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Chiang Dao Cave
Story and pictures by David West
It only takes about an hour to reach Chiang Dao by car from Chiang Mai
but on arrival, it is as though you have travelled back in time.
Travelling north from Chiang Mai on route107 through Mae Rim and Mae
Tang, the road after forty kilometres of rolling countryside will start
to ascend the mountain. The road is both wide and well surfaced so it
is an easy crossing of this relatively small mountain. Do watch out
for elephants at about the halfway mark. From the road's summit you
descend down and make a final straight run into Chiang Dao, a total
of sixty-three kilometres from Chiang Mai.
The town of Chiang Dao is fairly typical with a market (well frequented
by colourful hilltribe people), shops and eateries. The main reason
to be here is not to see the shops but to visit the Chiang Dao Cave,
("tham" in Thai).
Clearly signposted towards the end of the town off to the left is the
road that takes you the final seven kilometres to the cave entrance.
As you travel along this narrow road, you will see the imposing 2275-metre
high Doi Chiang Dao mountain range straight in front of you. The car
park is situated on the left and there are several restaurants and stalls
ready to revitalise you if need be.
The cave complex is supposed to extend more than twelve kilometres into
the mountain but there are five main areas inside where visits can be
safely made. Just outside the main entrance is a crystal clear pool
containing a lot of very large fish that are extremely well fed due
to the ever-present fish food vendor and children eager to oblige. The
water comes directly from the mountain.
Pay the ten baht admittance fee and ascend the steps to the cave itself.
The air feels decidedly cool after the heat of the day but rest assured,
you will soon be sticky as the air inside the cave thins out noticeably.
You immediately descend to a large cavern where there is a Buddha image
and a lot of guides with gas lamps offering to guide you through the
cave complex and point out all the interesting features. They charge
a fixed 100 baht for their services as the sign clearly states. The
price is the same for all size groups so it makes good sense to join
up with others if possible.
There is some electric lighting to the main Buddha images but as the
sign states strongly, do not go wandering off into the un-illuminated
caverns alone. A torch is no use at all and it is very easy to become
lost plus there are several unmarked drops. You have been warned!
Gai (chicken). Kai (egg). Hua Chang (elephant head); ngoo (snake), grong
thai roop (picture frame). These will all be words that become very
familiar as you duck through small openings and then clamber into large
caverns. These are names for the natural formations that the guides
will point out to you. Some really do look incredibly as the guide is
describing them, others need a little more imagination.
Probably the most beautiful images are the formations of crystals from
thousands of years of water dripping through the rocks to make solid
sparkling waterfalls. Nature is truly spectacular on occasions and this
is certainly such an occasion.
The tour follows a rough oval and will have you crawling through small
gaps deep in the mountain and following along man made pavements. You
go up steps, down steps and the entire time marvel at the spectacle
around you. There is no hurry you can go at any pace you please to take
it all on board.
After several caverns you come out onto the main paved route. The guide
may not mention the river and head off back to the entrance but it is
worth seeing so just ask. (Pai doo mae nam, dai mai?), or saying "river"
a couple of times will have you heading off in the right direction which
is to the left.
How far you can go before you reach water depends on the season. You
know you are close when the floor becomes sandy. Check out the water
level marks on the cave walls to see exactly the difference the rainy
From here you are approximately fifteen minutes walk back to the main
Some tips for an enjoyable visit:
Use the guides. Take a drink with you. Be prepared to crawl a little.
If you are claustrophobic do not go. Stand close to large formations,
as flash on a small camera is not too strong. Use the handrails. Be
careful, as the floor can be slippery. Never remove anything from the
cave. Watch your head. Keep children close to you at all times.
Along the way to Chiang Dao there is an elephant training camp which
offers rides and rafting if you want to extend your visit in this beautiful
Nature at its best.