Chiang Dao (เชียงดาว) is a town in Chiang Mai Province, Northern Thailand. It is in a valley north of Chiang Mai between green mountains. Its main attractions are the Chiang Dao Cave, Doi Chiang Dao and the Pha Daeng National Park.
Chiang Dao lies above the Mae Nam Ping Gorge on the green slopes of Doi ("mount") Chiang Dao. The name means "city of stars", and derives from its earlier name piang dao, or "(at the) level of the stars". True to the name, limestone peaks reaching a height of 2,186 m (7,174 ft) make Chiang Dao an impressive area. The village is a quiet little picturesque area, with a quaint northern Thailand feel.
From Chiang Mai, Hwy 107 runs 72 km north to Chiang Dao and then on to Fang and Thaton. The nearest major airport and railway station are in Chiang Mai. A metered, air conditioned taxi will cost about 1,000-1,200 baht one-way.
Every half hour from 06:00-18:00, buses and songthaews run south to Chiang Mai (40 baht) and north to Fang (40 baht). They can be flagged down anywhere alongside the highway.
You can ask the driver to stop anywhere along the side of the road, which is often better than getting off at the Chiang Dao bus stop, where songthaew drivers charge 100 baht or more to take you to a resort.
Most guesthouses can hire out motorcycles for around 200-300 baht/day. This will work out cheaper than taxis because the town's few taxis fix their prices high: a ride will always cost at least 150 baht.
Taxis usually loiter near the 7-Eleven. Negotiate with the drivers directly: while guesthouses can arrange cabs, they will add a substantial mark up.
Some places, such as Mon and Kurt's Restaurant and Guesthouse, rent reliable bicycles and mountain bikes (~100 baht per day).
- Chiang Dao Cave (ถ้ำเชียงดาว, Tham Chiang Dao) (5 km off the main highway). The cave is a part of Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary. The best-known attraction here, offering 12 km of stalactite-laden caves — although only five of the caverns are accessible to the public. Chambers are large but lack spectacular decorations. You can tour the lighted part of the cave alone, or hire a guide with a lantern (100 baht/group + tip 100 baht/person) to view the unlit caverns. Bringing your own torch is recommended. 40 baht.
- 1 Doi Luang Chiang Dao (ดอยหลวงเชียงดาว), ☎ . This 2,225 m conical limestone mountain in the Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary is Thailand's third-highest peak (after Doi Inthanon and Doi Pha Hom Pok). Narrow plains on top of the mountain provide spectacular views that include a sea of fog on the Chiang Dao side, Doi Sam Phi Nong, the Chiang Dao mountain range, and the far end of Doi Inthanon. The peak is cool and windy. It is full of rare highland flowers, birds, and butterflies. Visiting Doi Chiang Dao needs an approval letter from the Director of Wildlife Reserve Division, Royal Forest Department. It must arranged at least 2 weeks before travelling.
- Getting there: The peak is accessible on foot. At Chiang Dao cave, guides, porters, and chartered transfers to the starting point of the trail are available. Rented local trucks cost around 900 baht and a porter is 300 baht per person. There are no tourist facilities on Chiang Dao Mountain. Visitors must bring their own sleeping bags, food, and water. If you are a very fit trekker you might be able to climb up and down in one day if you start very early. There is a small village with the lodging near the start of the northern trail, easily accessible on a motorbike via paved road.
- Descending the mountain is possible on the trail near Ban Tham, which is located near Chiang Dao cave. The trail is rather steep; nevertheless, it could shorten the walking distance upon descending. It is quite difficult to climb up.
- [dead link]Pha Daeng National Park (อุทยานแห่งชาติผาแดง, formerly Chiang Dao National Park). Over 1,000 sq km of stunning craggy mountain park begins adjacent to the town. The altitude makes it cooler and drier than the plains and it can get downright cold in the winter. The semitropical local flora includes extensive bamboo forests. The many mountain streams and waterfalls make the park good for trekking. In addition to the mountain views there are many Lisu and Karen hilltribe villages scattered throughout the park.
- Birdwatching. The region is one of Thailand's top spots for ornithologists. Malee's Nature Lovers Bungalows caters to bird watchers and are very helpful with bird watching information.
- Chiangdao Hot Springs. Bathe in two very nice Japanese gardens, with a restaurant, bamboo gazebos, changing rooms, showers and toilets. The original bathing area, a little up the road, is just several small concrete basins fed from a pipe. Basic basins, free; Japanese Garden, 100 baht..
- 1 Pong Arng Hot Springs (บ่อน้ำร้อนโป่งอาง) (North of town, follow signpost left off the main highway 1178.), ☎ . 8AM-6PM. First take a cold shower, then bathe in one of two hot pools surrounded by pleasant landscaping. Thais 20THB; Foreigners 100 baht..
- San Phakia (24 km of dirt road; leave the main road at Mae Na.). A mountain spot for overnight camping with a fantastic view over Doi Luang Chiang Dao and the valley below. In January, it's good place to see cherry blossoms. Tents, mattresses, and blankets are available to hire (300 baht/tent). A few bungalows are also available. Accessible on a small bike, but not on the heavier bikes with street tyres.
- 2 Bamboo forest (Head east of town on the bridge road on the southern entrance to town. Turn left (north) at the end, then turn right (east) when a dirt road presents itself with a couple of signposts. Go all the way to the end of this road, keeping to the flat/right. At the end, it will veer left across a small bridge in to the forest.). A very large bamboo forest dominated by clumped bamboo groves. Dark and a little foreboding even in the day time. Muddy river crossing may be necessary. No signs. Very large, takes about half an hour to cross by motorbike. Free.
- Every Tuesday morning the town has a big market with many hill tribe people coming down to trade.
- Chiang Dao Nest Tours and Trekking. Offers a wide variety of 2-3 day treks in the national park. Small, private groups led by local hill tribe guides, priced at roughly 1,000 baht/person/day all-inclusive.
- Chiang Dao Nest (Western food) and Chiang Dao Nest 2 (Thai food) (On Hwy 107 at km72, in Chiang Dao, just after the Chiang Dao Inn Hotel, turn left towards Chiang Dao Cave and Malee's Resort). Delicious, fresh, local ingredients, high quality. Worth a stop even if you're not staying at the nest. Beautiful setting in the mountains to boot.
- Haniba Coffee (Opposite PTT gas station). Nice coffee shop. Cheesecake!
- Malee's Nature Resort (close to Chiang Dao Cave), ☎ . Reasonably priced Thai and Western food. A great breakfast with fresh homemade bread and jams. Cosy garden with pool and great views. Also offers sturdy, well-maintained bungalows with private bathrooms. Cheapest rooms (250 baht) have shared bathroom and a fan. Family and honeymoon suites are also available. Free Wi-Fi. Detailed maps of the area on display and there is a bird sightings log. Accommodation: 250-2,000 baht.
- Mon and Kurt's Restaurant and Guesthouse (Across the street from the Chiang Dao Inn Hotel, near the first-class (Bangkok) bus stop), ☎ . Tu-Su, 10:00-22:00. Delicious Western, Thai, and vegetarian food, including cheesecake, nightly BBQs and great coffee. A popular place, reservations recommended on weekends. Fast, free Wi-Fi throughout. Restaurant air conditioned during the hot season. Khanom jeen (20 baht per bowl) available from 16:00 daily and also during the Tuesday morning market. Guesthouse is clean, spacious and comfortable. Beautiful mountain views from rooms and nice garden. The well-stocked bar serves imported beers, wines, spirits and cocktails. Happy hour (12:00-14:00 and 17:00-19:00) sees big bottles of Thai beer go for 50 baht. Fan room, 400 baht; air-con room, 500 baht.
- Rim Nam (riverside restaurant). Before the cave, just over a stream, is a riverside Thai restaurant which has thatched roof areas for lunch and dinner. Very pleasant and good Thai food with an extensive menu. Very large servings.
- Take Cafe. Japanese restaurant, run by a Japanese gentleman and his wife on the road between Chiang Dao village and the cave. Very reasonable prices, jovial host, and enjoyable, inexpensive Japanese food.
- 1 North-side Vegetarian Restaurant (Head north through town, you will eventually see the place with yellow triangular vegetarian flags and yellow awnings on your left before the final market.). Vegetarian buffet restaurant in the standard Thai style. Select from six or so dishes with rice, take away or eat in. Eat in with rice and five dishes costs 50THB/meal.
Restaurants and guest houses are the places to drink in Chiang Dao. There are also several karaoke bars scattered throughout the town.
- Chiang Dao Hut, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. A small, cosy guest house run by a young friendly Thai couple who have had many years of hotel experience in Chiang Mai and speak reasonable English. There are 2 fairly large, simple but clean wooden bungalows (one double, one twin) each with fan, attached bathroom and hot shower. They have a small cafe at the front which is a great place to relax with a latte, fruit shake, or some Western or Thai food like pizza, spaghetti, pad Thai. 380 baht (low-season)-580 baht (high).
- Nature Home Guesthouse, 233 Moo 12 Ban Rong Vua, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A nice, quiet place, offering rooms with private bath. The owners are a local couple who speak no English but are very friendly. If you are lucky, you might get some kind of free breakfast in the morning. 550 baht.
- Chiang Dao Roundhouses, Chiang Dao Cave Village (Bahn Tham) Mu 5 Tambon Chiang Dao (10 minutes away from the main town of Chiang Dao), e-mail: email@example.com. Three individual roundhouses for rent. Two of them are domes, and one has a traditional Thai thatched room. Each roundhouse is suitable for 2 adults, and one child. A Roundhouse has its own bathroom with a hot open-air shower, its own terrace with a view of Mt Chiang Dao. Breakfast and WiFi are included in the price. 1,200 baht per night.
Orange buses (every hour, 40 baht) and orange songthaews (every 30 minutes, 40 baht), pass through Chiang Dao on Hwy 107. You can wave them down anywhere and they will stop for you if not already full.
- VIP (32 seat sleeper), First class, air conditioned bus, leaves at 18:30 (664 baht), in front of Mon and Kurt's Restaurant. Arrives about 05:00 in Bangkok.
- Regular 52 seat sleeper bus leaves as follows, in front of Mon and Kurt's Restaurant (Reserve tickets across the street, at local mini-mart):
- Leaves Chiang Dao 08:30, arrives Bangkok 20:00. 569 baht.
- Leaves Chiang Dao 19:30, arrives Bangkok 07:00. 569 baht.
Note that on Sunday afternoon the buses from Fang toward Chiang Mai are usually full and hard to catch from Chiang Dao. It is therefore preferable to leave on a day that is not Sunday if heading in that direction. Presumably the same goes for Friday night / Saturday morning towards Fang.
For reference, in 2018 it was viable to hire an entire sawngthaew from Chiang Dao to Chiang Mai for 2000THB, which can seat about 11 people (3 or 4 inside excluding the driver, about 8 at rear).