rooms with private bathrooms. Family and honeymoon suit are also available. The location offers views of the surrounding mountains. It is located right next to the above mentioned Chiang Dao Nest.
Chiang Dao Hut,+66-872081269 Chiang Dao Hut is a small, new, cosy, guest house run by a young friendly Thai couple who have had many years of hotel experience in Chiang Mai and speak reasonable English. There are 2 fairly large, simple but clean wooden bungalows (one double, one twin) each with fan, attached bathroom and hot shower. Prices from 380B (low season) to 580B (high). They have a small cafe at the front which is a great place to relax with a latte, fruit shake or some Western or Thai food like pizza, spaghetti, pad thai etc.
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Location: Latitude=19.34134, Longitude=98.959562