Offbeat mountains of Northern Thailand : Doi Chiang Dao
As part of our blog series focusing on Northern Thailand’s incredible mountains, it’s time to reveal one of our all-time favourites – Chiang Dao (also referred to as Doi Luang Chiang Dao “ดอยหลวงเชียงดาว”) is a magnificent, rugged limestone mountain towering 2,225m above sea level overlooking the rice fields and banana plantations of Northern Thailand. Those who enjoy a rugged climb can hike to the summit to be rewarded with 360-degree views of the surrounding peaks and villages far below.
Hiking to the summit of Doi Chiang Dao
Although not the tallest mountain in Thailand, Doi Chiang Dao is arguably the most beautiful with its limestone cliffs perched above the clouds, almost touching the stars. As part of a protected wildlife sanctuary, you can encounter various types of flora and fauna not easily found in other parts of Thailand and a particularly diverse variety of birdlife.
If hiking to the summit of Chiang Dao is on your agenda, we highly recommend an overnight trip where you can camp near the peak to enjoy sunset, sunrise and stargazing on a clear night. For this trek, it’s essential you plan your trip well ahead of time due to the limited number of entrance permits. With the summit trail being open just five months a year (usually 1 November – 31 March), the weekends are often booked out early on in the season. There are no tourist facilities at all so everything needs to be carried and it’s illegal to attempt the hike without an official tour guide. When booking a tour with a local guide this will usually include a few porters so you only need to carry your personal belongings; just be emotionally prepared for primitive conditions!
It’s best to start the hike at a substation located partway up the mountain before noon – to reach this point, you’ll first need to drive a bumpy road winding up the mountain from Chiang Dao town. From the substation located at an elevation of 1500m, it’s an 8.5km trail to the summit with undulating terrain gradually climbing along the mountain’s edge through tall grass, flower meadows, wild banana trees, and moss covered forests. After the halfway point is when the trail steepens significantly through the Ao Salung valley; there’s a number of viewpoints along the way where you can stop to catch your breath and take in the stunning views of surrounding limestone peaks. You will see Pyramid Mountain (Doi Nua) and Three Sisters mountain (Doi Sam Pi Nong) to your left with Doi Nhok towering above to your right. By keeping a steady pace, it’s possible to arrive at the campsite within 4.5 hours. Typically you will set up camp and take some time to relax before the final climb to
Chiang Dao’s summit. Although only a 20 – 30 minute climb, it’s a steep, rocky trail and winds can get very strong so make sure you take warm clothes and a flashlight (for the trip back to camp).
Provided the mountain isn’t covered in cloud, the climb to the top is well worth the effort with 360-degree views of the mountainous area and valleys below. Sunset can be incredibly magical with the sun dipping below the mountain peaks and waves of clouds creating drastic changes in the landscape. Once you make your way back to camp, enjoy dinner under the stars; Chiang Dao literally means “at the level of the stars” and is renowned for its incredible views of the Milky Way.
Following morning, rise at 4:30am to hike a steep and rocky trail to a different peak for sunrise (Kew Lom Tai). With a bit of luck, you’ll be treated to a wonderful view of the sun rising above a sea of clouds and projecting warm light onto the mountain peaks. After, return to camp for breakfast then follow the same trail through the valley to the halfway point before taking a steeper, shorter trail to the end point called Pang Wua trailhead. This trail is a total of 6.5km and takes around 4 hours to descend from the campsite.
For hikers who prefer to climb Chiang Dao mountain in just one day, you will need to go up and down the same steep trail with an elevation gain of 1100 metres (3,600ft). This is only recommended for fit and experienced hikers who have limited time.
Located in Pha Daeng National Park, 72 km north of Chiang Mai city and just 50km from the Myanmar border is Doi Luang Chiang Dao. At an elevation of 2,225m above sea level, hiking to the peak is a challenging yet rewarding feat frequented mainly by Thai’s as a result of the mountain’s domestic fame. Due to limited international knowledge and seasonal restrictions on entering the park, foreigners hiking the peak of Chiang Mai are relatively few and far between. Although not completely necessary, the best option would be to stay the night before and after in Chiang Dao town or a district north of Chiang Mai city.
Transport to Chiang Dao
It’s likely your local guide will meet you in Chiang Dao town and from Chiang Mai there are multiple transport options:
- public buses depart from the old Chang Pheuak bus station (north of old city) every 30 minutes for just 40THB per person. Journey time is approximately 90 minutes and buses arrive at the Chiang Dao bus station in the centre of town.
- songtaews (pick up trucks) can be hired for 1500THB per truck one-way
- Rent a motorbike/car and follow Route 107 northbound, follow the signs which direct you right towards the town centre. This option is only recommended if you plan to arrive in Chiang Dao before the day of your hike as the drive can be quite long and tiring.
What to bring
Your trekking guide will most likely arrange food, drinking water and camping equipment however it will be your responsibilty to ensure you bring anything else you need. Check out our recent post about What to bring hiking in Thailand for more ideas.
Alternative recreational activities around Chiang Dao
If peakbagging isn’t your thing, then there are still a number of fun and active things to do in the surrounding area suitable for a variety of interests and energy levels. Ask us about trips to Chiang Dao cave, mountain biking, other hiking trails, various hill tribe villages and rustic accommodation options.