Phayao, Northern Thailand


Updated November 30th, 2017.

Located on a beautiful silver lake (known as Kwan Phayao) surrounded by palm trees and mountains in the distance, Phayao is a very picturesque Thai town that receives little tourists.

Just three hours by bus or motorbike from the hugely popular Chiang Mai, Phayao is a pleasant escape from the well-trodden backpacker trail. The town is becoming popular amongst ‘weekending’ Thais who walk under umbrellas in the ornate gardens and have picnics in the well-maintained parks that surround the lake.

A number of fish restaurants, bars and pubs line the main Chai Kwan Road, but they do not deter from the laid-back, relaxing vibe of the lakeside town. The surrounding area of Phayao is extremely rich and unspoiled in terms of natural beauty; fertile rice fields, rolling hills dotted with ethnic-minority communities who live here as they have done for hundred of years.

Phayao Lake, northern ThailandThe beautiful lake of Phayao is the centre-piece of the town

Places to stay in Phayao:

There isn’t much choice in Phayao for accommodation with hotels tending to be a bit characterless and basic. You won’t find your backpacker dorms or cute little guesthouses here, with the majority of hotels Chinese style catering to Thai tourists. Prices are around 500-600 baht for a room.

Things to do in Phayao:

Relax by the lake: As the centre-piece of the town, most visitors spend time drinking a Singha, sampling the local fish at a restaurant and watching the sun set over the beautiful Kwan Phayao lake. Watch the fishermen in the morning get their daily catch or chill out by the banks in the evening with a map and plan your next adventure in the gorgeous surrounding countryside. Relaxing is the order of the day here in Phayao!

Motorbike to nearby waterfalls and mountains: Exploring the nearby countryside by motorbike is one of the most enjoyable pursuits in Phayao as you come across waterfalls, incredible views and welcoming local villages. The 140km drive from Chiang Mai to Phayao is said to be one of the best drives in the country.

Visit Wat Sri Khom Kham: This very interesting temple on the banks of the lake is worth a visit. As well as a 17-metre statue of Buddha, there is an intriguing sculpture garden of ‘Dante style’ hell and heaven depictions. Some of the screaming figures in ‘hell’ are pretty gruesome, making anyone visiting the temple eager to repent their sins!

Visit Phayao Cultural Exhibition Hall: Find out more about the history of the local area and the heritage of the people living here. With well-kept displays of local archaeology, literature and pottery, the museum is a must visit for all culture vultures!

Getting there:

One of the best ways of getting to Phayao is by motorcycle the 140km trip from Chiang Mai where you will pass spectacular mountain scenery, dotted with waterfalls and small wooden roadside market stops.

Where to go next?

  • Chiang Mai: The cultural capital of Thailand is just three hours away from Phayao, where you can organise cooking courses, try Thai massage, Muay Thau, yoga or even arrange treks into the surrounding countryside. Chiang Mai is a base for northern explorations.
  • Chiang Rai: Chiang Rai is three hours further north and is a smaller, quieter version of Chiang Rai. Many people claim that treks from here are wilder as the countryside is more accessible.
  • Chiang Dao: Dominated by the striking mountain ‘Doi Chang Dao’ Chiang Dao is a beautiful natural spot popular amongst trekkers and bird-watchers. Also, visit the interesting Chiang Dao cave from here.

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2 thoughts on “Phayao, Northern Thailand

  1. Chang Noi says:

    You might consider to update the Phayao section as at least the accommodation in Phayao has been changing for the better. And besides that the next destination should of course be Nan.

    • Nikki Scott says:

      Thanks a lot for the advice, we’ll look into updating it! Phayao is a beautiful place, I’m interested to hear that it’s changing… Do you mean that it is now more on the tourist radar? Could you recommend any particular guesthouses or hotels in Phayao? I can also ask our readers on Facebook but any in particular let me know. We’ll also add something about Nan – a place that we haven’t explored so much YET.

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