Explore Phayao: A Visual Guidebook

Sunset over Phayao Lake
Travel Rating:8.8

Phayao is a province unspoiled by the crowds of its more popular neighbors. Here, simplicity and authenticity take center stage, offering visitors a genuine northern Thai experience. Away from the well-trodden tourist trail, Phayao invites exploration of its natural, unassuming beauty.

Memorability: 9.5
Landscapes: 8.0
Activities: 8.5
Value: 8.0
X Factor: 10.0

Name (Thai): พะเยา

Population: 472,356 (2019)

Provincial Capital: Mueang Phayao

Table Of Contents
Phayao Things To Do

Explore Phu Langka

Discovering Phu Langka is an invitation to witness nature’s artistry at its finest, especially during the early morning hours. Picture the rugged landscape slowly unveiling itself under a warm, golden glow, casting a silhouette upon the undulating hills. As the hues of dawn paint the sky with a gentle palette of gold, a breathtaking spectacle of color unfolds.

At Magic Mountain Cafe, a simple yet captivating view awaits. The iconic karst hill, standing tall amidst the verdant valley, becomes a mesmerizing focal point as the first rays of sunlight gently caress its rugged facade. The interplay of shadows on the hill and the sprawling landscape below creates a unique visual poetry that gradually fades with the morning light.

Driving through the sinuous roads that wind through the hills surrounding Phu Langka, offers panoramic glimpses of the untouched terrain. The drive itself is a sensory experience, with the fragrance of the foliage lingering in the air, as you journey through the unspoiled beauty of this hidden corner within northern Thailand.

Phayao Things To Do

Explore Kwan Phayao

Kwan Phayao is a fusion of cultural splendors and culinary delights in the heart of the province.

Begin your exploration at Wat Si Khom Kham, affectionately known as the “Temple of the Golden Mermaid.” Poised along the banks of the lake, this Lanna-style temple stands as a living testament to centuries of history, cradling within its sacred walls the awe-inspiring Phra Chao Ton Luang – a colossal Buddha image that was cast in the 14th century.

On the opposite shore, nestled atop a hill, Wat Analayo Thipphayaram commands a breathtaking view of the lake below. This exquisitely adorned temple complex serves as a sanctuary of religious statuary, enshrining revered Buddha images spanning various Thai eras. Each image bears witness to the evolving artistic styles and influences that have shaped the region.

As the day gently transitions into the evening, we highly reccomend going on a leisurely stroll around Phayao Lake. As you wander along the town’s lakeside promenade, be sure to find a moment of repose at the iconic Naga Statues – a cultural landmark of Phayao.

No visit to Kwan Phayao is truly fulfilled without savoring the local rendition of Larb. 

Larb, a delectable minced meat dish, is a sucker punch of flavors that’s crafted with lime juice, fish sauce, chili powder, grounded roasted rice, shallots, spring onions, coriander, and fragrant mint leaves. This umami masterpiece is eaten alongside fresh produce, including crisp cabbage, refreshing cucumbers, long beans, and a warm serving of sticky rice. 

Last but not least, don’t miss out on Khai Soi Sang Pean for an inexpensive bowl of curry noodles. This local eatery offers a harmonious blend of rich, aromatic curry broth and perfectly cooked noodles – a mouthwatering marriage of textures and tastes that promise a satisfying meal.

Phayao Things To Do

Explore Chiang Kham

Chiang Kham is a small rural town where life revolves around the rhythm of nature. 

Roughly 20 kilometers from town lies Namtok Phu Sang, a 25-meter limestone waterfall tucked amid a lush landscape. Its cascading waters are soothing as they form clear pools along defined trails, while the sounds of nature – the rustle of leaves, the waterfall’s murmur, and the birds’ chorus – work In harmony to compose a peaceful start to your time in Chiang Kham. 

As the town’s principal attraction, Wat Nantaram is a Shan-style temple that is entirely constructed from teakwood. Its windows, gables, and veranda are adorned with exquisite fretwork and carvings, showcasing the meticulous craftsmanship that went into its creation. Undoubtedly, it’s one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand and worth a lengthy visit. 

Another temple worth visiting is Wat Phra Nang Din. According to local lore, the principal Buddha image within this sanctuary was cast during Shakyamuni Buddha’s lifetime, with its origin stretching back more than 2,500 years. 

This revered image, known as Phra Chao Nang Din (พระ เจ้า นั่ง ดิน), translates to the “Buddha sitting on the ground.” Its name is rooted in a fascinating legend that narrates the challenges faced by the locals when attempting to enshrine the image onto a traditional base. Despite concerted and determined efforts, the locals found the image unyielding and could not lift it onto the intended pedestal. As a result, the image earned its idiosyncratic name. 

When the sun rises, the town’s morning market springs to life, offering an authentic glimpse into local existence. Along the streets, dozens of farmers lay out colorful sheets on the ground, creating a bustling marketplace filled with fresh produce and handcrafted goods. 

Wandering through the market will eventually lead you to the breakfast favorite of Kaeng Kradang, an age-old Lanna dish that pairs perfectly with sticky rice. In English, it goes by the name “jelly pork curry” due to its gelatin-esque texture.

Another popular breakfast dish in Chiang Kham is Khao Ram Fuen. This Thai Lue dish begins with a lengthy culinary process. Finely milled rice, combined with limewater, undergoes a careful cooking ritual over a fire stove, resulting in the creation of small white cubes. After maturing and fermenting overnight, these cubes develop a peculiar texture and flavor.

Served in a style reminiscent of a noodle soup, these white cubes take center stage in a hearty broth. The broth itself, which is a blend of white su (fermented bean curd) and ginger, adds several layers of savory complexity to each spoonful.

The soup is served with a medley of condiments, including ground chili, crisp beansprouts, fresh spring onions, and a sprinkle of chopped peanuts. This unique combination of flavors and textures, makes Khao Ram Fuen a must-try dish when you are traveling across Phayao.

Phayao Transportation

Getting Around Phayao

Navigating Phayao is best done with the freedom of a rented motorbike or car. In Mueang Phayao, both options are readily available, offering you the flexibility to explore at your own pace. Motorbike rentals, starting at 400 baht per day, provide an economical choice if you’re seeking a relatively nimble means of transportation.

The roads around the province are generally in good condition, however, it’s worth noting that the roads within the Chiang Muan district are more challenging as they are characterized by potholes and narrow stretches, shared with passing trucks. 

Phayao Travel Tips

Is Phayao Safe?

Phayao offers a safe and welcoming environment for travelers. The province is known for its friendly locals who are often eager to assist visitors. Whether you’re exploring the scenic landscapes or wandering through local markets, you can expect a hospitable atmosphere. 

As with any travel destination, it’s advisable to exercise general caution, stay aware of your surroundings, and follow local guidelines to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience.

Phayao Travel Guide

Actionable Information

Given that the province doesn’t have an airport, traveling to Phayao is primarily facilitated by the country’s extensive bus network.

From Bangkok: Several bus services operate from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2). The journey takes approximately 10 hours and buses depart throughout the evening.

From Chiang Mai: Buses from Chiang Mai’s Arcade Bus Terminal are available with a travel time of around 3-4 hours. Multiple departures are scheduled daily.

From Chiang Rai: Chiang Rai also offers bus connections to Phayao, typically taking around 3-4 hours. Buses depart from Terminal 1.

From Nan: Traveling from Nan by bus is a viable option, with the journey taking approximately 3-4 hours. Buses depart from Nan Bus Terminal.

Phayao is a year-round destination. However, the province experiences distinct seasons that may influence your decision on when to visit:

Cold Season (November to February): This is generally considered the best time to visit Phayao. The weather is cool and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 15°C to 25°C. Ideal for outdoor activities, exploring temples, and enjoying the scenic beauty of the lake. The clear skies and mild temperatures make it a popular time for both local and international tourists

Hot Season (March to May): Expect warmer temperatures during these months, ranging from 25°C to 35°C. While daytime temperatures can be high, evenings are relatively cooler. It’s a good time for water activities on the lake and exploring shaded areas like temples.

Rainy Season (June to October): These months bring occasional heavy rainfall, especially in August and September. The landscape becomes lush and green, and the lake’s water level rises. Rain showers are usually short-lived, allowing for outdoor activities between showers.

The history of Phayao, a province located in Northern Thailand, is deeply intertwined with the rich tapestry of the region’s cultural and historical evolution. The origins of human habitation in the area date back to prehistoric times, with archaeological evidence suggesting that various ancient communities thrived along the shores of Phayao Lake, which is the largest freshwater lake in northern Thailand. These early inhabitants engaged in agriculture and established trade connections, laying the groundwork for the region’s socio-economic development.

During the Dvaravati and Khmer periods, Phayao became a significant center for cultural exchange and religious influence. The remnants of ancient temples and artifacts discovered in the region attest to the influence of both Buddhist and Hindu traditions. The Khmer Empire, known for its grand architecture and sophisticated urban planning, left its mark on Phayao through the construction of temples and reservoirs, contributing to the cultural landscape of the province.

In the 13th century, the Lanna Kingdom, centered in Chiang Mai, expanded its influence over the northern territories, including Phayao. Under the rule of King Mengrai, Phayao emerged as a strategic outpost, and the city of Chiang Kham was established as a garrison town. The Lanna Kingdom’s dominance persisted for centuries, shaping the local governance, culture, and religious practices. Temples, such as Wat Prathat Chom Thong, became important religious and cultural landmarks during this period.

Phayao’s history also witnessed the ebb and flow of political power and influence. In the 19th century, during the reign of King Rama I, the Tai Lue people migrated to the region, contributing to its cultural diversity. The province later played a role in the geopolitical struggles between Thailand and Burma (Myanmar) during the 19th and early 20th centuries, with periods of occupation and territorial disputes.

In modern times, Phayao has evolved into a peaceful and culturally vibrant province, preserving its historical heritage while embracing contemporary development. The province’s commitment to sustainable tourism and cultural preservation ensures that the legacy of its complex history continues to be celebrated and shared with future generations.

Phayao is ideal for travelers in search of a serene retreat enriched with historical and cultural treasures. The province’s ancient temples, remnants from the Dvaravati, Khmer, and Lanna eras, offer a captivating journey through time. Additionally, the diverse ethnic communities, particularly the Tai Lue people, contribute to the province’s vibrancy with local festivals and traditional crafts. 

While Phayao may not cater to those seeking bustling urban life, its laid-back ambiance, historical significance, and authentic charm make it an enchanting destination for those seeking a more immersive and off-the-beaten-path Thai experience.

Interactive Map

Phayao's Location

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