Chiang Dao Caves (ถ้ำเชียงดาว) is the best attraction at this beautiful mountain town of Chiang Dao which is around 70 kms from Chiang Mai. Also known locally as Tham Phra Non cave, these 12 kilometers caverns (out of which only a part is open to tourists) offer you the adventure of exploring large hanging stalactite structures and big dark chambers as you walk through the darkness with a local guide holding a gas lantern.
Entrance to Chiang Dao Caves
Entrance compound to the Caves is as beautiful as caves itself. Surrounded by lush green mountains and huge trees, you start getting pristine feeling as you reach the caves. There are shops and restaurants at the parking area from where you can pick some handicrafts, spices or quick snacks.
There is also a beautiful lake at the cave entrance where you can feed fishes. Water is very clean and you can see fishes through greenish water as they jump out when you feed them.
There was a group of school children on their trip to caves when we reached there. Dressed in yellow school dress and lined up for their lunch, we were so intrigued with their innocent looks that we could not stop capturing a picture of them 🙂
Wat Tham Chiang Dao Cave Temple
As you take stairs (after crossing small lake bridge) to reach cave entrance, first thing that you see are Buddha images and statues, one of them being Reclining Buddha. This is the famous Wat Tham Chiang Dao Cave Temple. This is also the point from where you can see entrance to two parts of the cave. Caves in Thailand have also been the choice of Buddhist monks and hermits for their meditation and that is also the reason that you will find lot of Buddha statues and sacred symbols inside these caves, some even dating multiple centuries back.
Exploring the inside of Chiang Dao Caves
Though these caves are around 12 kilometers long but only 2 parts are open for visitors. First part (straight inside) is well illuminated and you can walk by yourself without any guide. Second part of the cave (stairs behind Buddha statues) is not lit at all and it is compulsory to have a local guide with you to explore this part of the caves. Charges for the guide would be extra (details in Entrance Fees section).
Caves 1: Dark Natural Caves with No illumination (With Guide)
We first decided to explore the second non-illuminated caves with a guide. A couple of them were seated on the side of Wat Tham Temples and there was a lady coordinating who would accompany which group. Soon, we were following a yellow T-shirt lady with gas lantern, walking up-stairs to through the darkness. There are many blind spots inside the cave which you should not venture to and thus it is advisable to follow your guide and their instructions.
It was completely dark inside the caves and only light was from the lamp that our guide was carrying. Caverns inside the cave are really huge and at times, you will stop and gasp seeing the big chambers and large structures. These guides are locals from nearby villages and know little English, actually just enough to pronounce the names of structures inside. At few places, you need to buck down to move across the narrow passages but for most of the part, stairs have been built at treacherous points. Tham Mah (735m), Tham Kaew (474m) and Tham Nam (660m) are three large chambers inside the cave. Here are pictures and video from inside the first cave –
This part of Chiang Dao caves is rough and explored by fewer people. At time you will have the sense of being the only one inside a dark cavern. At times when we were left a bit behind from our guide, it was scary being in pitch dark chambers. We recommend to explore this part in case you want to experience the cave in its natural settings.
Caves 2: Well Illuminated Caves (No Guide Required)
Second part of Chiang Dao caves is very well illuminated and with a paved path till the end. Compared to guided tour, you will find this part of cave more crowded. However, with light at all places, you can easily observe the stalactite and stalagmite structures. It is also an easy navigation especially if you are travelling with children. Here are the pictures of this part of the cave –
It took us around 2 hours to explore both parts of the cave. We love caves and this was certainly a unique experience – combination of both adventure and divinity. After exploring Chiang Dao Caves, we headed to Wat Tham Pha Plong Temple, a beautiful and peaceful Buddhist temple few kilometers ahead.
Tips for your visit to Chiang Dao Caves
Difficult Level: Moderate
Here are some tips for you to plan your trip to Chiang Dao Caves better –
- Good Shoes: Inside the cave, you would be walking few kilometers at times at rough terrain, climb multiple stairs and negotiating slopes, so good shoes are must. High heels/slippers/sandals are not recommended.
- Carry water: Yes, Carry a bottle of water. It gets quite humid inside the cave and it takes around 2 hours, so you certainly would get thirsty.
- Hanging structures: Some of them are right till your head and in case you are not careful will hit you are your face. Please be careful
- Carry a torch: Though guide would be carrying a gas lantern but he usually walks ahead and there would be lot of dark patches which you can get a glimpse with torch light.
- Children and Elderly: Exploring non-illuminated part of the caves may get difficult with children and elderly as it requires a basic level of fitness. So do take a call with children and elderly.
- Follow your guide: Do not venture around without guide as there are dark and blind spots and you may not realize if there is a quick slope or a blind fall and of what depth.
How to get to Chiang Dao Caves
(Location) – Chiang Dao Caves is around 5 kilometers from Chiang Mai–Chiang Dao Highway. Actually Chaing Mai town is on the eastern side of highway but main farm-stays (accommodation) and Chiang Dao Caves are located is small Ban Tham village on the western side. You can hire a tuk-tuk from Chiang Mai to reach caves but better option would be to hire a scooter (easily available at 200-250 Bahts a day). 5 KM Drive to Chiang Dao Caves is quite interesting as you pass through thick forests with views of mountains approaching closer and closer. Here is the video of our scooter drive to Chiang Dao Caves –
Chiang Dao Caves Entrance Fee
Entrance Fee for foreigners is 40 Thai Bahts (Thai Nationals – 20 Bahts). This covers entrance to Wat Tham Cave Temple and illuminated part of the cave. In case you want to explore the non-lit part, you have to hire a local guide (available next to Wat Tham Temple only). Guide Fee was Thai Baht 100 per person (200 Baht for two of us). Though this fee looks a bit high but these guides are local villagers and this helps them earn their living. Most of these guides know very little English so do not expect much in terms of guidance but their company and smile will make you feel comfortable and safe inside the dark caverns.
Chiang Dao Cave Hours
07:00 AM to 17:00 PM
Hope this helps you plan your trip better. Do drop a comment if you enjoyed reading our blog or need any additional information.