Chiang Dao: The Nest 1
One of the best restaurants in Chiang Mai is not in Chiang Mai.
To find it you need to go about seventy kilometres north to the tiny town of Chiang Dao, go past Chiang Dao, and head off into the forest. The road from Chiang Mai is excellent – mostly wide double carriageways that twist and turn quite spectacularly through the mountains for several kilometres.
The luxury of good fast roads comes to a halt at the Elephant Training Centre Chiang Dao – although the Elephant Nature Park several kilometres south is a better park to visit. Here the dual carriageway shrinks to narrow single lanes for a bit over seven kilometres with towering mountains on the left and a steep drop off to the right to the Ping River. The Ping flows on to Chiang Mai and eventually joins the mighty Chao Praya River. In theory you could hop into a canoe in Chiang Dao and travel to Bangkok and the Gulf of Thailand.
The main highway bypasses Chiang Dao and soon there are signs for the Chiang Dao Cave, which is reached via delightfully curving roads through a pretty forest. In one area, people were clearing the road edges and planting multi-coloured red, green and white shrubs that will eventually grow to be a hedge.
Go past The Nest 2, turn left at a Y-junction, ignore Malee’s Nature Lovers’ Bungalows (not “naturist” as I first thought, so no skinny-dipping there) and then turn down a narrow lane to The Nest 1.
Suddenly, and apparently in the middle of nowhere, is a delightful small resort with about thirty cottages scattered through magnificent gardens full of mighty trees, flowering plants, butterflies and glimpses through the clouds of towering limestone peaks of the Doi Chiang Dao Range.
The cottages are simple affairs – split bamboo walls, ensuite bathrooms, comfortable bedrooms with fans and refrigerators and air-conditioning, and fully screened windows to keep flying beasties outside.
There is a small swimming pool in the gardens and a dozen or so comfortable sun beds around the erotically shaped pool. Comfortable and relaxing salas are fitted with cushions and woven mats and are ideal places to relax with a book or to have a quiet chat with friends.
People may go to The Nest for the swimming or the gardens or the walks and temples in the local area … but most go for the food.
The Nest 2 also offers accommodation and serves Thai food, but The Nest 1 is all about excellent western food. On my visit last weekend I gained several kilos after a huge lunch, a smaller dinner and a huge breakfast the following morning. My bill for three meals with wine and overnight accommodation in a large double by the pool was just over THB 2600 – under US$100.00.
For lunch there are two blackboard menus offering a huge range of daily specials, and there is also an extensive printed menu. Last weekend diners could choose between a watermelon salad with feta cheese, a tagine of slow-braised veal, pan-roasted duck and a mango salsa, or crispy-skinned salmon with pan-roasted parmesan potatoes or …
King Henry I may have died from a surfeit of lampreys, but I almost suffered a similar fate because of a surfeit of choices. The challenge continues when it comes to a drink – wine is offered by the glass or bottle, but there is also a huge range of beers and ciders. Staff at Reception and in the restaurant are charming and speak excellent English.
To work off a few calories after lunch and to make room for dinner, visitors can visit the interesting Buddhist Centre at Wat Tam Pah Plong just a few metres up the road from The Nest. A sign near the entrance tells us that:
- In addition to their religious activities, monks at Tam Pah Plong play an active role in discouraging hunting and keeping the forest free of unnatural wildfires.
The temple complex is adjacent to the huge Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary in the Doi Luang Chiang Dao forest and perhaps that is where a visitor seen on an earlier visit to the temple came from. I had to wait for a while climbing up the many steep steps to the cave entrance as a very large – three or four metres long – snake made its way across the steps in front of me. As DH Lawrence said about a snake he encountered in Sicily:
- He lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
- And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
- Seeming to lick his lips,
- And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
- And slowly turned his head,
- And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
- Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
- And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.
This time there were just two novices using a very modern high-pressure hose to clean the temple entrance.
If caves draw you in, you could also visit the extensive Chiang Dao Cave complex or the nearby Wat Tham Chiang Dao with its enclosed Buddha images and impressive stalactites. The Mae Pha Taeng river is adjacent to each of these destinations and in summer the tiny cabanas lining the river are filled with visitors enjoying a quiet beer and meal, as village kids splash about in the icy and very clean waters of the river.
But after walking through caves and splashing in rivers, it is time to return to The Nest 1 for another great meal and a very quiet night’s sleep … before rising, doing a few lengths of the pool, and tackling breakfast. Whether you visit The Nest as an overnight or weekend guest or just drive up for the day, it is a visit well worth the detour.
Text and photographs © Christopher Hall 2019.
Journey July 2019
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If a man ascended into heaven and gazed upon the whole workings of the universe and the beauty of the stars, the marvellous sight would give him no joy if he had to keep it to himself. And yet, if only there had been someone to describe the spectacle to, it would have filled him with delight
- Attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero – On Friendship