Top 10 Things to do in Chiang Dao

The small town of Chiang Dao in Northern Thailand is the perfect rural getaway from popular Chiang Mai city. Set at the foot of beautiful Doi Chiang Dao and surrounded by lush green jungle, Chiang Dao can be visited as a day trip from Chiang Mai or even Chiang Rai. However, there are enough awesome things to do in Chiang Dao to tempt you to stay a few days as we did.

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Visiting pretty Chiang Dao is the perfect day trip from Chiang Mai. Even better to stay a few days. If you do, here's our top 10 things to do in Chiang Dao.

Considering it’s short distance from Chiang Mai, Chiang Dao is surprisingly not visited by large tourist numbers. YET! Get there now before the masses hear about it and commercialism kicks in like it’s done so in nearby Pai. Pai was once a peaceful traditional Northern Thai town like Chiang Dao, but now Pai can feel overcrowded. This makes Chiang Dao the perfect place to stay, away from the crowds, to immerse yourself in Thailand’s wonderful nature.

Chiang Dao map

Getting from Chiang Mai to Chiang Dao

As with most destinations in Northern Thailand, the easiest way to get to Chiang Dao is by renting a moped and driving yourself for the 90 minute journey. But if you’re like us and don’t think the risks are worth it then there are easy public buses you can take.

There are buses leaving Chang Phueak bus station which head direct to Chiang Dao every 30 minutes. Chang Phueak bus station can be found just North of Chiang Mai’s North Gate off Thanon Changpuak Road. Head to platform 4 and catch the big orange bus which costs just 40 baht per person. Check the back of your ticket for seat numbers.

Check out these recommended Chiang Dao biking tours from Chiang Mai!

Top 10 Things to do in Chiang Dao

View point at the top of Wat Tham Pha Plong. Top 10 Things to do in Chiang Dao.

View point at the top of Wat Tham Pha Plong

So once you get there, grab a Chiang Dao map like ours above and start exploring the top 10 things to do in Chiang Dao!

1 – Climb Doi Chiang Dao

The most energetic of things to do in Chinag Dao is without a shadow of a doubt climbing Doi Chinag Dao. The towering mountain, at 2225 meteres high, is Thailand’s third largest peak. It takes around 5 hours to climb to the summit so getting there and back can be done in one long day. If that sounds too much then guided climbs also give you the option to break up the journey by camping overnight.

2 – Take a Nature Trail

There’s so much jungle around Chiang Dao so it would be a shame to visit without walking one of the area’s nature trails. There’s a 90 minute trail that conveniently leads to the famous Chiang Dao caves. You’ll find the start of the trail to the left of the road just before you get to Wat Tham Pha Plong. There’s a sign reading ‘Nature Trail’ so you can’t miss it 🙂

Trying to navigate the nature trail. With difficulty! Top 10 Things to do in Chiang Dao.

Trying to navigate the nature trail. With difficulty!

We should mention that the trail is harder to navigate during rainy season. The jungle often overgrows during this time making parts of the path hard to get through. We could have done with a machete when we visited in October!

3 – Ride a Bamboo Raft on the Ping River

Bamboo rafting is one of the most fun things to do in Chiang Dao. Don’t think wild water rafting, think gentle water floating. Let your guide navigate the Ping River while you sit and enjoy the views of jungle riverside life. Trips can be just a quick hour cruise or a full overnight tour staying in a hill tribe village.

4 – Climb 510 Steps to Wat Tham Pha Plong

If you’ve already visited Chiang Mai then you may feel you’ve seen enough temples to last you a lifetime. We thought we had too but we still enjoyed visiting Wat Tham Pha Plong. A must of things to do in Chiang Dao.

Wat Tham Pha Plong. Top 10 Things to do in Chiang Dao.

Wat Tham Pha Plong

Wat Tham Pha Plong steps. Top 10 Things to do in Chiang Dao.

Wat Tham Pha Plong steps

The temple is located high up in the middle of the jungle and takes 510 steps to reach. The steps are graced with hundreds of colourful butterflies and the noise of ear piercing Cicada’s. Once at the top you can go enjoy the epic views across Chiang Dao’s treetops.

5 – Check out the Golden Temple

Another less visited temple is the Golden Temple. The temple itself isn’t overly impressive but we’ve included in our top 10 things to do in Chiang Dao because of the stunning views it offers of Doi Chiang Dao and the surrounding countryside.

Golden Temple views. Top 10 Things to do in Chiang Dao.

Golden Temple views

Also, on the left side of the road as you approach the Golden Temple, is a house occupied by a very friendly Monk. He’ll happily welcome you into his beautiful self built wooden home for a chat about Thai life and his well travelled history. We spoke with him for up to an hour as we kept dry from a passing storm.

6 – Get Lost in Chiang Dao Cave

Well actually we don’t recommend getting lost as you’ll never find your way out! The most popular of things to do in Chiang Dao is exploring the Chiang Dao caves. This is where you’ll find most of the tourists visiting the area. Give yourself an hour to navigate the tunnels while spotting the many Buddhist shrines inside. It costs just 40 baht per person to enter.

Chiang Dao Cave entrance. Top 10 Things to do in Chiang Dao.

Chiang Dao Cave entrance

To really see the caves we recommend hiring a lantern and local guide who’ll show you parts which you otherwise are not allowed to access. It was well worth the 200 baht as we got to explore the cave’s darkest corners which seemed never ending.

7 – Relax at Pong Arng Hot Springs

Around a 30 minute drive from Chiang Dao is Pha Daeng National Park. It’s difficult to get to without your own wheels but worth the trip if you can. One of the park’s highlights are the Pong Arng Hot Springs. With temperatures between 50 and 60 celsius they make for a relaxing way to wind down in the afternoon. It feels like taking a warm bath amongst nature but we imagine would be more enjoyable in the colder months of December and January.

Walking through a Chiang Dao village. Top 10 Things to do in Chiang Dao.

Walking through a Chiang Dao village

8 – Visit the Sri Sungwan Waterfalls

Another Pha Daeng National Park highlight and of things to do in Chiang Dao is a visit to the Sri Sungwan Waterfalls. The low three tiered waterfalls are just 3 kilometres from the hot springs so visiting both in the same afternoon or morning is easy. As with all waterfalls around the world, the best time to visit is during the rainy season. It might not be worth it otherwise. To gain entrance to the park costs 100 baht per person which covers both the waterfalls and hot springs. 

9 – Stay and/or Eat at the Chiang Dao Nest Resort

We cannot write this post without mentioning the Chiang Dao Nest resort. If this post was in preferential order then this would be number one of our things to do in Chiang Dao. Chiang Dao Nest is a wonderful bamboo hut resort but with all the comforts of a modern hotel. The huts are scattered across a large and gorgeous garden with views of mountains and jungle.

Our bamboo hut at Chiang Dao Nest 2. Top 10 Things to do in Chiang Dao.

Our bamboo hut at Chiang Dao Nest 2

Enjoying Thai food at Chiang Dao Nest 2. Top 10 Things to do in Chiang Dao.

Enjoying Thai food at Chiang Dao Nest 2

You should also know that Chiang Dao Nest serves the best food in the area. The two award winning restaurants offer both Thai and Western dishes which we can honestly say is the best food we’ve eaten in Thailand. There are two locations to choose from (Nest 1 and Nest 2) but are only 700 meters apart. For our a full review please read this post – Our Chiang Dao Nest 2 Long Weekend Review.

For other awesome Chiang Dao accommodation options click here!

10 – Do nothing

With so many things to do in Chiang Dao, it’s hard to stop and do nothing. But Chiang Dao really is an area where you should mellow out with a book and a cup of coffee. Swing in a hammock and take in the amazing landscape. Listen to the birds and nocturnal jungle wildlife. Watch the butterflies flutter around you while soaking in a swimming pool. All this is possible, especially at Chiang Dao Nest.

Taking in the Chiang Dao jungle

So there are also plenty of things to do in Chiang Dao that require you to do nothing. Just relax. What are you waiting for!   

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Visiting pretty Chiang Dao is the perfect day trip from Chiang Mai. Even better to stay a few days. If you do, here's our top 10 things to do in Chiang Dao.

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