July 18, 2024


Chiang Dao, Thailand 


Chiang Dao is a small town located about 75 km north of Chiang Mai.A day trip to Chiang Dao not only gives you the opportunity to get out of the city and see some of the Thai countryside but you can also visit and explore Wat Tham and it’s unique cave temple.  Various tour operators will gladly charge you between $100 and $200 for the tour “package” which would include a guide, transportation, a meal and likely a brief visit to several other locations on the way to Chiang Dao.  But you can easily make the day trip on you own. You will have the adventure of exploring a bit of Thailand independently and you can save some money in the process. How do you make this trip on your own? And what is the cost? Here are the details as well as photos of the area and sites.

A day trip from Chiang Mai to Wat Tham Chiang Dao begins at your hotel, hostel, apartment or resort.  Grab an Uber and head out for the   Chiang Mai Bus Terminal ! (Chang Phueak Bus Terminal).     Getting a ticket is straight forward – just say “Chiang Dao” and you’ll be given a ticket.  Price? 40 Baht ( @ $1.23 currently).  They will point you to where the bus is or where it will be prior to departure.  The Chiang Dao bus runs “in theory” every 30 minutes.  I say in theory because there seems to be some variablility on this – more later.  




Travel Tip: Grab a seat toward the front of the bus if you can.  The bus makes many stops as it makes it’s 1 1/2 hour journey northward to Chiang Dao.  At each stop more and more people pile onboard – mostly through the rear door. The back of the bus can get really full – as in 4 people sharing a 2 person seat.  Meanwhile all is good and comfortable up front.

There is no bus terminal in Chiang Dao.  The bus stops outside a local store.  Probably best to watch your progress on a navigation app on your smartphone.  That way you will know it’s time to exit the bus – some continue onward to cities further north. Very possibly everyone else on the bus will be Thai.  If you are not sure if this is your Chiang Dao stop you can always ask someone around you, “Chiang Dao?” They are happy to help and will nod yes or no.

After you hop off the bus in Chiang Mai just walk across the street.  There you will find a little hut where people wait for buses going southward.  You can pick up some water, fruit or have an ice cream if you would like.  There is a Bus Stop sign at the street.


At this point you are in Chiang Dao – but Wat Tham is about 6 km outside of town.  Now you will need transportation. Most likely someone will approach you after you get off the bus and ask if you want a ride.  They may not speak much English but they’ll show you a card with destinations in English along with prices. Find Wat Tham or Chiang Dao Caves on the card . That’s the one you want.  Price per person depends on how many are in your group. They will also ask if you want one way or two trans port.  Two way transport in situations like these almost always means they will drop you off and then tell you how long you can stay before you head back.  I prefer to linger, want and photograph without any time limit so I went for the one way trip. Traveling alone my charge was 150 Baht.  Certainly lots more for the 6 km ride than the 40 Baht I paid for the bus all the way from Chiang Mai.  But at this point options are limited and it’s a seller’s market.  Agree on the plan and price and hop in. You’ll be riding in the back of a yellow truck.

Chiang Dao is located at a somewhat higher elevation than Chiang Mai.  And it’s right at the foot of rising mountains.  It’s really pretty in the area and also a bit cooler.   The ride doesn’t take long.  The driver will drop you in a large parking area where he will wait if you are on the “two way plan.”   In may case he headed off in search of his next fare.








Wat Tham is actually a collection of many buildings and also contains the Chiang Dao Caves.  The parking area is lined with venders offering food and drink.  Restrooms are also available within the complex.

Now it’s time to explore – wander at your liesure.  It’s a lovely and quiet place to spend some time.  Here are some of the sights you will encounter.

As with most Buddhist Temples there is no admission fee.  There is a 40 Baht fee however to visit the Cave. It apparently is a very large cave system. Some areas have electric lighting and can be visited on your own.  Other areas have no lighting and you must rent a gas lantern (100 Baht) and go with a guide (100 Baht).  I’ve done several cave temples previously and opted for the self guided tour.

Cave Tip:  Temple caves tend to be cool but humidity is high.  You will encounter areas of dampness.  In places the walk way or path may be moist and slippery.  Be careful of your footing. Even with the electrical lights, the lighting is marginal.

This is a living cave with numberous growing formations.  Watch your head!


As you wander you will encounter a variety of shrines and figures.


After wandering in the dark and damp and very humid cave it was a pleasant relief to re-enter the sunlight temple areas of Wat Tham


It was interesting to encounter one building with clear Hindu influence.


After exploring and photographing everything it’s time to head back to Chiang Dao.  If you took the “two way option” for travel your visit may have been a bit rushed, but you will have a ride.  After I finished my liesurely visit I walked a bit further up the road, away from Chiang Dao where I found several very nice restaaurants as well as food stalls.  Fortunately there was a Yellow Truck waiting next to a food stand so I negotiated a ride back to the Chiang Dao  bus stop – 100 Baht.

Once at the bus stop it’s time to wait.  Remember when I wrote that the bus runs every 30 minutes?   Well, I waited here for roughly 1 1/2 hours before the bus arrived.  So much for the bus schedule.  All part of the adventure!


So those are the details of a self-guided, independent day trip from Chiang Mai to Wat Tham Chiang Dao.  My total cost for the day – 

Uber –                  $3.82 –  to and from the bus station

Bus –                    $2.44 – to and from Chiang Dao

Yellow Truck –     $7.65 – to and from Wat Tham

Cave Fee –           $1.22 –  entrance to Cave

Lunch –                $4.55 –  local restaurant

Total –                   $19.68


All in all, a Great Day Trip, A Great Adventure, and A Great Price!




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