Chiang Dao - Chiang Mai Thailand

Chiang Dao, literally translated 'the City of Stars', is North of Chiang Mai en route to Fang / Tha Ton. There is more to Chiang Dao than just it's famous caves.

Chiang Dao town centre still has some charming old style wooden shops flanking the highway. The soon to be opened bypass should make it a very pleasant place to visit.

Many of the people around Chiang Dao are involved with agriculture, and most are asleep by 8.00pm! They tend to rise very early for work. The morning market starts at around 3.00am finishing at about 8.00am. It is an interesting to see the locals shopping here. Every Tuesday Chiang Dao has a bustling and colourful market where people from the surrounding area, including many different groups of mountain people (hilltribes) come to buy and sell their wares. Not intended for tourists and well worth experiencing.

While the centre holds some interest the natural beauty is found away from the Highway. The area near and beyond the cave are regarded by many as the most beautiful in Northern Thailand.

Chiang Dao's most striking feature is Doi Chiang Dao, Thailand's 3rd highest mountain at 2225m which plays host to an abundance of wildlife and nature. It is one of the lesser-visited, but nonetheless interesting Thai birding sites. Chiang Dao is an ideal base for people touring the area, whether on foot, cycling, in rented cars, or on motorbikes.

Elephant centres and river rafting are situated close by. A wide variety of hilltribe villages are dotted around the nearby mountains which can be reached independently or as part of a tour or trek. There are also some hiking trails through the forest, or up the mountain.

It is also a great place to unwind. Meditation , relaxing in a hammock, drinking a beer, or reading a book. It's such a beautiful, peaceful place, doing nothing is always an option.

Chiang Dao Cave
  • The cave of Chiang Dao is located 70 kilometres north of Chiang Mai on the road to Fang. The Chiang Dao Caves penetrate in to the Doi Chiang Dao which is a massive outcrop of rock rising to a height of 2,175 metres to be the third highest in Thailand. The mountain is usually shrouded in cloud and the area is home to Lisu, Lahu and Karen villages.
  • The caves penetrate up to 14 kilometres into the mountain but access for the tourist is limited to 1 kilometre due to the location of illuminated lighting and how far the local guides will take visitors. Local guides [ with electric lanterns ] are recommended due to the the fact there are different levels one can wonder into and soon become lost in the dark [ it is very dark ].
  • The Caves have had a significant presence for the locals for over 1,000 years as is evident by the ancient Shan Chedi near the entrance and the folklore surrounding the Caves. The caves are venerated by the Thai and Shan people as is evidenced by the offerings, statues and decorations present at the entrance and inside. At various locations within the Caves are small temples and statues of the Buddha.
  • The Caves are interesting for the experience of being in such a location, the dripping stalactites, and other stalagmite rock formations.

  • Located 70 kilometres due north of Chiang Mai on the road to Fang, Chiang Dao shelters beneath the impressive bulk of Doi Chiang Dao, a massive outcrop of rock which rises steeply over the town to a height of 2,175 metres. The peak Thailand's third highest is usually shrouded in clouds, and is home to a number of hilltribe villages, including Lisu, Lahu and Karen settlements.
  • Chiang Dao is a small, rather traditional town of two-storey teak shop-houses and quiet back streets which have little to hold the visitor's interest for long. About 5 kilometres distant, however, on the eastern side of Doi Chiang Dao, lies the entrance to the extensive subterranean network which makes up the Chiang Dao caves. Various stories and legends surround these caverns, which are reported to extend as far as 14 kilometres under the mountain though they are only illuminated by electric light for the first kilometre or so.
  • One legend holds that the caves are inhabited by an Indian recluse who has lived there for more than one thousand years. Another, more complex, tradition tells how a group of hermits who live in the caves once called a meeting of deities and angels to create seven sacred objects. A demon called Chao Luang Kham Daeng Khun Yak was appointed to guard these sacred artefacts which are hidden beneath the mountain. Local people say that if one penetrates deep into the caves, the first thing encountered will be a stream which flows from the pedestal of a golden Buddha. Still further in is the legendary town of Laplae, where may be found the cloth of the gods, a great lake, the divine city of the Nagas, heavenly food, a sacred elephant, and the resting place of the hermits themselves. Here, too, is the great golden Buddha from which the stream springs.
  • Locals, whilst professing to believe in this legend, say that nobody has ever seen these marvels because no one has ever gone far enough into the caves. People have, however, heard the howling of a huge dog signalling, according to customary belief, the approaching ghost of a Buddhist monk who died within the caverns long ago.
  • Perhaps moved by the new spirit of ecological awareness that is growing in Thailand, the people of Chiang Dao strongly support the belief that anyone removing anything from the cave complex even a fragment of rock will become hopelessly lost in the eerie, dripping passages, detained forever by the magical powers of the place.
  • The Chiang Dao caves are reached by a well-maintained road. At the entrance there is a parking area with numerous refreshment stalls, an old Shan style chedi, an ornamental garden and a small, crystal clear mountain stream which flows into a karst pool containing huge ornamental carp and catfish. Entrance is via a covered stairway leading to the first chamber. This section of the cave has long been venerated by local Thai and Shan peoples, as is evident from the great number of statues, offerings and decorations present in various stages of disrepair.
  • Visitors can penetrate some way into the caves on their own, marvelling at the dripping stalactites and weird rock formations which abound. Enthusiasts who wish to explore further the secrets of the mountain's roots can hire a guide with an electric lantern for a modest fee.

The Ghost People of Chiang Dao

  • Just over a hundred years ago a solitary European was travelling by mule in the remoter reaches of northern Thailand when he was seized by fever and obliged to rest up in an isolated settlement. The man was James McCarthy, a surveyor in the service of the Royal Siamese Government, and the place in which he fell sick was called Chiang Dao, which means " city of the stars " in Thai.
  • In time, and as usual ( he describes malaria as "his old enemy" ) McCarthy would recover but not before making a most unusual and disturbing discovery about the place in which he had fallen ill and the nature of the people who lived there. For Chiang Dao was no ordinary settlement, and its inhabitants, at least as far as the Lan Na authorities were concerned, weren't really people at all.
  • In fact McCarthy had stumbled upon a settlement of phi pop, or people possessed by spirits, banished to live out their lives in the wild northern hills as far from human society as possible. In the surveyor's own words:
  • The people of Chiang Dao are known as phi pop or spirit people. Taking advantage of the superstitions prevalent in the country, a cunning law-giver enacted that all such people must live together in localities set apart for them. In border lands there are numerous such places which have to be guarded by the local police, who practically force the people to take up their abode there.
  • As might be expected, the administration of these " ghost settlements " posed something of a problem for local government. At the time of McCarthy's sojourn in Chiang Dao, the senior official of the town was a minor prince from Chiang Mai, charged with overseeing the day-to-day activities of his spirit subjects a task which was certainly considered difficult and probably dangerous. McCarthy observes that " Whenever he has any official intercourse with the people, he recites a prayer which keeps him from the influence of the spirits ".
  • The chief reason for banishment to places of exile such as Chiang Dao was, seemingly, fear of sickness and mistaken perceptions of the causes of fever such as malaria. McCarthy notes that " when anyone is afflicted with serious illness, it is attributed to the evil influence of spirits, and it is supposed that the troubling spirit has entered into and taken possession of some man or woman from whom it makes excursions and feeds on their neighbours ".
  • As the decline into illness was generally attributed to such spirits feeding on the liver, heart, or some equally important portion of the patient's system, the natural recourse was to try to identify the person possessing the spirit. As McCarthy makes clear, this frequently led to " witch-hunts ". In such cases, " The unfortunate patient who, if unconscious, is in all the better condition for investigation, is plied with questions as to the whereabouts of the offender, and if he mentions the name of his brother or father, or anyone else, the object of suspicion is immediately driven from the village, their house burned, and he or she is glad to seek shelter in a settlement of the spirit people ".
  • Once banished to a spirit settlement, people thought to be possessed by demons had little alternative but to live out the remainder of their days as normally as possible. They married each other, had children, worked in the fields or opened shops to serve other " spirit people ", and generally went about their lives in as natural a fashion as circumstances permitted. In this way Chiang Dao developed into a substantial settlement, and as the years passed and standards of education improved the town's strange origins gradually faded into history.
  • Faded, but never quite disappeared. Even today many of the people of northern Thailand, and certainly all the citizens of Chiang Dao, are aware of the town's strange past though they rarely mention it to outsiders. Today Chiang Dao is the capital of a prosperous district in Chiang Mai Province, distinguished more by its proximity to Doi Luang Chiang Dao Thailand's third highest peak than by the wooden shop-houses that line the quiet streets, while the only ghosts and spirits to be seen are featured in the lurid movie posters popular throughout Thailand.
  • So what has become of the spirits and ghosts who formerly inhabited the place ? Was their existence merely a figment of the Khon Muang collective imagination? Or have they gone undercover?
  • If, on a sunny winter morning, a stranger should stop one of the younger, fashionably dressed citizens of Chiang Dao and ask whether they believe in phi pop, the enquiry will almost certainly be greeted with a smiling denial. But if the same question is asked by candlelight on a moonless, windy night in the lee of the menacing, clenched granite fist of Doi Chiang Dao, the answer will probably be very different

Published At :http://www.thailandsworld.com

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