Visiting the Chiang Dao Caves in North Thailand

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ December 10th, 2014. Filed under: Thailand.
Shrine at the Chiang Dao Caves in North Thailand

Shrine at the Chiang Dao Caves in North Thailand – I really don’t like how everywhere has bright fluorescent lights

Caves in North Thailand

Back on the seat of a motorbike it’s only about 1.40 hours or 70km North of Chiang Mai to the Chiang Dao Caves in Chiang Dao province. Yes, it’s all Chiang Dao here including the city. Personally I prefer the nickname “City of Stars” which pertains to the limestone peaks that stick out above the green valley.

A small Chedi outside Chiang Dao caves

A small Chedi outside Chiang Dao caves

It’s inside one of these mountains that one of Thailand’s best known cave systems in the north lies. I’ll give more transport options and details at the bottom of this page. Meanwhile, let’s go underground!

One hundred caves deep underground in Chiang Dao

There are meant to be over 100 caves in the twelve kilometer Chiang Dao cave complex. I’m not sure what exactly constitutes an “entire cave” but for once the guides waiting around the entrance didn’t push it too hard to visit them all.

There are two options when visiting Chiang Dao caves.

1) Just go by yourself to the main cavern – it’s lit all the way.

2) Hire a guide and torch to go a little deeper.

I did both. However even though I brought my own head torch I was still handed a lamp for 100 baht by a rather glum looking man by the name Boon-Mee.

Stalactites inside the Chiang Dao Caves

Stalactites inside the Chiang Dao Caves

Boon-Mee spoke enough English to tell me I would get quite wet in the caves and possibly bleed a lot if I hit my head. I thanked him for his astute knowledge and asked if the caves were damaged during the earthquake earlier this year.

There was silence and after a few more times at asking he said my shoes were fine. I’m guessing our conversation was going to be limited (as a note I asked later and there was no damage from the earthquake here)

The main cavern in Chiang Dao caves

The walk to the main cavern begins with a long passage willed with stalactites and stalagmites before you pass some little shrines. The main cavern is a strange hybrid of cavern and another shrine.

If you are lucky you’ll be visiting when a tour group is not. Otherwise you’ll get a noisy place. It distracts and there really needs to be some “silence” signs around the place. It’s well-lit though and aside from the odd squealing tourist quite nice.

Statue of a sleeping Buddha in Chiang Dao caves

It’s not a body … it’s a statue of a sleeping Buddha

It’s not cold at all either. More warm and moist. Something that makes your shirt cling to you until a refreshing breeze from another tunnel blows by.

It’s not a dead body it’s a sleeping Buddha

At the far end of the cavern there’s what looks like a sarcophagus of a kind. It is in fact a gold leaf covered stone carving of the Buddha sleeping.

I’ve not seen a Buddha statue quite like this before. It’s quite morbid in a sense. As if the gold leaves were embalming him. There’s very little information about this statue out there and I’d be interested in learning more about it.

Boon-Mee waited impatiently before pointing off down an unlit tunnel. Finally we were getting off the main trail.

The caves are a lot deeper than you’d expect

It’s surprisingly pleasant to see that the Chiang Dao caves are really quite large. There’s a lot to see here if you are into average caving. I’m not sure if there’s anymore to do if you are into above-average caving or for a speleologist but I might take a guide with a little more English if I were.

One thing to keep in mind about the Chiang Dao cave complex is that there are no real safety measures enforced here. Especially once you leave the main cave area. The ground is slippery, wet and you really do only have your lantern/torchlight to shine the way though.

There are also bats and bugs en route. Not many, but it’s better you know than put your hand somewhere warm, wet and possibly moving!

Ducking, sliding and getting dirty

I can’t pretend I wasn’t ready for a little bum sitting on a cave floor activity. It did happen. I didn’t fall though. I rather did the old granny trick of getting down on the ground at one stage as the shiny rock was very slippery. The result was a wet patch and no scratches.

caves in Chiang Dao

Keep going deeper into the cave complex …

Ducking was another point Boon-Mee had no problem in telling me. And, to be honest it wasn’t needed. There were some low cave points but nothing that wasn’t a little fun. The only entrapment feeling came from squeezing through a small gap. Again, don’t come in your best clothes if you want to go deeper into the caves.

Enjoy the caves

One more thing that seemed a little odd. Boon-Mee seemed to be going through the motions whenever we came across a large rock formation. “This look like beard”, “This look like head”.

It’s fine and great if you are with children or have not been caving before. But I found it better just to enjoy the silence and watch as small crystals flickered against the torch light on the cave roof.

Chiang Dao cave complex is really quite enjoyable and well worth a day trip out of Chiang Mai.

Formation inside Inside Chiang Dao caves

Inside Chiang Dao caves it’s well worth it to bring your own torch to see everything!

More than one day in Chiang Dao?

For those on an extended trip or looking for an escape into the mountains Chiang Dao offers some nice trekking in the area along with some mountain style retreat lodges. While the town itself is not really of note the surrounding area is.

There’s a Tuesday morning market where “tribal people” come down to sell their produce. Or, if you are feeling adventurous there’s also Wat Tham Pha Plong to visit after climbing up 500 steps! It’s easier than it sounds.

Many resorts and affordable guest houses are located near the caves which again makes it a nice option for a few days relaxing in the mountains.

How to visit, opening hours and costs for the Chiang Dao Caves

How to get there:

  • Taxi: A taxi from Chiang Mai to Chiang Dao will cost from between 1000 to 1,800 baht (1.5 hours).
  • Tours: There are several tours that put Chiang Dao on their itineraries. Costs vary but averages are about 500 baht. But be warned you won’t get that much time at the caves (all day).
  • Public transport: Buses or songthaews (those red pickups) go between Chiang Mai and Tha Ton. The fares are about 40 baht (1.5-2 hours).
  • Private transport: Motorcycle is perhaps one of the easiest ways and most enjoyable forms of getting to the caves. Renting one from Chiang Mai is about 400-500 per day. The road is good and not very busy at all (1.5-2 hours).

Opening hours: 8am – 5pm

Entrance fee: 40 baht electricity (torch fee). A guides price is suggested at 100 baht plus tip.

Tips: There are plenty of food stalls in the area outside the caves. Chiang Dao is popular with Thai’s taking a weekend away so expect crowds during weekends.

Hotel search at the Longest Way Home

Planning on booking a resort or hotel room in Chiang Dao?

Here are the best online rates guaranteed!

I recommend you try my own hotel search.

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10 Great responses to Visiting the Chiang Dao Caves in North Thailand

  1. Malcom says:

    Great story from a place that looks like a bit of alright to go for a visit.

  2. Rick says:

    So motorbike is the easiest way there? I know this may seem like a crazy question, but is parking secure there? I’ve heard of tourists being taken advantage of in Thailand and bikes being vandalized.

  3. Ally says:

    Can you make your way around without a guide? or are they mandatory?

  4. Tim G says:

    It’s fascinating to learn about places like these in such a personalized way. Nice story. I look forward to visiting the caves.

  5. Ken says:

    I’ve always wanted to visit Thailand. I’m following your blog as I’m learning new things everyday from a hands on perspective. I’m taking the jump in March!

  6. Gabby says:

    Thanks for writing this up. A big help compared to what I’m reading now!

  7. Anna's World says:

    I love caving! I saw some of your photos here and so many memories came back.

  8. bernie says:

    Hi Dave.. Hows it going?? Yeah looks very interesting there, have to try and go up there next time I get up to Chiang Mai..

  9. Ivy says:

    So…so beautiful ! :) this is to much beauty … And what a great pictures as usual.

  10. Uma says:

    Yet another thing to do in Northern Thailand … I’ll be sure to do this when I get back to SE Asia next winter!