Photo: Chiang Dao.

Introduction

A district of Chiang Mai province, Chiang Dao refers to the main regional town, the huge limestone massif that overlooks it, and the neighbouring wildlife sanctuary as well. Dao means star in Thai — the mountain is so high it’s supposed to be on the same level as the stars themselves.


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While the district is large – starting at Mae Taeng, just north of Chiang Mai, it extends all the way to the Burmese border at Arunothai and west and east to Wiang Haeng and Phrao respectively — the town is small. The “city of stars” lies around 80 kilometres due north of Chiang Mai city and an equal distance from Fang.

While the famous caves of the same name are the most popular attraction in the area, there are other reasons to pay a visit to Chiang Dao. It’s a cute, friendly, laidback little town with a fine selection of accommodation and restaurants plus excellent road connections with Chiang Mai and regional destinations — it makes a good base to explore the surrounding area. There are hiking possibilities, including the ascent of Doi Chiang Dao itself, some interesting day trips and one of the most diverse hilltribe populations of any region in Thailand.

The impressive Chiang Dao peak.

The impressive Chiang Dao peak. Photo: Mark Ord

Indeed Chiang Dao is said to be the only Thai district where all of the six main, ethnic hilltribe groups — Akha, Hmong, Karen, Lahu, Lisu and Yao — are represented. In addition to Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary, the district incorporates much of the vast Pha Daeng, as well as sections of Sri Lanna, national parks.


Orientation
The small town of Chiang Dao straddles what was once Route 107, though through traffic has dropped off dramatically, and thankfully, since the completion of a bypass just to the west. It’s more a two- than one-street town, since in addition to the main drag the side road up to the famous caves (which begins life as Soi 25), is also built up with numerous restaurants, guesthouses and resorts.

As you enter town from the south on the Chiang Mai-Fang road you’ll find, in the following order: the police station, the turn off for the post office and 24-hour convenience stores, all on your left, and songthaew station and turn off to the Ping bridge on your right. Just after this is the morning market and the cave road, Soi 25, again on your left. The main bus station and afternoon market are further past Soi 25. The town’s main hospital is north of town on Route 107 just before it rejoins the bypass, while banks with ATM machines are dotted along the main drag.

Laid back scenes near Arunothai.

Laid back scenes near Arunothai. Photo: Mark Ord

Taking Soi 25 you’ll pass by a few restaurants, unusual Wat Mae It and signposted side tracks leading to various guesthouses. After crossing the bypass, a left fork takes you out through orchards to some rather dubious hot springs while straight on heads up to the caves and resorts.

Arriving in the small village of Ban Tham, the entrance and carpark for Chiang Dao caves and Wat Tham Chiang Dao are on your left while the road continues west past the caves to another fork in the road. Bearing left, and they are well signposted, is a string of resorts beyond which the road terminates at the Wildlife Sanctuary buildings and mountain shrine Wat Tham Pla Pong. The right fork leads off into the mountains, the trail head for the ascent of Doi Chiang Dao and Muang Khong village some 40 kilometres distant.





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