The town of Chiang Dao and the Chiang Dao cave system (or the Phra Non Cave, to give it the correct name), lie about 75 kn north of Chiang Mai, just off Highway 107. This is a good road heading out of Chiang Mai, but you will need to allow an hour and half to 2 hours for the trip, especially if passing through the section nearest to Chiang Mai during rush hours, Mae Rim can get very busy.
The caves are just to the west of the highway and are well signed, car parking is ample and there are plenty of coffee bars and food places. Herbs seem to be a big feature of the traders – particularly roots to take home and plant… no idea why.
Entry to the caves is 40Bht (at today’s rate) and having paid you enter the caves via a bridge over a fish pool and then a short staircase; the first cave is very accessible and you can continue on to the right to see the reclining Buddha statue – this cave passage is lit, but a torch might be useful for checking high up formations.
As well as the accessible parts you will be offered the option to visit some unlit caves, this is with a guide and they carry a lantern. There are warning signs about wandering off on your own and having been into some of the unlit caves (with a guide) I can see why; it is very disorientating down there…
If its not busy I would recommend that you do take the option of the guided tour, it is much more interesting than the public areas and having driven that far it seemed pointless to not make the most of the visit. The temple charge 100 Bht for the privilege and you need to tip the guide 100 Bht as well – this is clearly pointed out so I have no idea why they don’t just levy it as a charge.
Some of the caverns you will be taken to are big, but the connecting passages are often tiny – less than a metre high, so this is not for the claustrophobic or anyone with impaired mobility. I was alone down there (with the guide) so it’s very atmospheric. The guides point out the dangers (low overheads etc), animal life (hand size spiders and bats) as well as the usual rock formations that are supposed to resemble things: elephants, turtles, waterfalls etc – all the usual suspects… After the 20 minute tour you end up back in the public areas.
The town of Chiang Dao is a few kilometres away from the caves, you can get something to eat here and there is a hotel if passing through and needing to stay.
On the way to the town there is a temple under construction that features various ‘hells’ and tortures; I have heard of these places but never seen one; all rather grim, and no doubt intended as a warning to miscreants.