The secret of adventure, then, is not to carefully seek it out, but to travel in such a way that it finds you.
To do this, you first need to overcome the protective habits of home and open yourself up to unpredictability. ~ Rolf Potts
Laos to Udon Thani… to Chiang Mai… to Chiang Dao Caves in 24 hours
I was on a 10hr VIP bus trip from Udon Thani with the A/C on full blast the entire way, and since Paul and I got the top row front seats we could see everything on the road ahead of us. The worst part about this overnight drive is that when the driver would make a sudden turn or stop, I would be startled out of my slumber only to see the headlights reflecting off of the foggy dark road in front of me. I couldn’t tell if we were about to crash into a dense jungle or careen off the side of a cliff.
This was not the most pleasant overnight bus ride, but, hey, it was cheap!
Going Back Home, My Second Home – Chiang Mai
I got to my apartment in Chang Phuak from the Arcade Bus Station, around 6am by tuk-tuk, it was still dark, and it was very chilly that morning. After such a stressful visa run to Laos, I was happy cruising back to my apartment on the familiar city streets of Chiang Mai, with no traffic and a strange calm feeling in the air as the new day was dawning.
The only sound I could hear was the sound of the lawnmower-like rumble of the tuk-tuk I was riding in. I smiled to myself, when we crossed the bridge over the Ping River. We were getting close now.
It felt good, to know exactly where I was, because only a month before, I wouldn’t have known how to get from the bus station back to my apartment. I didn’t even know there was another bus station until my first trip to Pai.
When I settled into my bed, I was feeling a little disappointed that I didn’t get to explore Laos, like I had dreamed. I thought, I have to make up for it. I was very curious about a place called Chiang Dao, known for its caves and one temple cave.
I am not sure where I first heard about the caves, but I knew I had to make sure I mention it to Matt from my CELTA class since his hobby, literally, is drawing cave maps! I put on my sleeping mask as the sun was coming up. I knew in a few hours, I would be back on the road again.
Motorbike Chiang Mai
Still, that morning, after a few hours of proper sleep, I called up Motorbike Chiang Mai to see what bikes they had available for me, since I had turned mine in prior to my visa run to Laos.
I rented for the month, but since I am friends with the owner, I didn’t want her to lose any opportunity to rent the bike while I was out of town. So, I told her to rent it while I was gone, and then she actually gave me a ride to the Arcade Bus Station that evening on her Honda PCX 150(A big motorbike).
However, I didn’t know I would be back in three days. I usually rented the 125cc bikes, but when I asked for the bike again, Maysa, the owner of Motorbike Chiang Mai, told me I could take her Honda PCX 150. I thought “no, that is more than I want to spend”, but she told me not to worry, it’s ok, (mai pen rai). I could use it for the rest of the week. Wow!
Within the hour Maysa, delivered the new motorbike directly to my apartment. It was just what I needed for an extended ride up North. It was a much more comfortable ride, than if I would have had the smaller 125cc motorbike.
To contact Motorbike Chiang Mai Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Local#: 084-047-8933
Road To Chiang Dao
It took me a little over an hour and a half to reach Chiang Dao and a little over two hours before I arrived at the Chiang Dao Nest. I made a few stops along the way. I stopped at a local market, about 45 mins outside of Chiang Mai, but I am not sure what town I was in. I parked right in front of one of the vendors and got the typical stares of curiosity and a few smiles.
I wanted some iced coffee. So, I began walking through the aisles, until I found a stand with coffee. I believe it was 40 Baht. I began drinking and walking and I noticed that within the same vendors stand on the opposite side she was selling fried chicken and sticky rice. I never tried the chicken on the street, but I just wanted something I could grab, eat and keep moving.
As soon as I greeted her again, with “Nee tao rai?” (How much is this?) my finger pointing and the word “gai” (chicken) I was met with a big smile. OK, speaking Thai is not easy, but I always try, even its just a few nouns and finger pointing, it is so much easier. Sometimes its fun and other times it can be frustrating, but I’ve learned so much more, just by trying.
Anyway, I got my food, packed it up and headed back out on the road and figured I’d stop somewhere along the way to eat it. I finally got to a point where I felt I was finally leaving all the city life and began ascending into some mountainous area, where every km or so, I would see a rambutan stand.
It was a very scenic drive with the mountain on one side and a river on the other side at times. There was no real viewpoint yet to speak of where I could safely stop, and I was beginning to get a little anxious about how far away it was. Then suddenly, I caught a glimpse of Doi Chiang Dao in the distance as I came around a bend and my jaw dropped! This was no ordinary mountain.
It rises abruptly out of nowhere and touches the sky. There is no gradual inclination, just “BAM!” in your face. Seriously, a sight to behold, I had no idea it was such a dramatic and beautiful mountain. I also, never heard anyone in Chiang Mai mention it, but I was glad I found it.
Accommodations in Chiang Dao
When I arrived at Chiang Dao’s Nest, I was told there was no availability. Now usually, I would have booked ahead of time, but I figured since it was off-season and the middle of the week, that I would be fine. Apparently, there was no vacancy because of a Bridge game that night for some Western retirees and booked for a wedding party going into the weekend. They told me I should try next door.
At first, I was a little suspicious of the full booking, because it seemed so quiet, but they told me I could come back later that evening to eat or join the party over the next 2 nights! So, I went next door to Malee’s Bungalows, and they confirmed that it was true and warned me that it maybe kind of loud from the party next door for the next few nights. I booked a small bungalow for 2 nights at 800 baht/nt (approx. $25USD) which was a little more expensive than I expected, but still very reasonable.
Since it was still early in the afternoon, I figured I wouldn’t waste any time and headed straight for the caves after I put my things down in the bungalow. The cave and temple entrance was only a 3 min. drive away.
Greetings From Thai Tourists
There weren’t many tourists on the grounds at all. There were only two pickup trucks in the parking lot and a space next to a tree where I parked my motorbike. I second-guessed myself and wondered if I had come to the right place. I found out later that there were two entrances, but still there weren’t many people around. While I was unpacking in the parking area, I saw a few souvenirs stands to my left and a little coffee shop to my right, and some smaller temples and shrines in front of me.
As soon as I entered, I made a wrong turn and ended up by some restrooms at a dead-end. As I turned around to walk back down the hill a Thai lady approached me said hello and asked me, “Where are you from?
As I walked and chatted with her, two more ladies approached and said “Hello!”. Then again, a few more ladies were saying hello to me, and before I knew it, all of her friends were surrounding me, smiling and asking me for a picture. I was beginning to get used to it when this happens. It has happened to me a lot in Thailand and I am not complaining, I love it! Haha!
There have been times when I traveled and I neglected to use a guide, assuming that it was just an unnecessary extra cost.
However, in this case, I think it was either highly recommended or mandatory, I am not sure, due to the language barrier.
Once, I realized how huge this cave was and how dark it was, I didn’t have to think twice about asking for the guide. Well, I guess I did think twice???
So I paid 40 Baht for the entrance to the cave and I believe I paid my guide a 100 Baht for the tour. I gave him a 100 baht tip on top of that, which I didn’t have to, but he did a great job.
I took some video which I edited into a more bearable 5 min. clip. Basically, my guide described what the rock formations resembled whether, it was some form of animal or even a waterfall. There are human remains within the temple of a famous monk.
Unfortunately, I do not remember the entire story, but I do know that the Queen herself has actually visited this sacred place, in recent times.
If you live in Chiang Mai and, or, you are visiting for an extended time, I would recommend Chiang Dao Caves. It was a beautiful and mysterious experience for me.
You can check out my youTube video post: Trip to Chiang Dao Caves
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