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About Planning A Visit To Phayao in Northern Thailand
If you’re travelling in Northern Thailand, try to spend a few days in Phayao. Set around a photogenic lake, the amiable small city of Phayao is the perfect base to explore the laid-back northern province of the same name. Easily reached from either Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, Phayao offers a quieter alternative to its better-known neighbours. If you’re looking to explore off the beaten track, Phayao is a good choice.
Check out our suggestions below for things to do in Phayao.
It’s fair to say Phayao isn’t packed with tourist attractions. But this scenic corner of North Thailand does have enough going on to attract adventurous travellers. And for the travellers who do come here, the lack of tourists is a distinct advantage.
Phayao Lake, known to locals as Kwan Phayao, is undoubtedly Phayao’s star attraction. The largest freshwater lake in Northern Thailand provides a delightful backdrop to the provincial capital. Hire a bicycle for approximately 50 baht and spend an enjoyable hour or so cycling around the lake. Or take an evening stroll along the lakeside promenade and watch the sunset over the water framed by the mountain backdrop.
Looking out on the wetlands of Kwan Phayao it’s easy to forget that this is an artificial lake. The waterway was created in the 1930s to improve irrigation in the area. Sadly, this resulted in the submerging of a 15th century temple, Wat Tilok Aram. However, visitors can still take a boat ride out to the middle of the lake to pay respects at one of Thailand’s more unusual religious sites. A small island with a shrine and an ancient Buddha statue marks the spot below which the temple is located.
The statue of a revered king of Phayao stands proudly in a small park looking out over Phayao Lake. King Ngam Mueang ruled over Phayao over 700 years ago. His reign was one of prosperity for Phayao and he remains a revered figure for local people. King Ngam Mueang also formed an alliance with King Mengrai (Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai) and King Ramkhamhaeng (Sukhothai). If you visit Chiang Mai, the trio are honoured at the Three Kings Monument in the centre of Chiang Mai’s Old Town area.
The Phayao Cultural Exhibition Hall (Ho Watanatham Nithat) is a small museum located adjacent to Wat Si Khom Kam. It makes for an interesting diversion to learn more about the history of Phayao and the story of the lake. You can find the museum near the lake just to the north of the Phaya Ngam Mueang monument.
This isn’t the easiest viewpoint to reach, but the rewards make the effort worthwhile. To really appreciate Phu Langka it’s best to stay overnight in one of the nearby bungalows. There’s also a small village here where you can find restaurants and coffee shops. Rise early in the morning and witness the sunrise and morning mist in the valley below. What makes the view really spectacular is the limestone mountain that sits in the valley and juts upwards piercing the mist.
Doi Luang National Park is a good choice for trekking. Hire a national park guide and explore the walking trails over the mountains and past waterfalls. From high up, you can also enjoy fine views of Phayao Lake below.
The forested Mae Puem National Park straddles two provinces; Chiang Rai and Phayao. It’s the attractive lake which is the main attraction for visitors here and there is also the option to stay overnight in National Park accommodation .
With impressive rock formations and a couple of attractive waterfalls, Doi Phu Nang National Park is another good option for hikers. And speaking of waterfalls, arguably the best in Phayao is Namtok Phu Sang located in the National Park of the same name. While it isn’t one of the biggest waterfalls in Thailand, it’s unusual in that the water here remains warm all-year round thanks to a hot spring feeding into the waterfall.
Overlooking Phayao Lake, the 15th century temple of Wat Si Khom Kham contains an important Buddha image, Phrachao Ton Luang. Locals pay special homage to the image on Visakha Bucha Day.
Wat Phra Nang Din is also notable for its Buddha image. Unusually, the Buddha image at this temple sits on the ground. According to ancient folklore, when villagers attempted to raise the Buddha statue and place it on a pedestal, lightning struck the temple three times. The villagers took this as a sign to not lift the statue. Instead, the Buddha image was left on the floor and given the name Phra Nang Din (the Buddha on the ground).
Sitting on top of a hill 20 km outside of Phayao town, Wat Analyo Thipphayaram is another attractive temple worth taking time to visit. And further out still (around 75 km from Phayao) is one of the most elegant temples in Phayao province, Wat Nantaram. The Tai Yai (Shan) style temple features a beautifully crafted teakwood viharn and intricate decorations throughout.
No trip to Phayao is complete without sampling the local speciality dish. Along the lakefront you will see restaurants grilling tilapia fish caught fresh from Phayao Lake. Grilled with herbs and salt and served with spicy green chilli sauce, this is a must-try dish when you travel to Phayao. Add in a grilled chicken and some sticky rice and you have a classic Phayao evening meal.
If you’re in Phayao on the weekend, a small Walking Street Market sets up near Kwan Phayao. And during the week you can find a market near the City Pillar Shrine. These markets are good for buying local food and souvenirs.
There is no airport or train station Phayao. The easiest way to get to Phayao by public transport is by bus. The Green Bus company runs frequent and comfortable buses that link Phayao with Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. If you’re an experienced motorbike rider and properly attired, the drive to Phayao from either Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai takes you through some sublime scenery, especially in the green season months from June to October.
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