What to see in Chiang Dao – Wat Tham Pha Phong

Wat Tham Pha Plong is a cave temple in Chiang Dao. It’s nestled in beautiful woodland gardens on the bottom of Doi Chiang Dao. This temple is known for the 500 steps you climb to reach it, but it’s not as bad as it sounds! 

Wat Tham Pha Plong was founded by a revered monk called Luang Poo Sim Buddhacaro (fondly known as Luang Poo). In 1960 he was wandering in solitude (a practise some monks undertake) in the Chiang Dao forest, when he came across Pha Plong cave. He would often meditate here and eventually in 1967 established a monastery on the site. He lived here, teaching the Dhamma (buddhas teachings), until his death in 1992. To give you and idea of just how highly Luang Poo was thought of, his funeral was presided over by the King and Queen!

phanagaWe entered the grounds (with dog) and a friendly monk greeted us and welcomed us (including dog). He said we should go inside and up to the chedi as there were ‘bad dogs’ outside. I can support his statement as one particularly large one did look like he was keen on eating Harro on the way in…

We headed in the direction the monk gestured. Nagas greeted us at the first staircase which climbs upwards through trees. This stretch is the most challenging, but the talking trees have words of encouragement to help you along the way! I’m happy to report the rest of the path is very gentle and winds through the beautiful gardens towards the monastery. There’s a seated viewpoint and from here you see the impressive golden chedi, framed by the trees and mountain.

You continue to climb up until you reach the cave. One side is covered with photos of Luang Poo, and the other has images of buddha. Luang used to pray here, as well as give sermons and Dhamma talks. The photos below show how the cave looks today, and during a previous ceremony.

Luang Poo cave

Luang Poo

We continue up the stairs to the left of this cave, and towards the chedi. It sits on the highest part of the monestery, overlooking the Chiang Dao valley. This chedi was built in Luang Poos honour by his followers and completed just months before his death. It houses a relic of buddha and serves as a museum celebrating Luang Poos contribution to the faith. Contained in glass cabinets are many day to day items he used from water flasks to medicine bottles to reading material. There’s a (possibly bronze) statue of Luang Poo in the classic sested pose, wearing a kind expression. Glass bell jars hold the most personal and revered items, such as hair and false teeth!

This is the first time I’ve seen false teeth revered. I didn’t take photos inside the chedi, but I kinda wish I had now. If you’re wondering what holy teeth look like – check them out here.

Wat Tham Pha Plong is a calm place, I can see why it would be good to meditate there. The mountain setting is beautiful and peaceful, and we only saw a handful of other tourists on our way out. Again this won’t fill up your day, but if you’re in Chiang Dao this temple is worth the walk. 

Wat Tham Pha steps

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