Exploring Chiang Dao, Thailand

All photos by Jaroslav Holub

Chiang Dao is a town and a district only 70 kilometers from Chiang Mai and it is known for its stunning views of the mountains surrounding the area and you can indeed see them from everywhere. Chiang Dao is a very convenient getaway if you get tired of the busy traffic and touristy streets of Chiang Mai. We have decided to spend the Christmas period here, in total isolation from shopping crowds, Christmas songs and WiFi connection.

Traveling from Chiang Dao to Chiang Mai is very easy and cheap - you can take a classic bus from Chiang Mai bus Terminal 1. The price of the ticket is 40 baht (approx. 1 EUR) and there is no pre-booking needed (nor possible) as the buses depart from the station every 30 minutes. The trip to Chiang Dao Town takes about 2 hours. Locals tend to enjoy some snacks on the journey, especially bags of sausages bought at the bus station’s platform.

There are many guest houses and farm stays in the Chiang Dao area, however you will barely see any tourists outside of the typical tourist attractions. We have stayed at the papaya and rambutan farm called Yang Tone farm stay and had an amazing and peaceful stay in a little cottage. The area is very safe and comfortable to bike around. If you want to go a little bit further, you can always rent a motorcycle, which we did for the last 3 days of our week-long stay.

There are several “must see” attractions that the guest house owners and travel guides keep recommending, however the things we liked the most were a little bit “off tourist track” and we did not see any other tourists there. Here they are:

Special Buddhist temples:

There are, of course, many of them in the area, just like everywhere else in Thailand. I have picked the ones that we found really special for different reasons.

  • Wat Phra That Doi Mon Ching — Located on the top of a hill. One of the most peaceful places we have ever been to — just a couple of monks having their afternoon naps, bunch of sleeping cats and dogs and the sound of the wind. There is a bizarre, golden decoration which looks like it will fall off the hill towards the village at any moment, but somehow it looks very zen anyway. Or maybe that’s why.
  • Wat Phra That Pu Kam— This one has a giant Buddha statue overlooking the valley full of rice fields. Amazing! Plus I like the idea that Buddha enjoyed wearing nail polish.
  • Wat Mae Ead — this one is located directly in the Chiang Dao town. There is a statue of a large and very fat Buddha meditating next to the entrance. It is quite common in Thailand that there are soft drinks given as offerings in Buddhist shrines. But this specific Buddha does not receive regular Fanta. He receives 10 bottles of M150, which is a local alternative to Redbull but 20x stronger. I’m sure it helps him reach another level of intensity of mindfulness. In the temple garden, there are some disturbing sculptures representing Buddhist hell. This place is allegedly known as popular for taking selfies, however we did not see anyone there besides one sleepy cat.

Local markets:

  • Chiang Dao Tuesday market — Local market every Tuesday from early morning until noon. This market is not touristy at all. If you manage to go there, be ready to attract a lot of attention. Great opportunity to observe locals buying fresh vegetables and brand new track suits.
  • Ban Arunothai Friday market — similar experience, but even more rural. Very interesting if you like observing people. Between locals, it is very popular to wear fleece pajamas for this occasion as mornings are really cold in the region. Again, be ready to become one of the highlights of the market. Smile and keep some Imodium handy.

Other:

  • PHA DAENG NATIONAL PARK: Sri Sangwan Waterfall and Pong Arng Hot Spring. Our tip: If you would like to swim in the hot spring, make sure to bring some extra clothes with you. Thai people don’t wear speedos and bikinis but prefer to swim in shorts and t-shirts — so too much exposure might be disturbing for them. I would definitely wear at least a longer t-shirt over my swimsuit.
  • Chiang Dao cave: The cave is really interesting, however I would not recommend this tour with the guide to someone who is claustrophobic, like me. Part of the cave is without electricity and the guides take you on the tour with their gas lanterns. That was ok for me but I did not know that we would have to literally crawl through narrow holes in rocks to be able to enter some parts of the cave. There is no way back as your guide holds the light. Luckily I managed to run away at the beginning of the tour using the flashlight from my iPhone and took the tour on my own through the spacious parts of the cave with electricity and without panic attacks.
  • Overall, we really enjoyed biking around the banana plantations and local villages.
  • Chiang Dao is not a gastronomic destination, so don’t be too picky here. Just stop next to something that looks like kitchen and ask for food. Helpful workers from the neighborhood will probably call the owner of the place and someone will eventually show up to cook for you.

All photos by Jaroslav Holub, all rights reserved.