One thing that I haven’t done as much I should is exploring the towns around Chiang Mai. So when my friend Ruby mentioned that she was going to Chiang Dao, I basically invited myself on her trip, haha. I actually did say something like “Oh, can I join you?”. She was nice enough to say yes, so a few weekends ago, we went up to Chiang Dao and had a great peaceful retreat from the city!
How we got there:
Chiang Dao is located about a 1.5 hour drive from Chiang Mai. So if you have a motorbike or a car, it’s an easy drive to get there.
We used public transport. Buses from Chiang Mai to Chiang Dao depart from Chang Phuak Bus Station, which is about a 10-15 minute walk from the North Gate. Tickets cost 40baht each way, and they can be purchased when you arrive at the station at the circular ticket counter near the middle. The bus is bright orange in colour, so you can’t miss it!
The bus service runs from 7.30am to 5.30pm and they seem to leave whenever the bus reaches full capacity. This means anywhere between 15-30 minutes between buses. Chiang Dao is the first stop in the route.
The buses aren’t air-conditioned but the windows are all usually up and there are some fans on the ceiling so it’s not a big deal. When we took it, it was completely full both ways and the benches sit 3 persons! So be ready for a cosy fit.
For the return journey from Chiang Dao to Chiang Mai, we had to wait 2 hours on a Sunday afternoon before there was a bus with enough seats. It’s not possible to book seats in advance so it really is luck of the draw. It’s best not to have any firm plans coming from Chiang Dao due to this unpredictability. Alternatively, you could arrange for private transport for the journey back to Chiang Mai.
Where we stayed:
Ruby had booked a hut at Chiang Dao Huts, so I followed suit and booked the last available one. Hurrah! They have different types of accommodation available and the one we selected was the hut with a shared bathroom. For only 300baht a night, it’s a real steal!
The hut is pretty cozy, and there’s even a porch! The shared bathroom was maybe 20m away and very clean.
The resort grounds was very lovely. Lots of greenery around, and there’s also a seating/lounge area near the reception which was very comfortable.
What we did:
We departed from Chiang Mai at about 8.30am on Saturday so we were in Chiang Dao by 10.00am. The Chiang Dao bus station is about 10-15 minute away from the town centre, and we had breakfast at a cafe-restaurant called Model Farm. Tasty food at a good price!
Just across from Model Farm is the songthaew station. In Chiang Dao, the songthaews are yellow and they have a fixed price to most (if not all) of the main hotels and resorts in the area. The price is per trip so it’s a good deal if you’re a big group travelling together. We paid 150baht to get to Chiang Dao Huts which was about a 10 minute drive away.
Our first tourist stop was the Chiang Dao Caves, which was only a 10-15 minute walk away from Chiang Dao Huts. Entry is 40baht (Thai citizens only pay 20baht), and it is well worth it! There’s a section of the caves that you can explore on your own, and there’s also another route where you have to hire a guide who’ll take you through it. Each guide costs 100baht (for up to 5 in a group), plus a tip, and again it’s well worth the price.
This guided route requires you to be quite mobile (there are some steep stairs) and okay with crawling through small spaces (only 2 instances, and you’re not fully enclosed so it’s okay). You should also be comfortable with being in the dark; the guide has a kerosene lamp and that’s about it. So if you don’t deal well with those things, then perhaps this is not the thing for you.
But if that sounds okay (or even fun!) to you, then the guided route is a must! Between our guide speaking only rudimentary English and us having zero Thai, there was a bit of a communication barrier. But she pointed out to us interesting rock formations and told us to take care when the ground was slippery or there was a jutting rock, and so we somehow managed to get on. I do imagine that the tour would be a lot more interesting without the language barrier; I had so many questions about the history and geology of the caves!
The end of the guided route was part of the caves where we can explore on our own so that’s what we did.
After a late lunch, we ended up back the resort to relax, then had dinner and then retreated back to our huts. A very relaxing day!
We wanted to get some exploring done before check-out so we were up and out by 8.30am. Our first stop was the famed Nest 1 restaurant for breakfast. The resort looked really lovely and I would love to splurge and stay there next time!
Nest 1, which has a Western menu, was bustling with activity. We had a leisurely breakfast in peaceful surrounds, and at a decent price!
Once our tummies were loaded up, we continued on to our 2nd tourist stop of the trip: Wat Tham Pla Plong. The temple is located on the side of a mountain and there are apparently 500+ steps to get there!
The stairway route up was meandering and on a low incline so it was a fairly easy journey up. My favourite thing: the inspirational/thought-provoking sayings that were posted up along the route!
Wat Tham Pla Plong is built into the side of the mountain so its interior is really cool. And when you go up to the pagoda, the view is stunning. It’s definitely one of the most unique temples I’ve been to.
For lunch, we went to Nest 2 which is located just a few minutes down from Chiang Dao Huts. Nest 2 serves Thai cuisine and it was really delicious. I had fried fish with Thai spices and basically stuffed my face full of it.
While Nest 1 looks like a more private retreat, Nest 2 is more open and is right by the mountain cos it has great surroundings. Once we were done with lunch, the staff at the restaurant helped us call for a taxi (150 baht) to get us to the bus station.
Aside from checking out a cool new place and getting out of the city, I enjoyed getting to know Ruby. We have mutual friends and met a few times but I pretty much didn’t know much about her so it was nice to connect with another female nomad. I’m glad she let me join her!
It was such a lovely weekend and being out in nature was so relaxing! Not that Chiang Mai is that busy a city, but when you’re out in Chiang Dao, it is much more quiet and peaceful. I really loved it, and would go again just to chill out. Aside from the Chiang Dao Caves and Wat Tham Pla Plong, there’s also a national park nearby with hot springs and waterfalls so that would be on my list for my next visit!