After a few days back in Chiang Mai to clean up and dry out following my trek in the Mae Wang Area, I took a local bus north to the small town of Chiang Dao. I had heard that its namesake mountain, Doi Luang Chiang Dao, in the Pha Daeng National Park, offered some notable self-guided trails, and I was excited to get out on my own. It became the first of many instances on this trip that my plans didn’t pan out, resulting in some improvisation that yielded unforeseen rewards. I was reminded of my mantra in Namibia: “Expect the unexpected!”
Spending hours on a bus can be difficult when I’m used to walking, so it was a relief to stretch my legs for a few miles from the bus station to my lodging, always drawing closer to the dramatic peaks above the town. In my three days there, however, I experienced a wide range of weather yet rarely saw the summit through the clouds.
As we were still in the wet season, the park authorities determined that the weather forecast wasn’t good enough to open the Doi Luang Chiang Dao trails safely. So, instead, I rented a motorbike (bigger than a Vespa but smaller than a motorcycle) to extend my range on foot to explore the area. Good local maps of more remote regions like this can be hard to find, so I appreciated the hand-drawn map provided by my hosts at Ashi Guesthouse, even if it wasn’t exactly to scale.
More than 90% of the Thai population identifies as Buddhist, but the nation has been heavily influenced by Hinduism over many centuries. The architecture and artwork often mix these (and other) influences.
While my primary interest on this trip was trekking in the mountains of northern Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, I also knew that the region’s karst topography includes impressive caves as well as dramatic features above ground. I visited Chiang Dao Cave, which is said to have been surveyed to a distance of more than 10 km (6.2 miles) so far, with much more still unexplored. The public is allowed access to only the first 1 km (.6 miles), but I still took this sign’s warning to heart! I didn’t have proper lighting for good photographs, but you can get an idea of the scale and beauty of the place (if not the creatures that call it home).
To help give you an idea of the size of these chambers, each bat on the far wall is about 25 cm (10″) from top to bottom.
At home in California, we are spoiled by and proud of our tall Redwoods, so I will always respect people who take pride in their own beautiful flora. This stretch of road was constantly filled with Thai selfie-takers and IG influencers posing amongst Chiang Dao’s “Big Trees.” Of course, I had to join in…