A magical nature oasis just over an hour from Chiang Mai, Chiang Dao is a hidden gem in Northern Thailand.
This beautiful town is in the heart of the mountains and is rich in culture and things to do.
I lived in Chiang Mai for over 1 year, and during this time I visited Chiang Dao twice! Each visit was incredible and left me wanting more. Chiang Dao truly is a hidden gem of the north.
Many say Chiang Dao is the local’s “Pai”. Pai is a popular and touristy town in the Northern Thai mountains. Chiang Dao offers a similar experience to Pai but with less driving and more local culture.
In this Chiang Dao Thailand post, I will highlight 10 incredible things to do in Chiang Dao Thailand, answer some FAQs, and give insider tips to make your trip special!
Table of Contents
10 Incredible Things to Do in Chiang Dao Thailand
Chiang Dao Cave
The most popular thing to do in Chiang Dao Thailand is to visit the Chiang Dao Cave. This cave is known to be one of the most sacred places to locals for hundreds of years.
The Chiang Dao Cave is an extensive cave network that is easily accessible to tourists. Upon arriving, you’ll find a massive parking lot and a grand entrance.
The inside of the cave is a self-guided tour, however, you can choose to pay a guide to take you farther into the cave. I highly recommend paying a guide to take you further inside the cave. The guide will take you to spots that are pitch black and less traveled.
The cave has many stairs and slippery steps inside, but it is well-maintained.
Because the Chiang Dao Cave is a popular tourist spot, in the surrounding area you will find lots of restaurants, cafes, and places to buy souvenirs.
Plan to spend about 2-3 hours exploring the Chiang Dao Cave area.
Chiang Dao Hot Spring
Not too far from the Chiang Dao Cave, you will find the Chiang Dao Hot Springs. These hot springs are well-marked and also popular with tourists and locals.
You’ll want to bring your bathing suit for this activity!
Upon arrival at the hot springs, you’ll be greeted with the smell of sulfur. These hot springs are pretty unique because they are in little tubs. Each tub is small enough for 1-2 people and varies in temperature.
The Chiang Dao Hot Springs get very hot! However, the stream running through it is not as hot. This is a great spot to dip your feet in.
If you want to get a bit more out of the crowds, you can walk a bit up the stream. There you will find more places to spread out while cooling off in the water.
If you don’t want to swim in the hot springs, there are many gift shops and cafes near the springs.
Doi Luang Chiang Dao
Doi Luang Chiang Dao is a beautiful mountain in Chiang Dao. This mountain soars above the town and offers a breathtaking skyline everywhere you look. Chiang Dao is the third largest mountain in Thailand. However, it’s by far the best one to hike.
I mean, I could stop and take pictures of this mountain all day! “Doi” in Thai translates to “Mountain” in English.
Not only is Doi Luang Chiang Dao an iconic landmark in town, but it’s also a popular hike. To hike Doi Luang Chiang Dao, you’ll need to get a permit months in advance.
The permits are only valid for 4 months of the year. The other 8 months are during the rainy season when it’s too slippery and unsafe to hike to the top.
What makes Doi Luang Chiang Dao so special is that there are no roads leading to the top, meaning it’s true wilderness.
It’s also a certified biosphere, with over 300 species of birds!
Sri Sangwan Waterfall
Off the beaten path, you’ll find Sri Sangwan Waterfall. This waterfall is one of my favorites in all of Thailand.
The road to get there is full of beautiful views, the waterfall is just a quick walk from the road, and it’s relatively quiet. The waterfall is also lots of fun to swim and play in!
You can spend your time here climbing up the waterfall and swimming in the water. However, the water is a bit chilly!
Honestly, this waterfall is one of my favorite things to do in Chiang Dao. I’d budget around 1-2 hours here!
Also, some trails lead you deeper into the forest here, which is a lot of fun to walk around!
Wat Tham Pha Plong
This magical Buddhist Temple sits just south of the city of Chiang Dao. This temple is a short hike up a hill, about 500 stairs. At the top, you are treated to views of the dense forest.
It really is one of the most peaceful temples I have ever visited. I recommend visiting in the morning because during this time it is especially peaceful.
Remember your temple attire! If you plan to visit this temple, dress appropriately. This means shoulders and knees are covered, and modestly dressed.
Chiang Dao Market
The Chiang Dao Night market is a classic staple in any Thai town. The Chiang Dao Night Market is located in the city center of Chiang Dao and is full of street food.
Here, you can try the famous Nothern Thailand Khao Soi. You can also souvenir shop for local crafts and good souvenirs.
Chiang Dao may be a bit sleepy during the day, but the night market lights up the town at night.
Nest 1 and Nest 2 Restaurant
Some of the best food I had during my entire time in Thailand was at Nest 1 and Nest 2 Restaurant. This local restaurant is incredible.
It’s located a little in the forest, off the beaten path, and at a beautiful resort.
The food offered is delicious, the setting is serene, and the prices are fair.
The Nest 1 and Nest 2 are very popular, so it’s best to make reservations in advance!
Bamboo Raft on the Ping River
The Ping River flows right through the heart of Chiang Dao. So, spend some time bamboo rafting! Bamboo rafting is a bucket-list activity while in Thailand.
The bamboo rafting in Chiang Dao is very relaxing and there are far fewer tourists.
Visit a Hill Tribe
In Northern Thailand, there are lots of Hill Tribes. However, these Hill Tribes are Hidden, and best to do in a tour. This is because it’s safe, and you are supporting the local people by paying for a tour.
Hill tribes are fascinating places filled with wonderful people. I did not visit a hill tribe in Chiang Dao, but I did visit one south of Chiang Mai.
Visiting a hill tribe is an incredible opportunity to learn a different culture and different sides of Thailand.
Go Camping at Ban Na Lao Mai
Arguably the biggest adventure you can take in Chiang Dao is to go camping at Ban Na Lao Mai. Ban Na Lao Mai is the campground at the summit of Doi Luang Chiang Dao!
To get to the summit, it will be a grueling 9.5-mile out-and-back trail, gaining over 3,500 feet in elevation!
This trail is only open during the wintertime, as I previously mentioned.
So, if you have any interest in climbing it, you will want to plan ahead and book a tour.
As far as camping at the top goes, it’s an epic adventure.
You’ll wake up to epic views of the Northern Thai mountains around you. It’s truly a bucket list activity while in Chiang Dao.
Chiang Dao Thailand FAQ’s
How to get to Chiang Dao from Chiang Mai
Getting from Chiang Dao from Chiang Mai is cheap and relatively easy. There are two ways to get between these cities, drive yourself or take the public bus.
It’s a short drive between Chiang Mai and Chiang Dao, about an hour and 15 minutes. However, this road is quite windy.
Driving between the cities is very straightforward. You will just hop on the 107 and follow it until you reach Chiang Dao. However, if you choose to drive yourself, there are many police checkpoints along the way. You’ll want to have your driver’s license on hand because they will stop and check it.
If you choose to take the public bus, you will want to go to Bus Station number 1. This Bus Station is located in Santitham, north of the city.
I’d recommend going to the station a day or two in advance to check the bus times. As an English speaker, sometimes it is hard to find this information online. Then, you can also buy your bus ticket!
The busses that run between Chiang Mai and Chiang Dao are Thai busses. This means, there’s probably no air conditioning. You’ll want to arrive early to get the best seat on the bus.
Where to Stay in Chiang Dao Thailand
When visiting Chiang Dao, there are many different levels of accommodation you can choose from.
Chiang Dao is a relatively small town, everything is close together. However, the best way to get around Chiang Dao is by renting motorbikes. Depending on where you stay, this will be more or less important.
There are many accommodations in town and hidden oases outside of town.
How Many Days Do You Need in Chiang Dao Thailand
2-3 days is the ideal time to spend in Chiang Dao, Thailand.
This small town has a lot of things to do in nature and offers you time away from the big city bustle of Chiang Mai.
With 2-3 days in Chiang Dao, you will have enough time to enjoy the sights, go on a hike or two, and hit all the major attractions in the area.
Chiang Dao Thailand is a beautiful destination that makes a perfect weekend trip from Chiang Mai! It’s home to diverse wildlife, beautiful views, and a serene atmosphere.
Chiang Dao Thailand truly is a hidden gem in Northern Thailand.