Well worth a look
Published/Last edited or updated: 11th May, 2018
Chiang Dao’s famous caves, the area’s trademark tourist attraction, consist of more than 12 kilometres of underground passages and caverns, though much of it is not accessible to tourists.
In fact, the caverns are so numerous, and the passages so complex, that visitors are not allowed to enter without a guide—save for a couple of permanently lit areas—because being lost in a massive system of caves beneath Thailand’s third largest mountain could possibly result in you overstaying your visa ... or worse.
That said, there’s a 40 baht entrance fee and the main chamber is well lit and easily visited on your own. Of the twelve kilometres only a few are open to the public and despite the sign outside you won’t get lost unless you start crawling down side passages which we obviously don’t recommend doing.
The main tunnel is clearly marked, well frequented and leads you first past a small cave shrine, then, continuing on you’ll see plenty of stalactites and stalagmites until you reach a second, smaller shrine at the far end of the main tunnel. This is about as far as you can go on your own though there are narrower side passages which are unlit so you’d have to hire a guide and lamp (going rate 100 baht plus tip) if you wish to explore these. Note some of them can be tricky and even if you’ve brought your own torch it would not be wise to wander off-piste without a guide.
The typical limestone features aren’t the most spectacular you’ll find in Thailand so while you wouldn’t need to allow a long time for the cave itself when taken with the adjacent temple, Wat Tham Chiang Dao, the gardens, photogenic old chedis and small market there’s definitely enough to keep you busy for a while.
The cave entrance is set in a small landscaped park with a fishpond (you can feed the carp) with Wat Tham Chiang Dao lying just to the right. Most of the temple buildings are of relatively recent construction though some of the ancient stupas on the rocks at the rear of the temple are reckoned to be up to 2,000 years old. Bear in mind the cave itself is also considered a temple so suitable attire is required. If you’ve come in shorts then sarongs are available for hire at the entrance.
An interesting aside is the small, natural medicine market in stalls around the edge of the carpark. Numerous forest products are on sale—and by forest products we mean edible mushrooms, medicinal roots, leave, nuts, berries, bark and so on rather than endangered animals—as well as locally grown tea, coffee and orchids.
The carpark also has several coffee shops and is a good place to get a local lunch. The eateries all seem fine though much of a muchness; all have Thai names only and serve up noodle soups or rice dishes for 30 to 40 baht and khao soi for 60 to 70.
So, with a good local cuppa first, visit to the caves themselves, a wander through the gardens and temple complex, lunchtime bowl of khao soi and a nose through the herb market, we’d allow a couple of hours.
The entrance to the caves is around six kilometres west of Chiang Dao, past the new bypass. That’s a 150 baht songthaew ride from town (per vehicle not per person) but within easy walking distance of the clutch of guesthouses on the road past Ban Tham Village. Indeed it’s not an unpleasant walk from Chiang Dao town if you’ve got time and energy.
The Caves are located around 6 kilometres west of Chiang Dao Town in Ban Tham. They’re an easy cycle or walk from any of the local guesthouses and resorts or a short ride down Chiang Dao Cave Road, Soi 25, from town. A taxi from town (yellow songthaew) will set you back 150 baht each way but this is for the whole truck.
Address: Around 6km west of Chiang Dao town
Coordinates (for GPS): 98º55'41.54" E, 19º23'38" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: 40 baht entrance, 20 baht for a sarong (if needed) and 100 baht for a guide (for up to five people)
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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