Although the town of Chiang Dao is famous for its Elephant Training Center, several adventurers have come to these parts for another reason altogether: cave trekking. The Chiang Dao Cave (Wat Tham Chiang Dao) is without a doubt one of the area’s more fascinating sites. Five limestone caverns invite one to uncover its beautiful stalactites, stalagmites, Buddha statues, and votive offerings from faithful pilgrims.
We’ll drive around 88km (55mi) north of Chiang Mai to reach the starting point. Before venturing inside, explore the beautiful grounds outside dotted with scenic ruins, temples and roadside stops.
After paying a small entrance fee, you can then begin the journey through a system of interconnected caverns extending over 10km (7 mi) into the heart of the mountain. Expect cooler air in here, although hot days may create humid conditions at times.
Two to three of the caves make for an easy visit on your own, as they’re illuminated by electric lights. You’ll find Buddha statues here, including a 4-metre (13 ft) reclining one. Don’t miss the row of five seated Buddhas in the first cavern, as many travellers find them particularly impressive.
If you want to venture further, we would advise hiring a guide with a gas lantern to help navigate the unlit sections. The flashlight of your phone would come in handy here! While the main caves are large and open with soaring ceilings, the offshoot parts can get narrow with low overhangs. Climb, squeeze and duck through the passageways and rock formations, perhaps a bat or two flying above you. Fun!
After our cave adventures, we'll head to the Chiang Dao market to gorge on delicious local meals before making our way to the Buatong Sticky Waterfall. While waterfalls are notorious for being slippery (and quite dangerous!), one impressive feature about this natural wonder is the sticky mineral deposits that allow visitors to actually climb up the waterfall without falling off. Feel free to appreciate the scenic landscape while you're at it as well.