The two major caves near Chiang Mai
Muang-On Cave (Ban Sa Ha Khon, Mae On District, Chiang Mai 50130, Thailand) with its nearby hot springs, near San Kamphaeng, about 30 km east of Chiang Mai and,
Chiang Dao Cave (5 Tambon Chiang Dao, Amphoe Chiang Dao, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50170, Thailand) about 70 km north of Chiang Mai.
From a riding perspective, Chiang Dao Cave is more interesting – with a nice ride via the 1001 / 1150 / 107 being the attraction, along with a very nice wat near the entrance. Muang On Cave is easily accessible by scooter, but the ride hasn’t got any particular biking merit. It’s a cultural experience and a nicer cave to explore. The easiest way to get to Muang On Cave is to head out the 1141 / 1317 road.
Muang On Cave is on the left, about 30km out – and the San Kamphaeng Hot Springs (7 Tambon Ban Sa Ha Khon, Amphoe Mae On, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50130, Thailand) are just a few km further, also on the left. Both easily found with your smart phone.
If you want to add something really different to your trip, a side trip a few kilometres down the 1006 will get you to the Him Tang Pig’s Blood Soup restaurant, made famous by Anthony Bourdain. Trust me, that’s not for the faint of heart.
The parking area is secure, with a number of food vendors there. The cave is accessed via a 191 step Naga serpent staircase, which, in traditional Asian style doesn’t have any two steps that are the same size or height.
The caverns are considered sacred to the Buddha, and legend has it Buddha was the first visitor to the depths of the cave. During his visit, the resident Naga serpent demon disturbed his meditation by taking human form and presenting offerings. A relic in the form of a hair from the head of the Buddha is still venerated here. Offerings have been left by the religious throughout and crowd the cave walls and floors and often these mimick nearby, similarly-shaped stalactites.
Our suggestion is to do the Cave visit before you decide whether you want to climb to the Chedi at the top – I’m told it’s worth the climb for the view – but it’s about three times more than the distance from the car park to the cave…. and the cave is just about to add another 164 steps to your climb – down first, then back out again. If anyone wants to count the steps to the Chedi… I’m happy to update this.
There’s a nice shrine just short of the cave entrance. The views from the shrine over the Ping River Valley are superb, reaching as far as the mountains on the opposite side of the massive, flat plain. Local legend has it that locals were able to hide out in the Muang On caves when the area was invaded by Burmese armies. The Thai villagers would gather their essential belongings and food supplies before seeking refuge in the sheltering caves.
Stop for a breather, but don’t make an ass of yourself with the “gong”… it’s for stroking, not banging.
I’m told you can hire a flashlight for 20 baht at the cave entrance – which is quite small and locked out of hours with a gate – but I didn’t notice them, nor did we need one.
The cave lighting system is quite good. Into the cave – and it was “interesting” adapting my size 48 / 13 feet to the staircase.
We only really encountered “traffic” at one pinch point – and we were there on a busy “Buddha Day” and after that initial “that’s interesting” visual, looking straight down into the bowels of the earth, the climb down gets a lot easier. The caves are large and there’s two main levels. If I can get my 2 metre tall, 117kg frame, complete with its titanium bits and pieces down there, anyone can do it.
Down at the bottom, there’s a couple of sample pieces of the old ladders. They weren’t the best… but the new setup is good.
There’s lots of Buddhas, various knick knacks and items of religious significance around the caves, with the largest being a 10m reclining Buddha. It supposedly has a fossilised dinosaur above it, but, having done my research after visiting, I didn’t spot it.
Near the reclining Buddha is a very impressive 10m tall stalagmite, which is wrapped at the base in gold cloth to protect it from the hordes.
There’s lots of interesting structure in the cave and it’s a dry cave too. I’ve no idea how long this lot have been here… but the cave has been used for many hundreds of years, if not longer.
We didn’t hang around much after the climb out – we wanted to get to the Hot Springs about 3km further down the road and cook some eggs in the 105C pool.
… and find a spot (remember, this was a Buddha Day – a no-alcohol, religious holiday) with some shade to soak our legs. Private facilities and other immersion options are available here, at modest extra cost.
It takes a few quail eggs to get a decent feed… but they’re cheap and hens eggs are available too… all in a bamboo basket, ready to put in the pool.
All things considered, these visits made for an enjoyable day trip. Surprisingly, we only saw one other farang at the caves and two more at the hot springs. This trip is worth doing.