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Phayao – Discovering the Country Charm of Small Town of the North

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If you’re coming to Chiang Rai from Bangkok by land, the last city you will pass through before reaching your destination is “Phayao”.  Once you reach Phayao city, you probably can’t tell if you are in the city of a province because the city is very quiet, small and not much of modern infrastructure to be seen. So far, Phayao is rarely visited by foreign tourist and backpackers but does remain quite popular with Thai tourists who flock to Northern Thailand from as far away as Bangkok.

While Phayao city has developed into a relatively modern town like Chiang Rai, much of Phayao region remains unchanged; the province retains its greatly unspoiled natural beauty, featuring both rice growing lowlands and substantial mountains where many hill tribe villages continue to live traditional lifestyles.

According to historic records, Phayao has been founded around 12th century AD and by King of Chiang Saen and it became independent state until it was ruled under Lanna Kingdom some time later. When Chiang Rai province was founded, Phayao was set to be one Chiang Rai’s district. In 1977 (18 August 1977, to be exact), it was appointed to be the 72th province of Thailand (now Thailand has 77 provinces).

As for activities, there is not much to do in town for the ordinary travelers, but it does make for a comfortable, relaxing base for travelers who seek for exploring the little know areas. The most famous tourist destination there is a huge lake called “Kwan Phayao” which is is the largest fresh-water lake in the North, and it is the third largest one of Thailand. Lakeside breezes help keep the city cool, and the sunset views across the lake to the distant hills from one of the excellent restaurants make at least an overnight stop here well worthwhile. As for the lake, there is no lake activities – so there is no wooden rowing boat rentals or canoes as most travelers might expect. Also no motor boat allowed because the authority doesn’t want any speed activities to ruin the fish habitat.

Phayao has very good reputation of having ancient temple and there are many of them in the province. Most of them are known to travelers. There is one small but well-know temples among Thai people lie close to the lake of which Wat Sri Khom Kham, with its heaven and hell garden, warrants a quick look. When you visit the lake, you should not miss this temple – it’s only 5 minutes walk to the lake.

Generally Phayao is also the most convenient stopover if you’re looking to break up the Chiang Mai to Nan journey, or are looking for an alternate “scenic” route between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.

There is one traveler who normally traveled from Bangkok to Northern Thailand to explore the areas little known to most tourists. Recently he report very nice discussion article with beautiful photos about about his exploring of Phayao from Chiang Rai where he traveled almost completely off the beaten track. Then he published his journey in which is the biggest discussion board in Thailand. His trip start by taking an airplane from Bangkok to Chiang Rai, and rent a car from the airport heading to Phayao but not directly to Phaya City. He took different route through Theong District, Phu Sang District, to explore the area and end up at Phayao City which is farther and more remote, but the views he captured along the route are stunning.

The below article shows what he has explored on this route. In the article he published, he doesn’t say much about what he discovered, so we will add explanation where needed. If you can read Thai, you can visit the original forum HERE, otherwise please read on.


Rent a car at Chiang Rai Airport


From Chiang Rai Airport heading to Thoeng District, which is about 64 kms from the city. On high-way number 1021, after Thoeng District, you will enter Phayao territory – Chiangkam province. Before reaching Chiangkam Town, you will pass through part of region of Phu Sang District.

Enter Pusang District - Phayao Province

Enter Phu Sang District – Phayao Province


Rice field along side the road

Rice field along side the road


First destination is Phu Sang Water Fall which is situated in the Namtok Phu Sang National Park. To enter Phu Sang National Park, you have to turn left to high-way number 1093. There will be a huge sign indicating it. Continue on high-way 1093, for 14 kms, will reach the national park.

Phu Sang Water Fall

Phu Sang Water Fall


Because of its temperature of 30-35 degrees Celsius, the water fall is known to Thai people as “Warm Water Fall”.



From Phu Sang, back to main road high-way number 1021 again, driving along the road heading to the town of Chiangkam District, there is “Wat Anantaram” on the way.

Wat Anantaram

Wat Anantaram





After Wat Anantaram, continue on the road about 5 kms, there is another temple which is well know to people of Northern Thailand. It is Wat Pra Nang Din – meaning in Thai “Buddha sitting directly on the Earth”.


Pra Nang Din (Buddha setting on the Earth) inside Wat Pra Nang Din


Normally Thai people or people who are in Buddhism believe that a Buddha image is sacred and there must be a proper base for it. What is unique about this Buddha image is there is no base under it.

The legend behind this temple is that 2,500 years ago locals could not rise the Buddha statue on top of any base so they left it as it was – sitting on the ground. It is believed that the main Buddha status in the temple, which now is under the glass, is 2500 years old.



After Wat Pra Nang Din, continue along the road and explore the area along the road. Still beautiful rice paddies to see all the way in Chiangkam District.





In Chiangkam, instead of heading to Phayao City, continue to the south further to Phu Langka National Park on high-way number 1148. The national park is situated in Pong District.

Phu Lang Ka is the beautiful hill with 1,720 meters height from standard sea level. The area in the north is around 7,800 Rai (1 Rai = 1,600 square meters) which located in Tumbon Pha Chang, Amphoe Pong, Phayao.

In this national park, there is a village also called Phu Langka which is is a small and remote village in the mountains. There are many kinds of big tree which this area is the view point for the sea of mist, sunrise and sunset, especially in the November rain, there were consist of various kinds of wild flower. There also other attraction spots such as the communism terrorists’ hideout cavity of some 40 years ago, waterfall and also the rare species of trees.





Phu Lang Ka has just the one accommodation available, Phu Lang Ka Resort. The resort offers very basic. It has several bungalows and rooms in a longhouse all built overlooking the valley. They are all set attractively around the site so as to make the most of the view below; beautiful countryside and rice paddies, temples and limestone mountains.

To go to Phu Lang Ka, you need your own vehicle since local transport connections are few and far between. The best way to get around and explore the area is to rent a motorbike from the resort and take to the snaking, winding roads.

The below table is the rate of rooms at Phu Lang Ka Resort.

Low season High season
Type of Room
Private Double Room with fan
600 Baht
600 Baht
Buanglow fan private room
500 Baht
500 Baht


At night, the sky is very clear during September and April.





Leave Phu Langka and back to the main road – high-way number 1021,  and continue to Chiangkam again.


On the way to Chiangkam, there are attractive Thai Lue (ไทยลื้อ) villages.

So what is Thai Lue? Thai Lue originally is an ethnic group of people in the city of Sipsongpanna  (Xishuangbanna) in China’s southwestern province of Yunnan who migrated to Thailand several generations ago and settled in the upper northern provinces: Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lamphun, Lampang, Phrae, Nan and Chiang Rai and Phayao. The Tai Lue group in China share racial and cultural origins with the Thais. They also share a faith in Buddhism.



Continue to next destination, Phayao. Continue on high-way number 1021.




On high-way number 1021, ocne you reach Phahonyothin Road, Phayao is there. The city is 3 kms from the intersection of Phahoyothin road and high-way 1021.

When arriving Phayao city center, first thing you will spot is large lake adjacent to the tow. It is Kwan Phayao in Thai. The northern language “Kwan” means deep river or whirlpool or simply lake. A few people just call this place Phayao Lake

Before 1941, Kwan Phayao was a vast area of lowlands. The River Ing flowed through the area, creating many large ponds. These ponds were connected with each other by small waterways which are connected in turn to the Ing River. Between 1939 and 1941, the Department of Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture, constructed a dam on the Ing River where it exits the lowlands at the southeastern corner. This is where Highway 1 crosses the river at the entrance to Phayao town.





The lakeside is also a popular recreational area, with afternoon dancing, picnicking and drinking going on all along the edge; hire a boat to coast out onto the waters in the late afternoon. When the sunset turns it on, it is very photogenic.








End of the journey from Chiang Rai to Phayao. The below is the route map he took.


Where to stay in Phayao.
Since the city is small and tourism is not booming, there is almost no fancy hotel in Phayao like there is in Chiang Rai. There a few new guesthouse and kind-of boutique hotels  built pass several months but they are still far inferior to the ones in Chiang Rai. Most of the accommodation are relatively close to each other. And the good thing about hotel is almost hotels and accommodations in Phayao are inexpensive in the rate around 500 or 600 Baht per night with cleanliness and good service.

There is one biggest hotel in town that most travelers would stay. It’s Gateway Hotel Rooms have air-con, hot water and TV, though the basic rooms are pretty rundown. This hotel is large and even it’s not very crowded, it probably doesn’t serve the feeling of privacy. If you’re travelling with a big group and want something nicer but can’t fit everyone into a smaller spot, Gateway is the one. The room rate is 800 per night.


Gate Way Hotel – Phayao (Image: Agoda)


Room of Gate Way Hotel (Image: Agoda)

Room’s Atmosphere (Image: Agoda)

If you travel alone or as a couple and need a bit more personality, there are a few small hotels available near the lake. We’d recommend is for travelers who have big budget. It’s Kwan Phayao Villa. Located just on the lakeside, it is very new and very expensive for this part of Thailand. The hotel has attractive building look. However, many travelers may not like the design of the alignment of the building because the designer put stairs in the in the front face, and keep the room window to the side. So there is no lakeview directly from the room. It’s maybe because of the limitation of the available space.


Kwan Phayao Villa (Image: [email protected])

It dedicates the entire space on the second and third floors to just one room each which take up 100 square meters, with three large beds and a couch, flatscreen TV and a large bathroom with two toilets. The cost is as 2500 Baht per night. Since the room is huge, 5-6 people can fit in. In fact, the big rooms are designed for a small group of people. There were three double beds, two bathrooms and a small balcony overlooking a nearby road (not directly to the lake).


Kwan Phayao Villa (Image: [email protected])



Kwan Phayao Villa (Image: [email protected])


So, if you come as a group, it’s still not expensive at all. If you require small room, there are 2 of them available which costs 800 baht a night. However, there are only 2 small and 2 big rooms for the whole building. So, you have to make sure that you have the arrangement with it first.

Room Rate:
Small room  800 Baht per night
Big Room 2,500 Baht per night during high season, 2,000 Baht for low season.


How To Get to Phayao

By Car
From Bangkok, take Highway No. 32 and Highway No. 1 to Phayao via Ayutthaya, Ang, Nakhon Sawan, Tak and Lampang, a total distance of 966 kilometres. For an alternative route, take Highway No. 1 to Amphoe Tak Fa via Saraburi, Lop Buri before turning into Highway No. 11 to Phrae via Phichit, Phitsanulok, Uttaradit, and then proceed to Phayao along Highways No. 101, No. 103 and No. 1.

By Bus
There are a couple of bus services from Bangkok’s Mochit 2 Bus Terminal to Phayao which operate daily – Transport Co. Ltd., and Sombat Tour Co., Ltd. We really recommend Sombat tour as buses and service are much better.

By Rail
Visitors can take a regular train from Bangkok to Lampang or Chiang Mai, then connect a bus to Phayao.

By Air
Visitors can fly from Bangkok to Chiang Rai and then connect a bus to Phayao.




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