Phu Sang, Thailand – The Road Less Travelled
If you find yourself among the bold group of travellers thrilled by the prospect of taking the road less traveled and the thought of a culturally immersive experience in a remote destination sounds enticing to you, a visit to the quaint town of Phu Sang, Thailand is a must. This travel guide will provide you with all of the info you need to live like a local in Phu Sang!
Located in the northern province of Phayao (and an hour and a half from the city of Phayao), Phu Sang is a small, rural town surrounded by scenic rice paddies and rolling mountains.
It’s a rare place that’s been untouched by tourism and therefore, offers visitors a unique peek into authentic life in rural northern Thailand. Phu Sang is just 30 km from the border of Laos, so it’s a great stop off before you leave Thailand and enter a new country.
Daily Life in Phu Sang
Very little English is spoken in Phu Sang (aside from the foreign language departments and volunteer English teachers at the local schools), but the community is incredibly warm and locals will go out of their way to welcome you and help you if you need it.
Boasting several markets, beautifully understated temples, and a picturesque national park, Phu Sang is the perfect destination if you’re craving some rest and relaxation from your travels in the big cities like Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. It also makes for a great pit stop on the way to Laos!
An important thing to note is that because Phu Sang is not a popular tourist destination, there are not many (if any) places that rent cars or motorbikes to visitors. Therefore, it’s best to arrange your transportation beforehand and consider either renting a car or motorbike in Phayao or Chiang Rai on your way to Phu Sang.
If arriving by bus, it is recommended that you make prior arrangements with the staff at your accommodations to retrieve you from the Chiang Kham bus station, as public transportation is not an option.
Where to Stay in Phu Sang
When traveling to the rural, but quaint town of Phu Sang visitors can chose to stay in a Thai style resort or a hotel. Airbnb options are also available if you’re into that kind of thing!
Thai Style Resorts in Phu Sang:
A typical Thai style resort, is composed of about a dozen separate guest houses, each with a private room, bathroom, and typically an air conditioning unit. There are several of these resorts located along Route 1021 in Phu Sang, that will run you about 400 THB/night ($13.33 USD).
Rock Village Resort is one of the best options in Phu Sang, offering free breakfast and complimentary WiFi. An added bonus is that the resort owner is the head of the foreign language department at the local high school. She speaks good English and is a wonderful wealth of information about life in Phu Sang.
Hotels in Chiang Kham:
The neighbouring town of Chiang Kham offers a couple of hotel options, suitable for different budgets.
Chiang Kham Hotel is an older style accommodation, offering basic amenities such as a private room and bathroom for 500 THB/night ($15.63 USD). A perk of this hotel is its location; walking distance to Wat Nantaram and the Friday night market.
Chiang Kham Grand Villa is a bit more updated and upscale. For about 1000 THB/night ($31.25 USD), guests can book a private room and bathroom with a balcony, TV, refrigerator, and free WiFi. The Grand Villa also provides a picturesque view of rice paddies.
Things to Do in Phu Sang
Visit Phu Sang National Park & Picnic at Phu Sang Waterfall
Looking for a relaxing way to spend a sunny afternoon? Head to Phu Sang National Park, the perfect picnic spot complimented by the soothing sounds of the Phu Sang Waterfall, known as Namtok Wang Kaew.
This park offers visitors a leisurely nature walk through a lush forest teeming with tropical foliage and a hot spring. If you’d consider yourself a nature enthusiast and would prefer to spend a night in the great outdoors, camping options are available.
Phu Sang National Park is a twenty minute ride from the main town and therefore is best accessed by car or motorbike. The ride to the park is a beautiful one meandering through open countryside, past several rice paddies set against a backdrop of distant mountains.
Shop at the Local Markets
The local markets are at the epicentre of life and community in rural Thailand. A hub of merchants selling produce and villagers buying fresh ingredients for their next meal, a visit to the local market is the perfect way to immerse yourself in authentic, everyday life in Phu Sang.
For most villagers, a trip to the market is not only an economical way to buy groceries, but also a daily social activity where it’s almost guaranteed you’ll run into a friend. In Phu Sang and the surrounding area, there are three notable markets worth checking out, depending on the dates of your stay…
Ban Sop Bong Daily Market
Ban Sop Bong Market operates daily in the morning and the early evenings. Located right off the main road in Phu Sang (route 1021), the market features fresh produce, meat, fish, and ready to eat snacks sold by the local villagers. For just 10 THB ($0.32 USD) you can treat yourself to a freshly made waffle while you browse! Yum! Prime time is from 6AM – 8AM and 3PM – 5PM.
Chiang Kham Friday Night Market
The neighbouring town of Chiang Kham (the town where the bus station is located) hosts a weekly Friday night market. This market is like a small scale version of the night markets you may have experienced in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. Offering a mix of produce, ready to eat food (like Pad Thai, meat on a stick, and fruit shakes), clothes, and other knick knacks, the Chiang Kham market is a fun Friday night outing and makes for great people watching. Prime time is in the early evening between 4PM – 6PM.
Ban Huak Thai-Laos Border Market
About 20 km away in the neighbouring town of Ban Huak, Thai and Laos citizens come together on the 10th and the 30th of the month for the Thai-Laos border market. This is by far the largest market in the area and a really interesting cultural experience. From seafood, to fried insects, baked goods, meat, fruit, vegetables, and traditional clothing you’ll find it all at the border market! Prime time is in the morning between 6AM – 12PM.
Cafés in Phu Sang
If coffee or tea is a regular part of your morning (or afternoon!) routine, consider taking yourself on a cafe crawl around Phu Sang and Chiang Kham! There are a handful of cafes and hole-in-the-wall tea stands where you can sip a delicious cha Thai (the infamous orange Thai tea sweetened with condensed milk) for as little as 25 THB ($0.80 USD)!
Cafe Amazon, Coffee & Garden, and Butlercup are quaint cafes with sit down options in Phu Sang. Live Cafe, Carrot, and Cha Payom are equally cute options in Chiang Kham.
Explore the Buddhist Temples of Phu Sang
Buddhism is an integral part of life in Thailand, including the rural countryside of Phu Sang. Just as in Thailand’s major cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai, you’ll find a handful of beautiful temples (or wats) in the Phu Sang and Chiang Kham districts.
Wat Nantaram is a stunning temple in Chiang Kham, displaying traditional teak architecture and housing a museum of traditional Thai spiritual artefacts for visitors to peruse. In Phu Sang, as you travel towards Thoeng along route 1021, a pair of majestic looking elephants may catch your eye as they flank the entrance to Wat Don Kaeo.
A little way down the road, perhaps you’ll notice the sunlight dance across the green mosaic tiles of Wat Tha Kham. Aside from their exterior allure, a seldom realised perk of visiting these gorgeous temples is that you won’t have to contend with other tourists when attempting to capture the perfect photo!
Stop for a Drink at the Town Watering Hole
Referred to as “the country bar” by locals, the name of this late night establishment loosely translates to haystack. Located at the intersection of Route 1021 and Route 1148, the country bar has a decent food menu (the server will happily hand you the English one) and a selection of whisky, beer, and mixed drinks. On weekend nights, a band plays live music. You might even catch a cover of John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads!
Browse the 7-11 Convenience Store
Referred to as “7” by locals, this mini mart is a central part of daily life in Phu Sang. You’re likely to spot several of these stores within a 5 km radius! If you’re native to a western culture, it’s likely you’re familiar with 7-11, a convenience store that makes for great road trip pit stops.
In Thailand, however, 7-11 is not just place to buy kit kats and fill up your gas tank, rather it’s an experience. From beauty products, to cleaning supplies, frozen meals, and hot cappuccinos, you can find it all! You can even “top up” your cell phone (pay for additional minutes and data) or pay in cash for airline tickets and hotels you’ve previously booked online. If you really want to live like a Phu Sang local a stop at 7 is a must!
Things to Eat in Phu Sang
A noodle dish native to northern Thailand, Khao Soi is a coconut milk based curry with boiled egg noodles and your choice of chicken or pork. It’s topped with deep fried, crispy egg noodles (in case the boiled egg noodles weren’t enough for you), shallots, and ground chilies. Lime slices, raw onions, and pickled banana peppers come on the side. At around 45 THB ($1.44 USD), this smorgasbord of deliciousness is sure to leave you wanting more.
Khao Man Gai
Boiled chicken and rice (khao man gai) is a staple meal in the Thai diet. You might even spot a local enjoying this dish for breakfast! The savory chicken is complimented by a pile of subtly sweet rice (a result of cooking the rice with fresh ginger), a few slices of cucumber, and a sweet and spicy brown sauce for dipping (or dowsing). The dish is accompanied by a warm cup of soup. You can score this generously portioned meal at most restaurants in Phu Sang for 40 THB ($1.28 USD)!
Pad Krapow Moo
If you aren’t afraid of a little spice, go ahead and order a plate of pad krapow moo, ground pork fried with Thai basil and spicy red chilies! If you’d like a little extra protein ask for a fried egg (kai dow) on top. The pork is served on a bed of steamed rice and best accompanied by a glass (or two) of water to cut the spice. The cost of this delicious meal will run you about 45 THB in Phu Sang ($1.44 USD).
Thailand is a banana lovers paradise; a bushel of bananas will run you about 15 THB ($0.48 USD)! In this tasty iteration of banana infused dessert, the fruit is sliced long ways, then deep fried in a thick pancake-like batter until crispy brown. Be advised that with a snack this good, it’s super easy to lose track and eat 1, 2 or 7 without even realising it. At only 20 THB ($0.64 USD) per bag it’s not a bad deal either!
How to Get to Phu Sang
Rent a car or motorbike in Phayao and make it a road trip! The 60 km trip is a mostly straight shot along route 1021. If traffic is moving normally, the trip should take a little over an hour. It’s the perfect distance for a scenic motorbike ride through the Thai countryside.
Alternatively, you can hop on the Greenbus or the orange bus at the Phayao bus station, both which will take you to the Chiang Kham bus station. However, be advised that locals refer to the orange bus as “turtle bus”, as it’s basically guaranteed the ride will take two hours minimally.
From Chiang Rai
From Chiang Rai, rent a car and make it a road trip (make a stop at 7 along the way)! The hour and a half, 90 km trip is predominantly along routes 1020 and 1021. The trip is a scenic one, albeit winding. Alternatively, you can hop on the blue bus to Chiang Kham at Chiang Rai bus terminal 1, typically taking 2 hours due to the various stops along the way to onboard/offboard passengers.
From Chiang Mai
Take the Greenbus from the Arcade bus station in Chiang Mai to Chiang Kham. The trip is about five hours total and includes various stops along the way to drop off passengers. The good news is that the Greenbus company is very efficient and stops typically last no more than 2 minutes.
Where to Go Next?
Phu Chi Fa
One of the largest mountain peaks in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, it’s a bit surprising that this ideal sunrise scouting location has remained relatively unknown to the average tourist. An hour and a half drive from Phu Sang, you’ll need to hit the road around 4AM in order to make it in time for sunrise, but when you do it will be oh so worth it!
Phu Lang Ka
Located in the Pong District of Phayao Province, about two hours from Phu Sang, Phu Lang Ka is a remote village nestled in the mountains. Here, visitors can immerse themselves in nature, take in the stunning views of sunrise and sunset, and witness the “sea of fog” that rolls through the valley in the early morning.
The Golden Triangle
The point of convergence of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand is known as the Golden Triangle, an area once infamous for its opium production. About two hours from Phu Sang, most visitors come to this area as part of a guided tour, including a boat ride to Laos (no visa required for this short visit) and a stop by the Hall of Opium.
The closest proper city to Phu Sang, Phayao makes for a lovely day trip. A main attraction is the beautiful lake known as Kwan Phayao, which features a pair of magnificent, white and gold painted dragon statues. Consider renting a bicycle and cruising around town for the day.
Comparable to Chiang Mai before the crazy boom of tourism, Chiang Rai is a quieter city with plenty to offer visitors, including a daily night bazaar, Saturday night walking street, and Sunday night market. About 90 km from Phu Sang, Chiang Rai effortlessly blends the unique Lana culture of northern Thailand with the comfort of western influences (like pizza!).
Phu Sang is a mere 30 km from Laos. If you’ve obtained a visa to enter the country, why not cross that item off your bucket list to visit two countries in the span of one hour!?