Things to do in Chiang Dao
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.
Doi Luang Chiang Dao
The Doi Luang Chiang Dao or Doi Chiang Dao, as many people refer to it, is the third highest mountain of 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 person 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. Currently, it is not possible to hike up to the summit. We will keep you updated.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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 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.