Since many of the local resorts aren’t convenient for town, the majority offer their own full restaurant services -- and very good some of them are too, with Nest being a culinary hotspot. If you were to Google ‘where to eat in Chiang Dao’ the first 57 entries are probably for Nest, but there are some other good resort eateries plus some fine ones in town too. Nest 2 is also good of course and Malee’s has a well deserved reputation, though often these days, with so much competition around, Malee only does breakfasts and set dinner menus. Good Tree Art, though closed when we visited, gets good feedback for their restaurant which will re-open for high season.
However for a small town, Chiang Dao does have quite a few good eateries of its own. Star Cafe on the main street is an excellent spot. The wooden building is decorated with movie star posters so it's a play on the Thai name for the town. There’s WiFi, English spoken and a full menu including all the usual Thai and Western suspects. The Thai food we sample was fine and reasonably priced thought we can’t vouch for the quality of the Western options. Star is conveniently open all day until midnight too.
Also on the main street, and just down from Star, is the Model Farm. There’s a local, community organic farming project outside of town and this is their in-town outlet, with a small supermarket and coffee shop as well as an excellent restaurant offering some highly imaginative choices. Their superb smoked duck in tamarind sauce for 130 baht made a drive out to Nest somewhat redundant! More classic choices such as red or panaeng curries went for 70 baht. It's not badly priced at all considering the quality of the food, but just a shame they don’t stay open for dinner.
Open for dinner, also in the centre of town and also very good is the Krua Chiang Dao Restaurant directly opposite Chiang Dao Inn. There are actually two restaurants looking on to a dirt carpark; one is Krua Chiang Dao, the other Ha Mo, but they are the same establishment with identical menus and prices. Ha Mo is smarter looking and we suspect aimed at tour group lunches while Krua is cosier and more relaxed. Krua has a fairly decent coffee shop, juices, ice-creams and the usual Thai fare with English menus. Servings on rice go for 60 baht and regular Thai dishes are 100 baht, so it's a little pricey but the food is good, location is convenient and it’s a pleasant spot to sit. They also have a small souvenir shop attached to the cafe selling hilltribe bits and bobs.
Still in downtown Chiang Dao, a few evening stalls set up by the bridge over the Ping just off the main drag, selling barbecued meats, sausages, fish with sticky rice and som tam. It's tempting stuff, but with very limited seating available so, sadly, it's basically take-away only. Back on the main street there’s a fledgling night market – well, two or three stands in the same place -- in front of the pink coloured Government Savings Bank. Open until 21:00 or 22:00, depending on how business is going.
Aside from the resort restaurants, a couple of interesting spots can be found on the road up to the caves. Firstly, a small, local-style eatery called Rim Nam has bamboo salas overlooking a stream plus a roofed decking area where they serve up Thai standards as well as barbecued meats and sticky rice. Popular amont locals for a cold bevy and piece of grilled chicken, it’s cheap, tasty and fun. A nice shady spot, which claims to open all day from 07:00 until 22:00, the stream is suitable for a dip but the whole place looks like it could get a bit hairy during heavy rains.
Also on route for the caves, on the left in the small village of Ban Tham just before the entrance to the car park, is Bamboo Mountain Coffee House. Despite the name, this establishment could easily fit into a coffee shop, restaurant or bar section and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus drinks in the evening. Their reasonably priced Thai and Western choices get excellent feedback while in winter evenings an open fire in the back garden is a great spot to chew the fat and sup a beer. From the outside it looks like a large bamboo shack though the interior opens into a spacious sitting area with a small garden out back. Convivial spot!
You’re never far from a decent coffee shop in Chiang Dao and there’s several along the main street itself. First up, opposite the already mentioned Model Farm, is Chiang Dao Coffee set in a converted army jeep, no less! 10 out of 10 for imagination; the rear folds down to provide the drink-preparing area with stools and low tables set around. The chirpy owner was full of titbits and anecdotes about all things Chiang Dao and served up a fine brew as well. The yellow songthaew station for the caves and Doi Ang Khang is immediately next to the jeep.
Next up, just down from the Tesco Minimart on the left, also on the main street, is Sompraew, another small and rather basic coffee shop but notable for their motorbike hire. Hondas go for 300 baht per day and they have some good map print outs if you ask. This is actually run by the same couple who own Star Cafe so even though there was no obvious sign up that we could see, you should be able to rent them from Star too.
Continuing along the main road, and about 200 metres north of the bus station, just past the small bridge, is the very friendly Chiang Dao Coffee Shop and Bakery. They serve up excellent and inexpensive fresh coffee, tea and juices. They seemed a bit short on the actual bakery department but do offer a few Thai-style cakes plus salads and noodle dishes for 35 baht each. Slightly further back towards the centre of town, you’ll also find the Chiang Dao Mountain Bakery, which while selling some fine looking European-style bread and cakes didn’t have any coffee when we passed.
Bar-wise there’s not much happening in Chiang Dao other than the various guesthouse cafes, though The Cave (just a short distance past Chiang Dao Huts), has a bit of a Pai thing going with pool table, bar games and vodka Red Bull by the bucket for 150 baht. They also have bicycles and motorbikes for rent, offer tours of the surrounding area and have fan rooms starting at 200 baht per person! Bamboo Mountain is a good spot to sit in the evenings around theirfire while back in town Star stays open until midnight.
Star Cafe: Main street opposite Tesco Lotus; open daily 10:00-00:00.
Model Farm:Main street opposite the songthaew station; open Mon-Sat 08:00-08:00.
Ha Mo/Krua Chiang Dao: Main street opposite Chiang Dao Inn; T: (053) 455 133; open daily 08:00-21:00.
Rim Nam: San Pong Village, Chiang Dao Cave Rd; T: (087) 047 5119; open daily 07:00-22:00.
Bamboo Mountain Coffee: Ban Tham, T: (094) 629 9067; open daily 08:00-22:00 (ish).
Chiang Dao Coffee: Main street next to songthaew station; T: (083) 555 3939.
Sompraew Coffee Shop: Main street just down from the convenience stores; T: (081) 952 9261; open daily 08:00-17:00, after which you can enquire about motorbike hire at Star.
Chiang Dao Coffee Shop: Main street slightly north of bus station; T: (089) 191 5066; open daily 09:00-20:00.
The Cave: Cave Rd just past Chiang Dao Huts; T: (081) 892 0531; open Tues-Sun 17:00-23:00.