Chiang Dao: Mountainous Dreams
Chiang Dao was so much more than we anticipated. The lush forest set in the mountains was likely one of the most idyllic settings we've experienced. And I'll be honest here, I'm not one who is naturally drawn to mountains, in the most general sense. But this was absolutely breathtaking.
Our experience was largely defined by our accommodations. We stayed at the Chiang Dao Nest, which very much felt like an upscale nature retreat.
Chiang Dao is already known as a peaceful getaway from Chiang Mai. It's about 50 miles north, or a quick two hour bus ride.
Chiang Dao has a quaint downtown, but we never made it. About four miles away, we stayed on a dead end street at the base of Doi Chiang Dao, the third highest mountain in Thailand.
We were ready for a break from the city. Upon arriving, the setting exuded immense tranquility. The huts with bean bags, the goats, the dipterocarp trees, the outdoor dining, the limestone peaks as a backdrop. It was the total package.
We were planning on going up for a couple nights for my birthday. But upon finding out about an offseason promotion--stay three nights, get the fourth free--we naturally stayed four nights. And we're so grateful we did. It amounted to $22 USD per night.
The private cabins, constructed from double layers of bamboo, provided a natural, yet extremely comfortable feel.
Our cabin felt more like glamping than anything else.
Sounds of crickets and frogs became quickly familiar from outside our cabin. Since the temperature dropped significantly in the evening, we were able to sleep with the windows open.
On our first day, we met a kind Canadian couple at lunch, and decided to walk to Wat Tham Pha Plong at the end of the road. The mountain temples is on the outskirts of the National Park, Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary. It's stunning, but you do have to get passed vicious temple dogs. We were fine with bamboo walking sticks and power in numbers. But, a guest did get bitten the day before and ended up in the hospital.
At the base of the mountain, a German man training at the monastery had loads of food and cooking supplies. Bottles of peanut and chili sauces, paper goods, etc. He asked for our help, and along with the Canadian couple, we carried the baskets by threading them through the bamboo sticks. He failed to mention there were 500 steps, up a naga stairway, to the temple. Will went his own way.
Once we did reach the top, the view from the jungle temple was gorgeous.
The temple is also where renowned meditation disciple Luang Pu Sim taught for over ten years.
A portion of the temple is within a cave chamber that displays photos of respected monks as well as decorative gold buddhas.
Even more intriguing was learning of the monk's daily practices. Each temple holds different schedules, but at Wat Tham Pha Plong, the monks wake at 3 a.m. for daily teachings.
It was the most serene temple we visited. But in the jungle, it was incredibly humid. Back at Nest 1, we took a dip in the pool. Since it's the offseason, we often wondered if there were any other guests.
Albeit random, Nest 1 is also known for award-winning gourmet restaurant. We had an early birthday dinner and it felt very celebratory. Prices are higher than our other experiences in Thailand, but the quality was certainly worth it.
Other meals at The Nest were equally impressive. However, we preferred Nest 2, the sister restaurant less than a mile down the road, which served more traditional Thai food.
Although we felt tremendously secluded, there were still a couple other options within walking distance. The Cave was a funky bar that happened to serve wonderful homemade curries, and also rent motorbikes. We took advantage of all.
But besides that, it was really the only other late night game in town. Or at least, where we were staying.
Although it was difficult to leave the comforts of our abode, we did rent a motorbike one day to explore the rest of the area.
We road up to Pha Daeng National Park, about 30 minutes north of Chiang Dao.
It was our first foray with riding on a major thoroughfare. But, the ride was beautiful, as it quickly turned to into winding roads in valleys that we had all to ourselves.
We only had two major hiccups. First, when we were pulled over into a Thai speed trap. We were told that north of Chiang Dao, the police are known to slap sizable fines on foreigners without international drivers licenses. The second, when we were in a more rural area near the national park and a bull literally started charging in our direction. Fortunately, we got through both circumstances unscathed.
We spent the day exploring the Sri Sungwan Waterfalls and the Pong Arng Hot Springs in the national park.
The three-tiered waterfalls are surrounded by a lush, tropical rain forest.
The falls were beautiful, and even more so, because we were the only visitors in the park.
We followed the manicured path, often marked by pieces of monks' robes.
It was extremely buggy and started to drizzle so we carefully made our way back to our bike.
In full disclosure, at the falls, we had a few difficulties. A bug flew into Will's eye and we painfully couldn't get in out, while a beetle of sorts bit my foot. It was our reality. And thus, we were quite ready for the promise of a less hectic experience at the hot springs.
The hot springs were only a little over a mile from the falls. They were absolutely incredible. We had both natural pools to ourselves. We quickly changed into our suits and slid in. It was hot! As soon as we thought we were overheating, it started to rain. We didn't flinch. The cold drops juxtaposed with the hot water was like nothing I've experienced. We were so hot, but simultaneously cooled down by the rain. And then it legitimately down-poured. At this point, we were soaked so there was no point in moving. We closed our eyes and appreciated the moment for what it was. Unbelievable.
After our adventure day, we were pleased to spend the rest of our time at The Nest. Reading, playing cards.
We'd go for walks and discover how much was around us.
Villa de View was a lovely place to stop for a pastry with a remarkable view.
We found more local eateries near the Chiang Dao caves down the road.
On a longer walk in the opposite direction we came across Wat Tham Pakpiang. Chiang Dao was certainly a place for women to always carry a sarong and scarf. We had to reroute some walks since I didn't have the appropriate dress. In this case, fortunately I came prepared.
It was situated in the forest, with shimmering gold statues set among the dense greenery.
It also entailed a cave complex that was neat to explore on our own.
Everything about our stay felt like a treat. From the cloth robes in our rooms to the need to make reservations at The Nest restaurants for dinner.
In Chiang Dao, we found it easy to just be. We're typically trying to fit as much in as we can, calculating are next move. But not here. We read voraciously and it was so refreshing to truly detach. Chiang Dao in the most literal sense is a true hidden gem.