Day 175: Chiang Dao, Thailand. We woke and had breakfast on the terrace again, while psyching ourselves up for today’s hike up the mountain and through the forest.
Neither of us were convinced that the hike would work out, or that we’d even manage to get started on it, given all the reports about overgrown trails in the area.
We walked down through the village, with two of the guesthouse dogs accompanying us part of the way (they’re adorable), then started our day with a visit to Chiang Dao cave.
The cave network is pretty spectacular, and far better than we’d anticipated. There are several Buddhist shrines, some world class geology and it’s occupied by some pretty chunky bats which flew back and forth above our heads. We paid our entrance fee and headed into the cave, then around the first bend found another ticket counter, where a guide tries to sell us a tour around an unlit part of the cave, for ten times the entrance fee.
Any caves we’ve visited in the past have, for some reason, highlighted rock formations that look like animals or birds, or in one case ‘a lady’s nipple’ (a guide in Vietnam managed to tell us that one with a straight face). Chiang Dao caves are no different – while we didn’t have a guide, there was a poster outside the caves which highlighted the rock formations we could see, including a frog hole, an elephant lung and – get this – a fried egg. Perhaps they had a gap to fill on the poster.
A little bizarrely there’s also an opportunity to rent costumes for a bit of dress-up activity towards the back of the caves. Why, we have no idea.
Beside the entrance to the caves, there’s a pond with stacks of monster carp and cat fish. Visitors can buy food to feed them. We watched a couple chucking food into the pond, with the fish completely ignoring them, so we’re guessing they may be a little overfed.
Afterwards we had a quick coffee at a cafe next to the caves, then put our brave hats on, and started our climb up through the forest. More than anything, we were nervous about dog attacks – there were dozens of dogs roaming around the grounds outside the caves, and we feared there might be lots more living up in the forest. We at least had walking sticks to help defend us from any cranky canines, but thankfully, we didn’t see a single one the entire time, which was a huge relief.
The hike was spectacular – we were the only ones walking the trail, perhaps because everyone else was put off by the thought of bashing through overgrown paths. We walked up a very steep hill and weaved our way through trees and rocks and bamboo. We had to bush-bash in parts, including a particularly tricky patch where obstinate bamboo branches had grown across the track, and it took a fair bit of time to clear a way through. Thankfully we didn’t see any snakes either, so all in all, it turned out to be a very good day.
The hike finished by crossing a small dried up river, then we climbed up a small wooden ladder which took us out of the forest and into the car park next to a local wat. We walked along the road back home, tired and muddy, but hugely happy with ourselves.
When we got back to the guesthouse, we showered and plonked ourselves in the garden with our books, before heading out early evening for dinner in the village.
This evening turned out to be a pretty big one. We got chatting to a bunch of people at the Cave Bar, including the owner Buppha, who set up her bar five years ago. We also had a fascinating chat with a guy who’s a cinematographer and has worked all over the world with lots of famous musicians. He’s now living in Thailand for a bit while he plans his next moves. He told us his favourite country is Bulgaria, so perhaps he’ll end up there. It was a fabulous evening with great company, and a really nice finish to our stay here.
Buppha rang the bell at 9pm and walked around the bar with a tray of her homemade herbal whisky. We’d already had one earlier, but she insisted we have another. A bit later, she offered us another one ‘for the road’, and after that, we decided it really was time to go. Before we left, she showed us the herbs that go into the whisky, that she steeps for days in alcohol in a huge glass container.
Tomorrow we pack up and head to Pai, which by all accounts is a bit of a hippie and backpacker town, with some interesting sights and walks. And perhaps we’ll find some more caves where we can spy fried eggs.