Chiang Dao Cave is one of the most visited caves in Thailand. Located about 70 km North of Chiang Mai, it's been known for over 1000 years. While less than 1 km of passage can be visited, over 2 km has been surveyed and about 11 km of additional passage is believed to exist.
The cave is easy to get to. There are tour companies in Chiang Mai that will take you there. Or if you want to go on your own, just head North from Chiang Mai towards Fang. You can drive, ride a motorcycle or take a taxi. Once you're alongside the looming cliffs of Doi Chiang Dao (Chiang Dao Mountain), you'll see the signs for the cave. Go on up the road and you'll see the cave entrance. There are places to eat as well as many places to stay in the area. I can personally vouch for The Nest 2. They have rustic as well as newer huts to stay in, and excellent food at their restaurant.
The entrance fee is 40 baht per person. Guides for hire are located inside.
Just inside the entrance you will find Buddhist statuary that is common to caves in Thailand.
This area also has a natural skylight. Just beyond this you will find guides waiting for you in a somewhat circular area. They are mostly women and work on tips. They are there to guide you if you want to explore the cave passage to the left, which is unlit. You can also go straight and see the lit portion of the cave by yourself.
I would recommend hiring the guide and seeing the whole cave this way. The cost is 100 baht for renting the lantern and tips are suggested at 100 baht per person in the group, which is quite a lot in Thailand. If you have a large group, you could tip less in total and they would still be getting a very good income.
The guided portion of the cave has a couple of tight squeezes that you may need to get down on your hands and knees for. They are generally dry though, just some rocks to climb over and duck under. Watch your head!
Inside the dark portion of the cave, you will find some interesting formations. Just like caves in the US, the guides will point out formations and tell you what they think it looks like. I came up with my own name for the one below left.
If you take the dark passage tour, you will end up in the lit portion of the cave. If you keep going towards the back of the cave, there are a lot of impressive formations. At the end of the walkway you can see where the cave goes on enticingly for the adventurer, but alas, we're not allowed to go beyond the signs. Unfortunately, there are no off-trail adventure tours on offer here.
My friend and I did have a little adventure though. The power went out and so did the lights. Fortunately I had a flashlight and today's technology (smart phones) provided additional illumination. Actually, it didn't take long for a tour guide to come back with lights to help anyone that needed it.
If you are visiting Chiang Mai, you really should take a day and go up to see Chiang Dao Cave. It's one of the most visited caves for a reason. There is some cave life you can see here. Visit the Cave Animals page to see some of the critters that live in this cave.
Chiang Dao Cave has been known for over 1000 years and is one of the most visited caves in Thailand. Find out why it should be in your travel plans.
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