Things to do in Chiang Dao

Picture of Frans Betgem

Frans Betgem

Frans Betgem is a Dutch veteran of the travel industry in South East Asia. He is the founder of Green Trails and Chiang Mai a la Carte, amongst others. He also is the founder and admin of the Facebook group Chiang Mai Memories.

Things to do in Chiang Dao

Chiang Dao is one of my favorite places to go for a couple of days. I always take my bicycle with me. I never get bored with the mountain scenery of Doi Luang Chiang Dao and Doi Nang, the rice fields and the temples. There are a lot of things to see and enjoy in Chiang Dao district. Give it a try!

For more things to do in North Thailand, please go to this page.

Table of Contents

The Chiang Dao Cave Temple

The limestone cave of Chiang Dao is the most famous and popular attraction of the district. The cave is part of an extensive and very interesting temple complex at the foot of Doi Luang Chiang Dao, Thailand’s third highest mountain.

Covered walkway to cave Things to do Chiang Dao
Entrance of the cave

Doi Luang Chiang Dao

The Doi Luang Chiang Dao, or Doi Chiang Dao, as many people refer to it, is the third-highest mountain in Thailand and the highest limestone mountain in the country. UNESCO approved the mountain as a Biosphere Reserve in September 2021. In 1978 the Thai government established the Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary, covering 521 square km. The UNESCO reserve covers a larger area of about 860 square km.

German botanist Carl Curt Hosseus was the first to explore the mountain in early 2006 and write a story about it. I climbed up to the summit twice, in 2012 and 2015. Doi Luang Chiang Dao is open for visitors only in the dry season and not every year.

This year (2022), the climb to the summit is open but almost impossible to book. The Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary organizes a three-day program, including one-day “training.” They have limited the number of climbers to 100 people per day.

The location of Doi Luang Chiang Dao on Google Maps

Forested Mountain
The mountain

Wat Tham Pha Plong

This is a peaceful and beautiful small cave temple and meditation retreat, just a couple of km down the road from the Chiang Dao Cave Temple. A long flight of stairs takes you through lush vegetation to the cave and further up to a stupa, which offers nice views. A monk called Luang Poo Sim Phuthajaro founded this cave temple in 1967. He was a disciple of the great Phra Ajaan Mun Burridatta Mahathera, to whom a temple is dedicated at Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai. If you have the time, Wat Tham Pha Phlong is well worth visiting. There are a couple of signs with the text “Beware of savage dogs” at the temple but I have never seen any dogs there.

The location of Wat Tham Pha Plong on Google Maps

Buddhist cave temple Things to do Chiang Dao

The Tuesday Morning Market

Apart from the daily municipal fresh food market, there is a weekly market on Tuesday morning in town. It is a lively and attractive market. There are many different tribal villages of Lisu, Dara-Ang (Palong), Hmong, Akha, Lahu, and Karen people in Chiang Dao district. Many tribal villagers come to town to sell their produce at this market so you might get a glimpse of their colorful traditional dress.

View the Tuesday morning market on Google maps

Aerial view of tented market
View on the Tuesday morning market

Wat Phra That Doi Mon Ching

This temple is about 25 km from downtown Chiang Dao, just a couple of km off the road 1178 to Arunothai. If you don’t have your own transportation, it will be difficult to get there. Driving down that road the temple is visible from afar on the right side thanks to its “Golden Rock”. The temple has a kind of gilded balancing rock in the tradition of the famous Golden Rock of the Kyaiktyo Pagoda in Myanmar. Wat Phra That Doi Mon Ching is a Shan(Tai Yai) temple. It is worth driving up for the magnificent views of Doi Luang Chiang Dao.

The location of Wat Pha That Doi Mon Ching on Google Maps

Golden boulder with leaves Things to do in Chiang Dao
The Golden Rock of Wat Phra That Doi Mon Ching

Wat Mae Eed

Wat Mae Eed (วัดแม่อีด) is a temple in downtown Chiang Dao. It doesn’t seem to be a very old temple and on my last visit, there was construction going on. Local tourists visit this temple that has a great view of the mountain and of the town and its surroundings. It has one of the biggest statues of Phra Upakhut, the famous monk. Most eye-catching though is the Purgatory Sculpture Garden, which represents the fate of those who don’t follow the five main rules of Buddhism.

The location of Wat Mae Eed on Google Maps

Tall statues at a temple Chiang Dao
The Purgatory Garden with the statue of Phra Upakhut on the left

Trekking in the Sri Lanna National Park

The Sri Lanna National park is a vast, largely unexplored national park covering 1407 square km in the Mae Taeng, Chiang Dao, and Phrao districts of Chiang Mai province. There are several villages of Akha, Lisu, Lahu, Karen, and Dara-Ang (Palong) hill tribes east of the town. For many years this area has been very popular for hill tribe trekking. It still is an excellent area with fantastic scenery and fascinating villages. You need more than two days to explore the evergreen forests of this national park

The location of the Sri Lanna National Park on google maps

View of a village
View of Mae Chon village

Tribal Culture and Textiles

East of Chiang Dao, there is an area with villages of five of the seven main ethnic minorities in North Thailand. Only the Yao and the Hmong are not represented. Within one day, you can visit Akha, Lisu, Lahu, Karen, and Palong tribal villages. It offers excellent opportunities for people who are interested in, for instance, traditional tribal dress. Many people in these villages don’t wear their traditional clothing daily, except the Palong and Lisu people.

We have organized textile tours to some of these villages and also offer a Tribal Photography Tour. During this tour, we will facilitate taking photographs of local people in traditional dress.

two women in tribal dress
Two Palong women in Chiang Dao

Kayaking on Mae Ngat Lake

This lake is in Sri Lanna National Park but the Mae Taeng district. People have known it as Mae Ngat Somboon Chon (แม่งัดสมบูรณ์ชล). The construction of the Mae Ngat Somboon Chan Dam in 1986 created this lake that has become an important recreation area for the people of Chiang Mai.

There are several floating accommodations on the lake that offer kayaking and other water-based activities. It is a friendly, natural, and peaceful environment with a great atmosphere.

The location of the Mae Ngat Lake on Google Maps

Boat and floating house
Mae Ngat Lake

The Buatong, aka the Sticky Waterfall

When I visited this waterfall 15 years ago, I was the only visitor. It was the Buatong waterfall (น้ำตกบัวตอง), no one had heard of the “sticky” waterfall. In the past five years, this waterfall has become very popular with local and international tourists. Social media played an essential role in this development. At a particular moment, someone invented the nickname “sticky waterfall,” and consequently, it started appearing in Trip Advisor and travel blogs under that compelling name.

The Buatong waterfall is a cascade on a limestone surface. It looks slippery, but it is the opposite. The limestone surface seems to “stick,” making it possible to walk up and down the cascades without losing your grip and fall. This aspect and the sparkling clear water in a lush, green environment are the attractions of the Sticky Waterfall. By the way: I included the waterfall on the “Things to do in Chiang Dao” page because it makes sense to combine the falls with a visit to Chiang Dao.

At the time of writing the sticky waterfalls had no entrance fee.

People climbing up a waterfall Things to do Chiang Dao
Buatong Waterfall aka Sticky Waterfall

The Phra That Doi Chiang Dao Abbey or Monastery

The Phra That Doi Chiang Dao Abbey or Monastery (สำนักสงฆ์พระธาตุดอยเชียงดาว) is a relatively new temple. A narrow, steep road leads to the temple that contains the gilded chedi and a colossal statue of a monk, the “Great Master Narasabho Mahathera.” You need to have your vehicle to get there. If you have the time, it is worth driving up. From the platform, you have excellent views of the mountain.

When I visited (October 2021), the construction of the assembly hall was still ongoing. I didn’t meet anyone during my visit to this temple, which is visible from afar. A sign warns against the bloodthirsty dog that attacks people, according to a Trip Advisor review. The dog was fortunately not present during my visit.

The location of the Phra That Doi Chiang Dao Abbey

Gilded chedi and monk Chiang Dao
Phrathat Doi Chiang Dao Abbey

The magnificent Sri Sangwan Waterfall

These lovely falls are in the Pha Daeng National Park, about 32 km from Chiang Dao. They are too far from Chiang Mai to do on a day trip, in my opinion. If you stay overnight in Chiang Dao they are worth visiting. The falls are just off the road to Arunothai and Doi Angkhang.

The surface of the cascade is limestone, just like the Buatong waterfall aka the “sticky” waterfall. You can walk up and down the falls without a problem. Entrance fee for the falls is 100THB per person for foreigners.

The location of the Sri Sangwan Waterfall in Google Maps

Waterfall in the forest
Sri Sangwan Waterfall