Thailand

A complete guide to the unknown gem Chiang Dao

Within this Chiang Dao travel guide, you will find all the information you need to make your Chiang Dao trip happen.

Chiang Dao is an unknown destination in Northern Thailand, located not so far from Chiang Mai. It’s known for the Doi Luang Chiang Dao, the third highest mountain in Thailand and for the impressive Chiang Dao Cave. Overall it’s a calm delight and worth a trip for a day of two. 

Let’s first answer some questions about Chiang Dao, Thailand.

Chiang Dao questions answered

Is Chiang Dao close to Chiang Mai?

Yes, Chiang Dao is close to Chiang Mai. The distance is around 70 kilometers.

How to travel from Chiang Mai to Chiang Dao?

The easiest way to travel from Chiang Mai to Chiang Dao is by public bus. Every hour (from 5.30 to 17.30) a bus departs from Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 1 (Chang Phueak Bus Terminal) to Chiang Dao bus station (direction to Fang). A ticket costs 44 THB and can be purchased on the bus. Keep in mind that a bus can arrive full and that you either have to stand in the bus or have to wait for another hour. The bus ride will take around 1.5-2 hours.

You can also travel by a VIP bus (mini van). Find your options below:

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How to travel from Pai to Chiang Dao?

You can travel from Pai to Chiang Dao by minivan or private taxi.

The cheapest and fastest way to travel from Pai to Chiang Dao is to catch a public minivan from Pai Bus Station to Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 2. A seat in a minivan costs 150 THB when purchased at the Pai bus station. Then you have to take a taxi or tuk tuk from Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 2 to Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 1. This costs around THB 100. At Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 2 you can buy a bus ticket from Chiang Mai to Chiang Dao and this costs 44 THB. This journey should take about 7-8 hours and costs you about 295 THB per person.

For a bit more convenient way, I recommend you to book a private taxi from Pai to Chiang Dao in the Pai Walking Street. This is more expensive than the minivan and bus combination, but definitely more comfortable. It will be easier to survive the 762 corners without getting nauseous and the ride is much faster. You can book a private taxi for 2200-2500 THB. The car can fit 4 persons.

How many days do you need in Chiang Dao?

You probably will need two or three days in Chiang Dao. At the end of this post, you can find my 3-day itinerary to Chiang Dao, Thailand.

How to get around in Chiang Dao?

The best way to get around in Chiang Dao is by scooter. There are quite a few hills in Chiang Dao, so renting a bicycle is not really recommended. It is not easy to rent a scooter in Chiang Dao. I recommend you to book a hotel where you can also rent a scooter. Since there are so few scooters to rent, scooter rental is more expensive than in other Thai cities. Most companies or ho(s)tels charge 300 THB per day.

There are a few taxis in Chiang Dao (often in the form of yellow songthaews) and most of them loiter near the 7-Eleven. A ride will always cost at least 150 baht. The area is not covered by Grab.

What is a quiet cafe in Chiang Dao for work with great coffee?

A quiet A/C cafe in Chiang Dao for work with great coffee is Momo cafe (มนต์โม คาเฟ่ เชียงดาว จ. เชียงใหม่). They have free Wifi and you can ask for power to charge your devices. If you are in for some lunch, I can recommend the spaghetti carbonara or the papaya salad.

Another nice cafe in Chiang Dao for work and a good coffee is Velar. This cafe has a great viewpoint and serves great matcha drinks and fushin dishes. Outside, there is a cooling breeze and you can work with a beautiful view. There are plenty of power points and free wifi available. It’s the perfect spot for digital nomads to work.

Chiang Dao travel guide

From the things to do in Chiang Dao, what to eat and drink, and where to stay, here is a Chiang Dao travel guide and a 3-days itinerary for Chiang Dao.

10 things to do in Chiang Dao

Here you can find 10 excited things to do in Chiang Dao.

1. Explore the Chiang Dao Cave (Wat Tham Chiang Dao)

The Chiang Dao Cave is the best-known attraction in Chiang Dao and the only place in Chiang Dao where you will see crowds. There are two options to explore the cave.

Public part of the cave

The entrance to the Chiang Dao Cave is 40 THB per person and allows you to visit the lighted cave with the Buddhas. It will take about 30-60 minutes to see this part of the cave. You don’t need a guide for this area.

Private tour through the dark areas of the cave

In the cave you can hire a guide (with a lantern) for 200 THB to visit the darker parts of the cave. The dark part is an adventurous exercise in trusting your guide. A reasonable level of agility is required to navigate some of the smaller holes and you shouldn’t be afraid of bats, spiders, crickets and other insects. 

2. Enjoy the view from Wat Tham Pha Plong

Close to the Chiang Dao Cave you can find Wat Tham Pha Plong. It’s also called the Golden temple. To reach the pagoda at the top, you need to walk 500 steps. Along the way up, you can read spiritual quotes and just before you reach the top, you can see the main hall of the temple set inside a small cave. Once you reach the top, you will have a beautiful view of the valley and the surrounding mountains. There’s no entrance fee for the temple.

3. See the Buddhist hell at Wat Mae Ead

Wat Mae Ead is known for a sculptural representation of the Buddhist hell. The scenes of punishment for sins committed are supposed to be gruesome, but some people find them entertaining. In my opinion, it’s a scary place. You can feel the satanic ambience the moment you walk in. Next to the scary sculptures, you can see some great Buddha statues. You’ll probably need 30-45 minutes here to see everything in detail.

4. Hiking around Doi Luang Chiang Dao

Doi Luang Chiang Dao is the third highest mountain in Thailand and looks stunning from a distance. This mountain was the main reason why I wanted to visit Chiang Dao. Even from a distance the mountain looks very impressive and beautiful.

Trekking to the top of this mountain is very difficult and only experienced climbers will manage to do so. A license is required and it will take you multiple hours or days.

Many travelers will join a 1-day or 2-days trek around Doi Luang Chiang Dao or participate in a bird watching tour. Another option to see Doi Luang Chiang Dao is to drive to the Doi Lhung Chiang Dao Viewpoint. In order to reach the viewpoint, you need to enter Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary which costs 200 THB per person.

5. See art at the Makhampom Art Space

The Makhampom Art Space is a fun place to stop by. It’s a plot of land runned by artists located in the middle of rice paddy fields. The view of the rice fields with the Dog Luang Chiang Dao in the background is amazing. We even saw a kingfisher near the entrance of Makhampom. On the property you can find a little cafe, art exhibition and a guest house. If you have Facebook, you might want to check out their Facebook page.

6. Bath in the Chiang Dao Hot Springs (Yang Phu To Hot Springs)

The Chiang Dao Hot Springs, also known as Yang Phu To Hot Springs, are worth a visit when staying overnight in Chiang Dao. 

The hot springs are divided into two parts. One is the public area where you can find concrete tubs, just enough for two or three people to sit in. They are free and often packed with locals and tourists. Make sure to go in early morning to avoid the crowds. 

The second part is the private part (just before the public one) where you can rent a hot spring for an hour for 50 THB.

7. Go shopping at the Chiang Dao Tuesday Market

Every Tuesday morning the town has a big market with many hill tribe people coming down to trade. You can find the market near the bus station. The market starts early and finishes around midday.

8. Do not go to the Chiang Dao Elephant Training Centre / Camp

In Thailand you can find plenty of elephant attractions and Chiang Dao is one of the places offering elephant rides and shows. Please don’t participate in these activities as the elephants are beaten and tortured until their spirits are broken and they are willing to follow their trainers instructions. If this got your attention, please read our post about harmful animal tourist attractions that you should avoid.

9. Drive through the Giant Trees Alley

Between the Chiang Dao city center and the Chiang Dao Cave, you can find the Giant Trees Alley, a road that’s surrounded by giant trees. Most of the tourists stop by to stand in the middle of the road and to take pictures. Be careful when riding here.

10. Visit the Sri Sangwan waterfall and Pong Arng hot springs

The Sri Sangwan waterfall and Pong Arng Hot Springs are located in the Pha Daeng National Park, 32 kilometers North of Chiang Dao. From Chiang Dao, it’s a 40 minutes drive by car and 60 minutes by scooter. The entrance ticket of the waterfall gets you into the Pong Arng Hot Springs too.

Cooling down at the Sri Sangwan Waterfall

The Sri Sangwan waterfall is a limestone waterfall with 4 floors, a width of 10-15 meters and a height of 10-20 meters. The waterfall floors are not slippery because it is a limestone waterfall, so it is suitable for swimming and feeling the coolness. There is a short nature trail next to the waterfall where you can see several plants and trees. There even is a coffee cafe. When visiting in low-season, you’re probably going to be alone at the waterfall.

Pong Arng Hot Springs

The Pong Arng Hot Springs consists of two types of hot springs. One where the hot springs actually orginigate (hot and dirty, not recommended to even test with a finger or toe) and the other where you can bathe and relax (when lying down).

Recommended food and drinks in Chiang Dao

Explore one of the (food)markets in Chiang Dao

You can find four (food)markets in Chiang Dao; the indoor Chiang Dao market (open during the day), the early Chiang Dao morning market (already closed at 09.00), the Tuesday market (open every Tuesday until early afternoon) and the Sunisa Market (evening market).

Eat Western at Chiang Dao Nest 1

Chiang Dao Nest 1 is one of the best places in Chiang Dao to eat Western food. They do brunch, sandwiches, toasts, salads, egg dishes and pasta.

Surprise yourself with traditional food made by granny

Along the main road you can find a cute little restaurant runned by an older lady. She only has 5 tables and cookes all the food herselves. It’s here where we ate the best pad thai in Thailand for only 50 THB.

Enjoy food and drinks at Microkosmos Craft Beer

Microkosmos is a nice place that serves great burgers, fries, home-brewing beers and craft beers from all over the world. Thailand still taxes imported alcohol exorbitantly, so expect the beers to be expensive.

Granny’s place

Where to stay overnight in Chiang Dao?

There are plenty of places to stay overnight in Chiang Dao. Here you can find some of my favorites:

Low budget: Saming Chiang Dao Guest House

Saming Chiang Dao Guest House has 8 rooms and is located super close to the city center. The rooms are simple, but provide everything you need. The family ho runs the property is super kind and provides complimentary fruits.

Average budget: Dreamhome Chiangdao

You can find Dreamhome Chiangdao close to the Chiang Dao Cave. This accommodation provide simple double rooms and also rooms with a private terrace from where you have a stunning view. On the property itself you can also find a nice seating area to enjoy the surroundings.

High budget: Azalea Village

Azalea Village is an amazing resort with multiple cottages and is located super close to the city center. The garden and the swimming pool are beautiful. The crew is super kind and always smiling.

Chiang Dao travel guide: a 3-day itinerary to Chiang Dao

Here you can find my 3-day itinerary to Chiang Dao. Perhaps it can help you to organize your trip to Chiang Dao better.

First day in Chiang Dao:

  • Arrive in Chiang Dao and check-in at accommodation
  • Rent a scooter
  • Enjoy some street food at one of the markets in Chiang Dao
  • Bath in the Chiang Dao Hot Springs
  • See art at the Makhampom Art Space
  • Eat Thai food at granny’s place

Second day in Chiang Dao:

  • Drive through the Giant Trees Alley
  • Explore the Chiang Dao Cave
  • Enjoy the view from Wat Tham Pha Plong
  • Have a Western lunch at Chiang Dao Nest 1
  • Visit the Sri Sangwan waterfall and Pong Arng hot springs
  • Enjoy food and drinks at Microkosmos Craft Beer

Third day in Chiang Dao:

  • See the Buddhist hell at Wat Mae Ead
  • Explore Doi Luang Chiang Dao by joining a trekking, bird watching tour or by driving to the Doi Lhung Chiang Dao Viewpoint
  • Continue to the next destination

Conclusion Chiang Dao guide

I hope this Chiang Dao guide helps you to plan your Chiang Dao trip better. If you have any questions regarding the town, feel free to ask me in the comment section below. Enjoy your trip to Chiang Dao!

Author: Daphne

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