Tham Chiang Dao, the area’s trademark tourist attraction, consists 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 be a death sentence.
There’s a 40 baht entrance fee and the main chamber is well lit and easily visited on your own. Near the entrance is a small cave shrine; keep walking past a series of stalactites and stalagmites and you’ll reach a second shrine at the far end of the main tunnel which is about as far as you can go on your own. Bear in mind it is a cave temple, so suitable attire is required. If you’ve come in shorts then sarongs are available for hire at the entrance for 20 baht.
There are plenty of smaller side passages which are not lit up 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 these can be tricky and even if you’ve brought your own torch it wouldn’t be wise to wander off piste without a guide. The limestone features aren’t the most spectacular you can find in Thailand so it’s probably not worth wasting hours here unless you’re a very keen speleologist, but it’s certainly worth a stop off.
The cave entrance is set in a small landscaped park with a fishpond (you can feed the carp), and Wat Tham Chiang Dao lies just to the right. Most of the temple buildings are of relatively recent construction though some of the ancient looking chedis on the rocks at the rear of the temple are reckoned to be up to 2,000 years old.
There’s also plenty of good cheap Thai food cafes in the car park and several coffee shops. All have Thai names only and serve up noodle soups or rice dishes for 30 to 40 baht plus khao soi for 60 to 70.
Also an interesting aside is the small traditional medicine market at the entrance to the carpark with numerous forest products such as edible mushrooms, medicinal roots, leave, nuts, berries, bark and so on (not endangered animals — this isn’t Laos!)
How to get there
The cave entrance is around five kilometres west of town, past the new ring road. It’s a 150 baht songthaew ride from the bus station, but within easy walking distance of the clutch of guesthouses on the road leading to the mountain.
By Mark Ord.