In a nutshell
Like all the other Northern provinces with the exception of Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, Phrae is too often overlooked by western tourists who miss a great chance to get acquainted with its beautiful natural wonders and a good number of historical sites all within the boundaries of a small and laid back capital city, easy to reach and even easier to explore.
Why go to Phrae
Phrae’s history starts in the 7th century and with several ups and downs this is one of the oldest towns in the country. Evidences of its turbulent past are still visible today – in various temples spread around the old town and the province, many of which are wonderfully preserved and appear to us in their original form.
Being a major hub during the period of teak industry expansion at the end of the 19th century, Phrae features several teak houses within the old city still in pristine condition; some of them has been transformed into museums and give us a chance to fully appreciate the traditional northern architecture. Interesting attractions, including forest and national parks, are located within few km from the city, making them perfect destinations for nature lovers for a quick day trip.
When to go to Phrae
The rainy season running from May to October shouldn’t stop you from visiting Phrae with the exception of August when chances of longer and stronger storms are higher, and this could be a problem when visiting the national parks or simply renting a motorbike making the ride more dangerous and definitely less pleasant.
The best time of the year is the cold and dry season from November to February, while April and May should be avoided by people who don’t want to deal with the heat.
One of the main festivals of the province, Phrathat Cho Hae Fair takes place in March when every day locals walk in procession around the temple in traditional Lanna clothes and carrying robes that will be used to cover the chedi of the most revered temple in the province. Visitors are welcome to participate in the procession and join the celebrations at night-time.
Where to stay in Phrae
A good range of accommodation is available in town and even if the western tourists are still quite a rarity, basic English is spoken in most of the guesthouses and hotels.
For people on a tight budget, simple rooms with fan can be found in few guesthouse in the old city (or immediately outside the walls and the moats); some of them have a private bathroom, some others a shared one. Even if you can’t expect too much luxury, they usually offer a good value for the money. Expect to pay around THB250 per room.
Bigger hotels with larger rooms and slightly more expensive can be found in proximity of the bus station. Great options are available in the mid-budget range with a unique homestay solution to sleep in a historic house in the old town. Almost nothing can be found though if you’re looking for some luxury.
Wheret to eat in Phrae
Less attractive than other northern provinces as far as food options are concerned, Phrae still has enough to offer to satisfy any traveller’s needs. A small night market has a limited selection of street food favourites that you can find everywhere in Thailand, while few eateries in the old town will give you the chance to try some of the regional northern Thai dishes; if you’re up for a bowl of khao soi, you’ll find here one of the best restaurants in the whole country.
For a nicer restaurant you’ll have to move outside the old town. Western food options are quite limited; your best bet is probably one of the hotels’ restaurants, but don’t expect too much in terms of quality and variety.
How to get around Phrae
Phrae is a small provincial capital and can be entirely covered on foot – especially the old town located in the northwest part of the city along the river Yom where all the major attractions are.
While there are no tuk-tuks, motorbike taxies and cycle rickshaw can be found everywhere if you need to travel farther afield. Bicycles and motorbikes can be rented at many hotels and guesthouses.
How to get to and from Phrae
Surprisingly for such a small and remote town, Phrae offers every possible transportation option.
There is a small airport 3 km east of town with two daily flight by Nok Air from Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport. Tickets start at THB900 when booked in advance. A ride to town will cost you THB100.
The bus station is conveniently located 1 km northeast of the old town. Several departures daily leave Bangkok’s Morchit Bus Terminal, mostly in the morning – arriving to Phrae by 6.00pm or in the evening – for an overnight trip. If you prefer to travel by night, take one of the last buses at 10.30pm since the journey takes just over 8 hours. Tickets start at THB390 for an express class, while a seat in a VIP bus will cost you THB600.
Multiple departures are available every day to all the northern cities like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Nan, Lampang and Lamphun and there are also less frequent (but still daily) direct connections to Khorat, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Phanom and Rayong. In addition several minibuses departing from the same bus station ply the same routes at a faster pace (and slightly a higher price).
Train is a good option for travelling to Phrae even if there’s no train station in town proper the closest one being in Den Chai 20 km away. It’s connected to Phrae by frequent public songthaews which goes back and forth between the station and the city centre all day long for THB20. At least 6 daily trains travel from Bangkok to Den Chai with the third class ticket being a lot cheaper than a bus one. Sleeper overnight berths are on offer, too, and these ones can guarantee quite a comfortable journey. After Den Chai all the trains continue to Chiang Mai, stopping in Lampang and Lamphun among the other destinations.
Is Phrae a safe place to visit
Phrae is a safe place to visit, with almost no traffic in the old town and extremely friendly locals who will make you feel welcome as soon as you get there.
Beware stray dogs in the old city at night, especially if wandering around by yourself and always wear a helmet if you rent a motorbike. Other than that, common sense will be enough to keep you away from any problem. A hospital is located on the main road to the airport.