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Chiang Dao

Travel Guide

A short and scenic 90 minutes from Chiang Mai, Chiang Dao has developed into an excellent alternative base for those who are in the north but do not have the time or inclination to head to the further-flung destinations around the area. While the Chiang Dao Cave is the most popular attraction in the area, there are many reasons to pay a visit: outstanding guesthouses, some exceptional food, ample opportunity for trekking, and one of the most diverse ethnic hilltribe populations of any district in Thailand.

The main town of Chiang Dao is a pretty unexciting little stopover, boasting only a few restaurants and places to stay. The locals are early to bed, with most establishments closing at or before 20:00. As such, they are also very early to rise, and the town's morning market gets going around 03:00, well before the sun rises above the eastern hills. Early birds will feel right at home.

Considering that there is not much of interest in town, and the main draw of Chiang Dao is its lovely natural surroundings, most people opt to stay well off the main thoroughfare; there are several excellent options on the road that weaves through the jungle on the way to the cave and beyond to the national park. This area, well away from any traffic noise, among tall stands of trees nestled at the base of Doi Chiang Dao Luang, is as peaceful and beautiful a locale as you could ask for.

The people of Chiang Dao and the surrounding area care deeply about the serene valleys and mountains they call home. As such, great emphasis is placed on preserving the beauty and health of their farmlands and jungles, an important effort that goes missing in some other rural areas of Thailand (and much of the rest of Southeast Asia, for that matter). This, along with plentiful hilltribe village homestays, makes for a fabulous environment for trekking, birdwatching, nature photography, and anything else you fancy most when you find yourself in the great outdoors.

If pristine wilderness is what you came looking for in northern Thailand, then Chiang Dao should not be missed. At a short 80 kilometres north of Chiang Mai, there is very little standing in the way between you and this relaxing, verdant escape.

The town of Chiang Dao straddles what was once highway 107, though traffic through town has likely dropped off dramatically since they built the highway bypass just to the west. Aside from these two roads, the only other significant thoroughfare in the area is the road that leads out to the cave, which begins in town as Soi 25. Many of the town's best and longest-running guesthouses can be found here.

The town itself doesn't have all that much in terms of traveller resources, but it has the essentials. Banks, petrol and the police station can all be found along the main road, and you'll find at least one 7-eleven as well, so there is at least one place open after 20:00.

Internet as well as motorbike rentals can be found at The Star, a small cafe near Soi 13 on the east side of the road. Prices are not as low as in Chiang Mai, but reasonable nonetheless, making it a good first stop for anyone travelling without their own transport/internet device.

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Text and/or map last updated on 30th October, 2013.

Last reviewed by:
Stuart McDonald co-founded with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.

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