Riding a longer distance by motorbike was something we haven’t done for a long time. A day after we returned back from Sukhothai we left once again towards Chiang Dao or better, to the caves of Chiang Dao. Our longest ride via scooter around Chiang Mai was probably to Mae Rim when we visited the Elephant Poopoopaper Park and the nearby Tiger Kingdom.
We left around noon and first had to battle against the annoying slow traffic of cars and motorbikes north of the moat, all seeming to escape Chiang Mai for the weekend. After around thirty minutes of turtle-like-speed the traffic once got back to normal and past Mae Rim, we drove happily at 80km/h on average. It’s pretty easy to get to the caves you can’t miss the traffic signs, especially when you’re around Chiang Dao already.
“Thailand’s third highest mountain”
Chiang Dao Caves is an underground limestone complex which consists of more than 100 caves around 12 kilometres beneath Thailand’s third highest mountain, Doi Chiang Dao (2175m). The mountain can be spotted from far away as its shape and size majestically surpasses its surrounding.
As we arrived we had a quick look around the small park in front of the cave’s entry which features a fishpond (you can feed the fishes), a temple (Wat Tham Chiang Dao) and a golden Buddha statue.
After entering the cave, we were immediately greeted by a small shrine and numerous Buddha images across various tiers. The main tunnel near the entrance is illuminated and easy to walk through. As we wanted to go deeper, we arranged a personal guide. You have to hire a guide with torch or lamp as all other passages are not lit up and it would be just too dangerous to walk alone.
“Prepare to get dirty”
Our granny-like guide was probably just 1.50m and could easily squeeze herself through holes and gaps. Sri was fine as well while I had a few problems here and there and had to slide with very awkward moves through some of the passages. I bumped my head multiple times but expected that before. Granny tried to explain in her limited English some of the bigger and more bizarre formations like “This look like papaya” or “This look like baby elephant“.
As we were walking, we noticed a number of small shrines in a few bigger caverns. Surprisingly most of the caves were far bigger than we expected. We were never really alone as many groups and families walked through the caves at the time. Our granny was a bit impatient as we stopped continuously to take dozens of photos.
Is it worth to visit Chiang Dao Caves?
Well, yes and no. If you’re an experienced caver or you’re expecting dozens of beautiful stalagmites and stalactites you’ll be definitely disappointed. Thinking of finding a spot where sunrays magically beaming into the cave? There is only one spot and that’s right after entering the cave (the aforementioned shrine). If you, however, never experienced a cave before, passing by, or you’re travelling with your kids, Chiang Dao caves is a great place to start caving.
Moreover, some of the guides try to scam visitors, making it yet one additional place on my list “most annoying places to visit”, read more below.
What clothes and or other items should you bring?
Bring a cotton shirt, but not your best one, short pants and sneakers will do it. Prepare to get a bit dirty, but it’s not like it’s going to be from head to toe. Don’t wear flip flops, it’s slippery. Have enough water with you, it’s warm and moist.
How to get to Chiang Dao Caves:
If you plan on taking a motorbike, it’s quite easy: leave Chiang Mai towards Mae Rim by taking road 107, north of the moat. You just need to follow road 107 constantly until Chiang Dao. When you’re in Chiang Dao, just follow the signs saying ‘Chiang Dao Cave’. It takes about 70-90 minutes depending on if you take a break on the way. Be cautious, though: there is a police checkpoint about 15 minutes before and no way around it. If you plan to go with a group, consider renting a Songthaew (red pickup buses) for a day, the fee will be around 2000 THB.
Food & Drinks:
There is an array of food stalls and coffee shops around the adjacent parking lot.
Opening times and entry fee:
The caves open daily between 07:00-17:00. The entry is 40 THB for foreigners and 20 THB for Thais (well, luckily Sri looks like a Thai – if you know what I’m talking about :). The guide is 100 THB plus tips. Make sure to first figure out who your guide is and then pay him or her. Some of these guides try to scam visitors by asking you directly for the 100 THB, only to arrange (after paying him/her) another colleague who’ll be your guide and who then wants to be paid again 100 THB plus tips, therefore, pay attention.
Here is a map
Kian & Sri