Covered or mentioned in this post:
Route 107, Doi Chiang Dao, Chiang Dao caves, Wat Tham Pha Plong and Chiang Dao Nest.
There are two category of things we haven’t yet done in Chiang Mai and they are caves and waterfalls. The latter because we arrived in the dry season and a waterfall without water always seems to be missing some essential ingredient. The caves we will cross off the list now.
Chiang Dao has always been on my to do list since I read about Chiang Dao Nest, an accommodation and highly rated restaurant, back last year when we were living in Chiang Rai. You can read the reviews HERE. I had forgotten all about it until last week when looking for a cave to visit and came across the combination of Chiang Dao cave and Nest. Doi Chiang Dao, the mountain that provides a backdrop to these places, is the third highest in Thailand at 2,195 meters. Doi Inthanon is the highest and I wrote about our trip to see it HERE.
I sent off a booking request to Chiang Dao Nest and was promptly answered by Anna, a lovely lady who greeted us when we arrived at the Nest and speaks excellent English. We arranged a cottage for the night plus dinner at their restaurant. Chiang Dao is only an hour up the road from us on Route 107, so we could have done it in the day, but I wanted to try their restaurant for dinner and as a cottage only cost A$20.00, I thought the budget could be stretched.
Check-in time was 1.00 pm so we had a slow start in Chiang Mai and then stopped off for a coffee at Biscotti, reviewed by me HERE, and after a very easy run arrived in Chiang Dao about midday. I hadn’t driven this lower part of the 107 before and it wasn’t anything special. A lot of roadside development but there were glimpses of the fields and hills beyond from time to time. A hilly section towards Chiang Dao gives some relief from the usual Thai roadside sprawl.
The side road to the caves and Chiang Dao Nest is really easy to find and actually signposted. There’s an intersection with the 107 curving away to the left and the road into Chiang Dao town heading off to the right. Follow the 107 and the next turn to the left is what you’re after. Chiang Dao Nest and the caves have signs here.
The caves road is being improved with a new bridge so we were directed into the backstreets and even meet a man with a whistle who pointed us in the right direction. If you have been to Thailand have you noticed how enthusiastic Thais are with their whistles? Combine this with a uniform and life has reached perfection for a Thai person.
As we had arrived before check-in time we decided to have an explore of the Chiang Dao caves first reviewed by Trip Advisor HERE. These are a 12 km limestone tunnel and cave system and well worth a visit having now seen them.
Entrance to the caves costs 40THB and I presume 20 THB for a Thai person as we were charged a total of 60 THB or A$2.00. The caves can be seen in two ways. There is a self-tour though well lit and open tunnels and caverns, which takes around 30 minutes or you can hire a guide with a lamp and they will take you off the main pathway and into the deeper regions of the caves. This costs 100 THB for the guide plus a 100 THB tip at the end.
We have friends visiting next month and I know that a couple of them will want to do the longer exploration trip so we opted for the sissy version with electric lighting.
I know nothing about caves and suspect that in caving terms this is not a particular spectacular example. However for a first timer I found just being underground and the various features and colours to be enough to make this an enjoyable experience.
Along the way you pass a reclining Buddha, which in true Thai fashion has been embellished with a dress on a coat hanger.
At the end of the pathway is another cave and this has a Buddha shrine.
The other advantage of being underground was that it was beautifully cool. Coming out my glasses fogged up!
Gaun being the plant lover she is had spotted some bulbs she wanted to buy to eventually plant on our land in Si Bun Ruang. There are a number of shops selling a wide range of flowering and medicinal plants in the car park area.
Leaving make sure you keep an eye out for this chedi. It is truly ancient and looks the part. It is in the right hand corner of the carpark as you drive out.
Caving over we were feeling like lunch and it was after our book-in time of 1.00 pm so we drove the five minutes to Chiang Dao Nest and checked ourselves in.
There are two Nests or lodgings called Nest 1 and 2 quite close to each other. Nest 1 is the oldest and serves western food in the dining area while Nest 2 focusses on Thai food. Nest 2 cottages have air conditioning while Nest 1 relies on fans. This isn’t too much of a problem as it is cools down at night somewhat in the hills. Nest 1 has a pool but can be used by Nest 2 guests if they don’t mind the walk/drive.
We were immediately taken by the lush greenery and feeling of solitude with a backdrop of Doi Chiang Dao, its top hidden in the clouds when we visited. This plus the warm welcome from Anna and the free cold lime drinks got us in the mood straight up.
The cottages are an all wooden affair. Simple, very clean and neat with a largish bedroom and ensuite bathroom. Heaps of bedding for those cooler nights, toiletries, bathrobes and slippers provided. Lots of little extras that you wouldn’t normally find in a $20.00 a night place.
First stop after that was the restaurant and lunch. The Nest very sensibly has flexible grazing times. Breakfast is 8.00 – 11.00. Lunch is from 10.30 – 4.30 while dinner starts at 6.00. A shame about that 1 1/2 hour gap where no food is available!
Lunch over the we headed out for the last expedition for the day, a Wat or temple called Tham Pha Plong, a jungle Wat within easy walking distance from The Nest. On our way we popped across the road from the Nest entrance to have a look at their pool and ping pong table area:
Wat Tham Pha Plong is a temple founded by a Buddhist meditation master called Luang Pu Sim:
Looang Boo Sim Buddhacaro was born on the 26th November 1909 in Sakhon Nakhon Province, North-East Thailand. His parents were farmers and dedicated supporters of the local monastery. At the age of 17 Looang Boo Sim took novice ordination and shortly afterwards became a disciple of the Ajaan Mun. Looang Boo Sim stayed with Ajaan Mun and various of his senior disciples for many years, taking full ordination at the age of 20 at Wat Sri Candaravasa, Khon Kaen.
In later years he was the Abbot of a number of monasteries in various parts of Thailand and was given the ecclesiastical title of Phra Khroo Santivaranana in 1959. In 1967 he established a monastery in the remote mountains of Chiang Dao in Chiang Mai province that remained his residence until his death in 1992.
At the end of the road you come across this area, which is signposted as a nature trail. It is actually the ground level entrance to the jungle Wat and the stairs start behind that building you can see at the back.
A reminder for women. No mention of the dress code for men. Shorts are fine for blokes but the arms should be covered. Muscle tops aren’t a good idea.
The downside to this expedition is that there are 510 steps to get to this Wat. This is the beginning. Having said that the steps are shallow and well made and the climb shaded and very beautiful. Still it was a humid day and I looked like a drowned rat by the time we got to the top. Take a towel and water.
At this level is a small temple for the master:
Back to the Nest for a shower and a little snooze before dinner.
Dinner at the nest is a blackboard affair with a small but mouth watering list to choose from.
Remember how to convert prices from Thai to Aussie? Multiply by three, two decimal points and add 10%. These prices are high by Thai restaurant standards, where you would normally pay under 200 THB. A main course for A$12.00……will we be washing the dishes?
Having had a late lunch we only had mains. Gaun had the pork and I had the duck. Both dishes were good by Thai standards. Not outstanding but a tasty and good serving portions nicely presented.
Day two had us packing up after breakfast and on our way back to Chiang Mai. Anna prepared our bill. We had two lunches with a large beer, two main courses for dinner and two beers, a cooked breakfast with a pot of coffee and no beers! and it all came to 1,500 THB or A$50.00. Remind me again why I am living here!
The Nest provide an excellent hand drawn but detailed map of all the local sights and roads. Based on this we stopped at the Wat a short distance from The Nest turning left as you leave their driveway.
At the back of this cave was another deeper one. It was wired up for lighting but it was turned off. The magic of modern photography tells me it looks like this:
We also popped into a Chedi sitting on top of the hill overlooking the area. Unfortunately this was one of those many examples of a good Buddhist idea when the energy and money runs out.
We had an uneventful run back to Chiang Mai, other than being stopped and then waved through by gun wielding army types at a checkpoint. The army is pretty active the closer you get to the border to Myanmar.
I have one more story to publish about our trip to Hong Kong and this will be coming soon so keep an eye out for it.
Thanks for reading.
My thanks to:
www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/ for the information on Luang Pu Sim.