Doi Chiang Dao
Doi Chiang Dao is a 230-250 million year old limestone summit – known to locals as Piang Dao or “at the level of the stars”. Its Thailand’s most popular hike owing to its unspoilt natural beauty, and place in Thailand’s spiritual fabric. Most climbers take in sunset or sunrise at the summit, and camp under the stars.
- #3 in Thailand
- Outside of top #50 in SE Asia
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Natural Form and History
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - History
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Geological history
Doi Chiang Dao is a 230-250 million year old limestone massif, part of the Thanon Thong Chai range. It is categorized as a Ratchabauri rock unit and is thought to be caused by the deposition of sea sediments and limestone fossils and the piling up from the sea of animal carcasses such as corals and shells. The Doi Chiang Dao limestone represents mid-oceanic carbonates formed upon sea mount bases of the Paleo-Tethys Ocean.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Modern climbing history
Doi Chiang Dao is located in the Chiang Dao district of Northern Thailand. The area around the mountain is a designated Wildlife Reserve area, the Amphoe Chiang Dao, with a number of other smaller hills. The hills are home to various tribes and have been popular with the local populace for several centuries. Doi Chiang Dao is known to locals as ‘Piang Dao’ or ‘at the level of the stars’ and is believed to be the abode of a protective spirit Phor Luang Kam Daeng along with his wife Nang In Lao. The popularity to outsiders as a climbing destination probably starts with European settler James MacCarthy who once fell sick while travelling through Northern Thailand and was therefore forced to stay in Chiang Dao for some time during which time he discovered the beauty of the hills.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Current popularity as a climbing destination
Being of an accessible height and having a trail that is not intimidating to visitors, Doi Chiang Dao is one of the most popular climbing destinations in Thailand. It is also the most favored destination for bird watchers with over 300 species of birds including the Giant Nuthach and Hume’s Pheasant. With astounding views of hills all around, Doi Chiang Dao offers a wealth of wildlife and nature and some truly astounding arrays of flowers.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Overview of the Trail
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Overall Assessment
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Summary of trail accessibility
The hike up Doi Chiang Dao is a relatively easy climb. There are a few steep areas on the way and some scrambling required at the very top, but on the whole this is not a technical climb. A moderate level of physical fitness will enable you to complete this hike in a day but most people prefer to make it an overnight or two-night camping experience. On the return trek, most trekkers take a route going through Ban Tham as it saves some distance and time on the downward trail.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Trail options
Being part of a wildlife sanctuary, there are several trails that go through parts of the mountain for people with varying interests like bird watching, temple visits or nature treks. But to go all the way to the summit, there is only one official trail (unofficial trails also exist but it is advisable, in the interests of safety, to stick to the official one).The official trail is a relatively straight forward one and not too difficult to follow, but the sign boards are only in Thai so make sure you either have a guide or get clear instructions on the trail before you set out.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Most popular trail
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Standard itinerary
Though this entire trek can be covered in a single day, most travelers follow a 2-day itinerary which gives them plenty of time to stop and admire the sights.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Day 1
08:30: Start journey from Chiang Mai, and head towards Chiang Dao Cave.
10:00: Arrive at Chiang Dao Cave. The official trek starts from here with a 12 km drive to the start of the walking trail.
10:30: Arrive at trail head and start hike. The trek is along steep slopes in dry evergreen forest, but is not a difficult climb (unless you are blessed with rain-showers). The route has with plenty to offer including amazing views and colourful flowers and butterflies along the way.
13:00: Lunch on the slopes and continue on. The trail remains steep, and you get to see bamboo groves, limestone formations and grassy patches on the way before you reach the Ang Salung (or Ao Salun) valley. The trail proceeds to the camping ground that is at the far eastern end of the valley. On this stretch, you get to see the villages down below and the mountains all around.
17:30: Arrive at the edge of the Ang Salung valley, the camp site for the night and set up camp before trekking to the Summit for the sunset.
18:30: Watch sunset from the Summit and return to camp. Enjoy dinner under the light of candles and stars in the clear sky.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Day 2
05:00: Trek up to the Summit again for the Sunrise. The hike up at this hour can be difficult, because it is in the dark and the trail is pretty steep. Once up at the summit though, you can rest while watching the sun come up above the sea of fog and clouds around you.
06:30: Back to camp for breakfast and begin the descent. The trail will clear up as the day picks up (except in the odd chance that it rained the day before, which will make it muddy and slipper), and towards the afternoon you’ll start meeting people going up, trudging along the routes that you were navigating the day before.
13:00: Lunch in the slopes.
15:00: Arrive back at the Cave and proceed back to lodgings.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Climbing Difficulty
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Terrain
Doi Chiang Dao is one of the most scenic treks in Thailand. The trail, though steep in parts, is mostly under a canopy of trees which will help take off some of the pressure of the climb. Even so, expect some grueling stretches and factor in plenty of time for rest both ways. Because of the steepness of the mountain, climbing down is every bit as exhausting as climbing up. Hence climbers who are physically fit and have some exposure to trekking will find it easier.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Trail head to Ang Salun
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Ang Salun to Summit
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Weather
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Overview of climate
This part of Thailand has three major seasons – the hot season runs from March through June, the monsoon from June through October, and cool and dry season from November through February.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Best time to climb
The Doi Chiang Dao Wildlife Reserve is only open to visitors for these five months of the cool and dry season, when the temperatures range between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius during the day and between 10 and 20 degrees Celsius during night time. Up in the mountains, night time temperatures often fall below 10 degrees at night, so pack warm for the nights in case you are camping overnight. If you are making it a day trip, start as early as possible in the morning. But if you are camping in the mountains, you can start at a more leisurely pace.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Common weather challenges
Rain: An occasional unseasonal downpour is the only weather challenge that could mar your trip during the tourist season.
Sun: Though it will not be uncomfortably hot in this season, the sun can still be harsh on your skin, so make sure you use sun protection in the form of sunscreen and sun glasses.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Safety tips
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Climbing safety
Slippery surfaces: Unexpected rain can slow your progress and make the trail slippery and treacherous at some points.
Insects: As is typical with any wilderness, you are likely to encounter a few insects and mosquitos. Make sure to use insect repellant especially if you are planning on an overnight stay in the mountains.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Personal safety
Being a popular destination, it is very unlikely you will ever be completely alone or isolated on this trek so there is little to worry about in terms of personal safety.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Safety for women travelers
This is a trek that finds much favor with solo women travelers, whether as a day trek or camping overnight.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Recommended equipment
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Footwear
Closed (ideally waterproof) hiking or walking shoes
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Clothing
- Any loose cotton clothes are apt for this trek; long pants and long sleeved shirts may offer some protection from scratches and insects
- Warm inner clothing, for the overnight stay at the base camp tent
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Bags
Lightweight waterproof backpack
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Weather protection
- Rain coat / poncho
- Sunscreen lotion
- Sun glasses
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Climbing support
Hiking poles (optional)
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Navigation tools
- Flashlight (optional)
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Medical equipment
- Basic first-aid kid, for cuts and bruises
- Insect repellent
- Muscle-ache relief creams / sprays
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Food
- Drinking water
- Packed lunch and snacks and if you are camping overnight
- High-calorie dry food items – chocolates, energy bars, etc.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Hygene sanitation
- Hand sanitizer
- Wet and dry tissues
- Personal toiletries
- Water purification tablets
- Disposable plastic bags for waste collection
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Connectivity
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Documents
Passport (and other IDs): for registration and emergencies
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Support facilities
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Resting stops and facilities
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Rest stops
There are no designated rest stops or any other facilities on the trail. You have to carry everything you are likely to need and rest at any clearing when you need to.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Base camp
There are a number of campsites in the Ang Salun valley, but the most popular one is a short distance from the base of the final climb. The facilitiates here are pretty basic, and while you can pre-arrange for dinner to be prepared by your guides, for most other needs – including nature’s calls – you’ll be on your own.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Guides and porters
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Do you need a guide?
Official rules stipulate that a guide is needed, but this not a rule that’s often enforced. The trail is easy to navigate so you’re unlikely to get lost without a guide, but having one can make your experience easier and less stressful.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - How to find a guide?
While it’s technically possible to book guides at the trail head, it is preferable to make arrangements before as in reality it may not be possible to hire a guide on the day of the hike – the park office opens late (8:30am) and sometimes availability of guides is limited. Additionally the ones who may be available may not speak English. Hence, it is recommended to look for online recommendations and find someone before who you can communicate with.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Tips while working with guides
- Specifically ask for an English speaking guide.
- Communicate with your guide any special interests beforehand – whether nature hikes, temple trails or bird watching so they can choose the most appropriate resting spots and pace for your hike.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Porters
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Do you need a porter?
If you are planning on camping overnight, it is advisable to discuss with your guide the need for a porter so you can ensure that all necessary equipment including tents and cooking utensils etc. are brought up with you.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - How to find a porter?
Porters are available for hire at the Chiang Dao cave, but it will be much easier easier to work out an arrangement for porters with your guide or tour operator beforehand.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Tips while working with porters
- Communicate with your guide beforehand to ensure that there are sufficient number of porters who will accompany your group to the top, depending on the amount of baggage to be carried.
- If you need to have a porter on your team, understand their rates and conditions before embarking on the trip.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Food & water
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - At the start of the hike
You will need to have breakfast in Chiang Mai before starting on your trek or refresh yourself at the establishments around the Chiang Dao cave. Being a popular tourist destination by itself, this area has plenty of restaurants and other facilities that a tourist may need.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - During the hike, along the trail
There are no other facilities available on the trail, so make sure to bring enough food and water along with you for the trek. There are a few natural water sources on the mountain along the way, but use them only if you can tolerate untreated natural water.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - During the hike, at base camp
Dinner at the campsite will be prepared by your guide (assuming you have arranged it beforehand, for the guides will not carry any food for you otherwise). You may even be able to buy some beer if you’re looking for a kick at the end of the day.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Network connectivity
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Phone and data (3G) connectivity
3G network is available up to the Cave area. Beyond that point, data reception may be a bit patchy but you will get a basic signal all the way up to the summit.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Accessibility
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Getting there
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Nearest airportChiang Mai International Airport. Domestic connections are available from other major tourist destinations in Thailand to Chiang Mai.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - From the airport to the starting point
From Chiang Mai, there are several options to get to Chiang Dao. You could choose between a private taxi, bus services that operate several times a day or a self-driven cab. It takes a little more than an hour to get to Chiang Dao from Chiang Mai
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Climbing permits
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Is a permit needed?Yes a permit is needed for the climb and the rules mandate that you should apply for it at least two weeks in advance. It is not impossible to get a permit on the day of the hike as they may relax the rules if there isn’t a great rush on the day of your arrival but it is safer to not count on it.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - How to get a permit?
An application must be given in advance to the Director of the Wildlife Reserve Division, Royal Forest Department for the permit. Subject to availability, permits can also be purchased the Park offices on payment of requisite fees. If you’re enaging a guide or a tour operator beforehand, it is best to co-ordinate with them to get your permit.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - Special Tips
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - For amateur climbers
- If Doi Chiang Dao is only a daylong stopover on your Thailand visit, make the most of it by taking along a knowledgeable guide who will show you all the important sights on the way as well as give you a taste of local culture. There are a few hot springs and the San Phakia camp site in the mountains that offer a rare chance to view cherry blossoms in January.
- The Chiang Dao Cave itself offers a 12 km long stalactite-laden adventure that offers some fascinating experiences.
Climbing Doi Chiang Dao Thailand - For advanced climbers
Trail running: Chiang Dao is a favoured mountain for trail running so make the most of your trip by getting in touch with local clubs that organize trail runs on the mountain. With its spectacular ridges, rock walls and sheer cliffs, Doi Chiang Dao is considered by many to be a great spot for the sport.