I am on a budget- though, if you looked at the amount of money I spend on fruit, you probably wouldn’t get that impression- but I still want to do and see all the amazing things Chiang Mai and its surrounds has to offer, so when I had an extra day in my weekend due to the start of Buddhist Lent, I knew I wanted to make the most of it. After looking at some excellent blogs (like this one and this one) I knew I had found my cheap day out- and cheap it was! Not including food I spent under 500b. With food, it climbed to around 800b. A super budget day out. Now, as the title suggests, I spent A LOT of my day walking, which is partly why it was so cheap, but I actually loved this aspect of my day and while it was tiring and certainly a long day, I got to see parts of Chiang Dao that you never could on a bike- motor or otherwise.
I started my day early and caught the 40b 6am bus from Chang Phuak Station to Chiang Dao. The bus is really comfortable, not air con but with lots of fans on the ceiling which circulate the air so that it’s not stuffy in the slightest. That said, it was 6am and the bus was relatively empty- I had a seat to myself and many passengers were curled up across the 3 (lol) seater benches having a nap. I preferred to stare out the window and take in the changing landscape from city to highway to mountain jungle. It’s a beautiful road and if you can get a window seat, do.
Once I got to Chiang Dao, I went and found a cute little spot for a traditional Thai brekky. I even got to practice some of my Thai, although I was also immensely grateful when the woman responded to my inquiries in perfect English. She said I was doing well though and everyone smiled when I commented that my food was “aroy makht” (very delicious!).
Full from my delicious larb and mango salad- not som tam but something slightly different- I decided to start my journey to the caves. My new favourite app ever, maps.me took me on a route which can only be described as “off the tourist track”. I was walking along roads which were passing behind local house, local farms, people just living their every day life. It was a fascinating walk and honestly, it was so interesting to see how these wonderful people lived and the lands they survived off. There were fully laden mango and jackfruit trees, bananas and longans drooping over me and SO much corn, EVERYWHERE.
The walk took roughly an hour, I would say and before long I found myself at the caves. I actually tried to do a “nature trail” but it was so unmarked that I couldn’t even tell where to go, 5 minutes in and my shins were already plastered in clay from climbing up muddy ascents. I quietly admitted defeat, turned around and to save some face, asked the bemused looking Thai man at the entrance of the caves, where the bathroom was. I quickly realised this probably meant it looked like I had just climbed through the jungle in search of a toilet, but I said it perfectly (for a farang) and he responded in kind.
Anyway, after I recovered my pride, I ascended into the temple, paid my 40 baht entrance and was struck, as always, by the intricacy and beauty of the carvings, statues and icons which are features of every Buddhist Wat I’ve seen so far. Upon entry into the cave, I paid another 100b for a guide and then 100b as a compulsory tip? which I didn’t mind giving because those lamps are HEAVY and extremely HOT. It’s like, less than $3, who am I to begrudge a volunteer- my lovely lady was also disabled from birth- less than what I would unthinkingly spend on a chai back home? It’s easy to get pissy about being “ripped off” or “paying too much” because you’re a foreigner but honestly, it’s important to keep things in perspective.
The caves themselves were beautiful and eery. I loved being shown all the different cave formations, the guide explaining what they sort of looked like as we went through. There were bats on the cave roof but they didn’t bother me at all and it didn’t smell too bad.
The highlight was actually the unguided section where I was able to sit and reflect on my time in Thailand so far in absolute silence. It was so quiet that my ears were ringing, I could hear every move I made and it was just so… focused.
After the caves, I made my way (on foot) along the road to the beautiful Wat Tham Pha Plong, taking in the stunning rainforest which surrounded me. The temple itself is set into the limestone caves with a few lookout points and peaks being built into the mountain. Once you get to the temple, it’s an easy climb of about 510 steps (and halfway there’s a rest stop if you need with an encouraging message of “you’ve climbed the hardest 2__ steps, only 3__ [easier!] steps to go!” Super cute!) which is lined in trees and proverbs from the Dharmma. Once again, it strikes me how similar some of these proverbs are to those in the Bible but how they’re all missing that overarching idea of grace- in Buddhism, one is always striving to be better and reach that ultimate place of “oneness”, whereas in my faith, we strive to be better because we’ve already been accepted- it’s a sense of gratefulness and desire to live the way God wants us to which drives our bettering… One thing I’ve always been grateful for, in regards to travel, is how much we can learn about our own selves and our own beliefs when they are placed next to those we do not subscribe to or which are foreign to us.
Regardless, the temple itself was a stunning piece of architecture and offered beautiful views across the Chiang Dao Valley that I count myself blessed to see. The day was cloudy and drizzling all day but it didn’t dampen the views, my spirits or the beauty of the countryside. If anything, it just made everything seem even more lush!
After this, I’d definitely worked up an appetite and after walking past the beautiful Nest 2 on the way up and reading about how good the food was from every travel blog about Chiang Dao ever, I knew I had to stop there. The blogs did not lie. The service was impeccable; the setting, gorgeous; the food, delicious. I got a coconut (gotta get them electrolytes in) and a stirfried tofu dish which was so flavoursome! It was packed with galangal, lemongrass, mushrooms, greens, kaffir lime leaves, holy basil, and of course, a lot of chilli. It was absolutely divine and made according to my request of “farang spicy”. The hardest thing was choosing what to have! Yes, it’s more expensive than most of the places I eat in CM, but the serving size and the quality of ingredients certainly made up for it.
Feeling full as a coconut (not the one I had just quenched my thirst with), I made my way back into town, the same way I came- or so I thought. My app, which I still love, took me on a slightly different route which led me…
literally into the middle of corn fields. I felt like I was in Fellowship of the Ring as I trekked my way through these fields, not knowing if I was even allowed to be in them. I was also getting worried at this point because all the photos I was taking and the use of my navigation system had worn my phone down to 1%. And I was in the middle of a field. It was a little terrifying. So, I took a lot of glances at my screen, trying to figure out how long it would take to get to where I needed to turn right and left in order to get to the bus station (which, btw, the bus didn’t drop me at in the morning, he just let me off in the centre of town). Halfway, roughly, to the station, the inevitable occurred and my phone died. I was here
It was a little terrifying but I figured, as long as I followed the path- I’d be ok. And eventually, probably a lot longer than maps.me originally estimated, I got to the “suburbs” of Chiang Dao. Tired, nervous and seriously wanting to get to the bus station I happened upon a man sitting in his open front house, selling knick knacks and drinks. “Bus station?” I queried- not even bothering to try in Thai. “Yes, behind, behind.”
It was literally right behind me. The was just one barbed wire fence between me and the station. It was like the time Mum asked the policemen where Flinders St Station was while standing on the corner of Elizabeth and Collins (disclaimer: this was in our first year of being in Melbourne. Not recently.).
The man looked very amused as I celebrated, “Thank God! How do I…?”
“Tiny gate- just there”
It was not a gate. It was a gap between the barbed wire fence and the wall next door. But it looked like a well worn gap and no one official looking was around so I thanked him- in Thai- and squeezed my way through the gap.
And then the bus arrived. Literally 3 seconds after I did. I have no idea how many busses run from CD to CM in the afternoon but I was so grateful that I was on this one that I almost cried. I paid my 40 baht and hopped on a vastly different bus to the first one I experienced. This one, I was sharing a seat which would have sat 2 people comfortably, with 2 other people. Luckily, these Thai people were stereotypically tiny so we all fit… albeit very tightly.
I suddenly became extremely aware of how muddy I was and how ridiculous I must have looked but to be honest, I was too tired to even care.
That night, I was in bed by 8pm and 100% asleep by 9:30 at the absolute latest.
It was a stunning day and I loved every second of my adventures… especially how cheap it was! It just confirmed to me that you don’t need to spend big bucks to have a good time in Thailand. You just need to be willing to stretch those legs and see the world at a slower pace.
Have a blessed day!
Missing you all lots!