Phayao: The Ultimate Guide (2023)

Phayao, a picturesque gem nestled in the heart of Northern Thailand, offers visitors a serene escape from the bustling city life. Surrounded by lush mountains, Phayao’s main attraction is the tranquil Phayao Lake, or Kwan Phayao, providing a stunning backdrop for leisurely strolls or cycling along its scenic promenade. Discover the region’s rich cultural and historical heritage through visits to ancient temples, such as Wat Si Khom Kham and Wat Analayo Thipphayaram, showcasing exquisite Lanna and Thai Yai architectural styles. Dive deeper into local customs and traditions by exploring bustling markets and sampling delectable Northern Thai cuisine. For those seeking a blend of nature, history, and local charm, Phayao proves to be an enchanting destination off the beaten path.

Kwan Phayao Lake

Kwan Phayao

The first destination you must visit is a lake, known to locals as Kwan Phayao, the photogenic local attraction. The lake is not only well known as the lake of the Buddhist faith because of the submerged temple’s historical remnants, but also the biggest freshwater lake in the North of Thailand and the fourth biggest in Thailand. The incomparable atmosphere is beautiful and remarkably worth visiting, especially during the sunset. Enjoying the last light of the day as dusk sets in is quite romantic here.

The word “Kwan” in the local dialect means “central point”. The lake is so called because it is the center of 18 rivers flowing from the western Phi Pan Nam mountain range.

Wat Tilok Aram

Wat Tilok Aram

There are two other names for Tilok Aram Temple: San Tart Buak Si Jang and San Tart Klang Nam. It is the only open-air Buddhist temple in the world constructed in the middle of the lake. The age of this temple exceeds 500 years. According to legends derived from ancient manuscripts, Maharaja Yudhisthira built this temple between 1476 and 1486 as a homage to Chiang Mai’s legendary ruler King Tilokaraj.

The Department of Fisheries constructed a dam in 1939, which led to flooding of the historic neighborhood and other temples, including Wat Tiklok Aram. As a result, the relic stupa was flooded totally, only its spire was left sticking out above the surface of the water. Later, the municipal government gently removed the holy relics from the submerged temple and set them in the exact location as the demolished structure.

On Buddhist holidays like Magha Puja Day, Visakha Puja Day, and Asalha Puja Day, a unique ceremony is done in which devout Buddhists walk three times around the temple on the water while carrying lit candles. There is no other location in the world where such a water ceremony is conducted.

If you are traveling through northern Thailand for a few days and have not yet decided on the sights you want to see, look at our online travel guide What to see in Chiang Mai.

Wat Phra That Chom Thong

Wat Phra That Chom Thong Phayao

Wat Phra That Chom Thong is located not far from the previous point of interest. The temple is situated in the middle of the forest with many interests, such as a greenhouse, relics of Buddha, and the golden 30 meters Lanna-style pagoda. This holy Buddhist sanctuary is well known among the locals as the place of making merits and getting the blessing. From Wat Phra That Chom Thong’s splendid viewpoint, you will see the old city and Kwan Phayao lake from the top.

Wat Huai Pha Kiang

Wat Huai Pha Kiang

Huai Pha Kiang temple is a peaceful place of worship. It is located in the lap of nature, less than ten kilometers north of the lake. The unusual thing about this temple is the sculptures carved into the rocks. These sculptures introduce you to the amazing and unique creativity of northern Thailand expressed in rock carvings. They are not visible at a glance because they are located below the temple complex. In the pavilion, which is visible from the parking lot, there is a footprint of a Buddha and a long reclining Buddha, and this is just the beginning of the discoveries!

Wat Huai Pha Kiang remains an unknown place of worship, you will have every chance to be there alone.

Pho Khun Ngam Muang Monument

Pho Khun Ngam Muang Monument

Pho Khun Ngam Muang monument is the holy memorial of the ninth king of the Phukamyao Kingdom. During his reign, he brought prosperity to his state. He was powerful and a kind-hearted king. Since then, he has gained lots of respect from people until now. Pho Khun Ngam Muang monument is a popular place for locals and visitors to worship and honor his legacy.

Phu Lang Ka Forest Park

Phu Lang Ka Forest Park

Phu Lang Ka Forest Park is the best place to admire the sea of mist in Phayao, especially in winter. It is a popular spot among travelers. If you love camping and hiking, well, this is your place. You can hire the 4-wheel vehicle at the national park to go to the gorgeous viewpoint. Otherwise, you can walk on foot to explore beautiful nature and study the ecological system along the nature study route, but it takes some time and a bit of sweat. Trust me, the scenic view is worth it. For those who want to chill out and enjoy the precious perspective of the mountains, many surrounding resorts and homestays are available to enjoy the mountain view from the bed! This is amazing, isn’t it?

Magic Mountain Café

Magic Mountain Cafe

Magic Mountain Café is truly a place of magic and delightful mountain scenery. It attracts much attention from coffee lovers and travelers because of its signature view of Phu Langkha Mountain from different angles. When you visit this cute cafe, you will forget about the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy a hot morning coffee and a magnificent view of the sea of mist. It is recommended to visit the Magic Mountain Cafe around 6.30-8.30AM to see how the thick blanket of fog covers the whole neighborhood at night, in the morning dissolves with the first rays of the sun.

Phu Sang National Park

Phu Sang National Park

Phu Sang National Park, covering more than 280 square kilometers, shares a 30-kilometer border with Laos. Its dense forests are home to valuable plants such as golden teak, Burmese padauk, and Cedrela odorata. In addition, the mountains in the nature park are the source of many rivers that supply water to the agricultural land of Phayao and Chiang Rai provinces.

Also, the park’s pristine ecosystems are home to a rare and endangered species of turtle known as the Siamese bighead turtle. Their long tails and large heads that don’t fit into their shells make them vulnerable to frequent wildfires. Visitors to the park can spot these turtles at night near waterfalls and rivers, where crystal-clear water flows year-round. Other natural attractions include hot springs, inviting waterfalls, caves, and limestone mountains.

But, of course, the most famous point of attraction here is Phu Sang Waterfall, which originates from the mountainous underground hot springs of Doi Pha Mon, and fills a pool of warm, clear water in which you can soak when you visit this place. It is truly relaxing and takes your mind off the mundane.

Doi Phu Nang National Park

Doi Phu Nang National Park

Doi Phu Nang National Park has a total area of 537,424 rai (1 rai = 1600sqm). You will find Than Sawan waterfall, Huai Ton Phueng waterfall, and Pang Nung cave within the park. This place is also famous for its peacocks living in the forests, which you can see when you visit.

The first highlight of the place is the famous Than Sawan waterfall, a medium-sized, four-tiered limestone waterfall formed by several mountain streams that gush into a clear emerald stream surrounded by a mixed forest. Many tourists come here to play in the water or have a family picnic while enjoying this place’s cool and shady atmosphere.

The next nice attraction of this place is the Huai Ton Phueng Waterfall – a small limestone waterfall that is an essential source of water for the villagers of the nearby area who use the water from this spring for farming.

You will also see the Pang Nung Cave, with 5 halls that can accommodate up to 400 tourists and is filled with crystallized stalagmites and stalactites that shine beautifully when the sunlight hits them.

And, of course, visit the Dinosaur Kangluang Forest Park, where the bones of the Sauropodomorpha dinosaur found here in 2022 are on display. This site is the only dinosaur site in Northern Thailand.

Wat Si Khom Kham

Wat Si Khom Kham

Si Khom Kham temple is commonly called Wat Phra Chao Ton Luang, a name it owes to the famous Buddha statue named Pra Chao Ton Luang (พระเจ้าตนหลวง).

Placed inside the viharn, it was built of a mixture of brick and lime in the year 2034 according to the Buddhist calendar, or 1491 according to the Gregorian calendar. It took thirty-three years to build it! Sixteen to eighteen meters tall, depending on the source, Phra Chao Ton Luang is the most monumental historical giant Buddha in northern Thailand. In addition to its imposing size and unique appearance, it is also considered the most sacred Buddha statue in Phayao province.

It is also an iconic Buddha that attracts people from all over northern Thailand and even from other countries to visit it because of its spiritual and historical significance.

The best time to visit this monastery is on Visakha Bucha Day (วันวิสาขบูชา). During this event, usually in May, Buddhists worldwide celebrate the birth, awakening, and death of Siddhartha Gautama, his parinirvana.

Located in the middle of the monastery, viharn, with its golden gables, also contains several statues several hundred years old in its passageways. They were carved in stone in the unique style, which most often called as “Buddha with a peaceful smile”.

Outside the monastery, you will find an ubosot, which clearly does not belong to that period if its architecture is to be believed. Named Phra Ubosot Klang Nam (พระ ออุโบสถ กลางน้ำ), or Ubosot on Water, it is placed on a pontoon above an artificial pond.

Heading to the back of this building, you can enjoy an unobstructed view of the famous and photogenic Phayao Lake.

Wat Nantaram

Wat Nantaram

The temples founded by the Shan people are mainly located in Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai, and Lampang provinces. However, one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful of all, is located in northern Phayao province, in Chiang Kham City.

The Shan (ฉาน), or Tai Yai (ไทใหญ่), according to their Thai name, make up the majority of the population of Shan State in Burma and Mae Hong Son Province in Thailand. In the late 19th century, some migrated eastward to take advantage of the teak trade established by the British. However, many of them stayed behind to then mingle with Thai society. In the 21st century, the Shan monasteries are undoubtedly their most beautiful legacy.

The central pavilion of Wat Nantharam is grandiose. Built of teak in the early 20th century, it has survived through conservation work. From the outside, you’ll appreciate its tiered roof, which covers a large surface area. Sorry, my photos don’t convey the scale of the building.

Inside, on the central altar is a Burmese-style teak Buddha. He is accompanied by other Buddha images made of precious wood or bronze.
You will surely notice that the building is decorated with countless bas-reliefs, carved wooden panels, and shards of mirrors reflecting light. Feel free to look up; the decorations on the ceiling are most remarkable and unusual. Every corner of this building is overflowing with antiques and Buddhas. If you appreciate ancient artifacts, you’ll be pleased.

There are two other pavilions here. One is a modern building decorated with bas-reliefs, mainly illustrating the life of the Buddha. The second building, opposite a two-colored stupa, is an ubosot. Without frills, it houses a single Buddha housed in a multicolored shrine.

Although the place looks like a museum, it is a functioning monastery and, therefore, a religious place. Consequently, you must respect the tranquility of the few monks who live on the temple grounds.

Wat Phra Nang Din

Wat Phra Nang Din

A few kilometers south of the friendly city of Chiang Kham is the Wat Phra Nang Din Temple, famous for one of its statues. According to legend, about 2000 years ago, the local people created the statue of Buddha and a pedestal for it. However, despite the many attempts made by the surrounding area residents, it was impossible to raise the figure to its base. Therefore, the statue is called Phra Chao Nang Din, which means Buddha is sitting on the ground. Since the Thai language is mostly descriptive, the temple received the same name.

Mae Puem National Park

Mae Puem National Park

Mae Phuem National Park is located in two provinces, Chiang Rai and Phayao. It is also home to two major rivers, Mae Keaw and Mae Puem, which established Mae Puem Reservior. The distinctive feature of the National Park is that you will be surrounded by nature, green meadows, high mountains and wide rivers. It’s the perfect place to enjoy nature. Near the riverbank, there are all the facilities for camping and picnicking. If you want to feel the cold breeze of the Thai winter, you should check out Mae Puem National Park in December and January.

Doi Luang & Doi Nok

Doi Luang Phayao

It can be said that Doi Luang and Doi Nok are the heavens for the trekkers because, on the mountain top, you will experience a 360-degree panorama view of the entire Phayao, including the lake, the city center, Wang Thong district, and evergreen forest. Also, during winter, the marvelous sea of mist can be admired in the morning. In addition, there is a pagoda on the top of the mountain known as Chedi Phra That Doi Nok. Many people in northern Thailand visit this amazing place to get blessing.

Mae Tam Reservoir

Mae Tam Reservoir

The next stop is Mae Tam Reservoir, one of the Royal Projects on water resource management. The reservoir carried 37 million cubic meters of water with a length of 1800 meters, the vastest pool in Northern Thailand. Mae Tam Reservoir is a great place to watch the sunset because of the peaceful atmosphere and the touch of the surrounding mountain and grassland, giving you a romantic vibe to hang out with.

Phu Klong Hill Vineyard

Phu Klong Hill Vineyard

We are shown you many places for nature lovers and important Buddhist temples, but it is time for photography lovers. Phuklong Hill vineyard is not just an ordinary vineyard but also an all-in-one attraction. It features flower gardens, a waterpark, resorts, and a restaurant, offering many activities for visitors. This vineyard is a great photography spot in winter because it is decorated with colorful flowers on every corner. If you like to take pictures and post them on social media, add Phuklong Hill to your Phayao must-visit places list. Oh! Do not forget to try fresh grape juice and buy some freshly harvested organic vegetables from the vineyard.

The Phuklong Hill was originally a rubber plantation with an area of more than 120 hectares, now the territory is divided into many flower beds and orchards, arboretum, recreation areas, water park, sheep farm, and so on. You can also see deer, albino peacocks, cockatoo parrots, and other representatives of the fauna here. Believe me, if you come to rest in Phayao for 2-3 days, you will like it here.

Phu Klong Hill Farm

And of course, you’ll find plenty of great photo opportunities here for your Instagram!

Mae Saeng Da Thai Lue House

Thai Lue House Museum

At Mae Sang Da Tai Lue House, you will feel the scent of Tai Lue culture everywhere since you step in. The traditional wooden architecture design of museums and houses is conserved in its original condition, and the Tai Lue villagers wear beautiful conventional clothes. Their goal is to preserve community heritage for future generations. There is also a learning center for cotton weaving and studying the Tai Lue culture. For any travelers who come to Phayao and want some handmade souvenirs, you should come to visit the Mae Sang Da Tai Lue House Museum. You can help the tribe conserve their heritage by supporting community products and learning about the Tai Lue tribe.

Wat Analayo

Wat Analayo

Analayo temple, also known as Wat Analayo Tipyaaraam (Thai: วัดอนาลโยทิพยาราม, wát à-naa lá-yoh típ yaa raam), is located on Doi Butsarakham mountain. The temple’s uniqueness is the novel architecture, starting at the arched entrance, sanctuary, Buddhist images, the replicate Bodh Gaya pagoda, Guan Yin (the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion) shrine, Emerald Buddha Hall, a copy of the Mahabodhi temple, and many other buildings.

The temple’s spacious area and a shady green dense forest give a pleasant atmosphere to visitors. From the viewpoint of the mountaintop, you can enjoy the scenic view of Kwan Phayao and city center from a high angle.

This temple complex stretches over several dozen hectares, on hills connected by numerous stairways, roads, and trails. It is difficult to describe this monastery in more detail, as it is full of secluded nooks, buildings and Buddha statues. I think it would require a book, not a couple of paragraphs in an online travel guide.

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You can get from Chiang Mai to Phayao on your own by renting a motorcycle from our company. You can also rent a car using the EconomyBookings and RentalCars websites, where you can find the best deals on car rentals among all the major rental agencies in Chiang Mai.

You can also book a private transfer. Alternatively, you can go to Phayao by public transportation. A public bus ticket costs only 250 baht. But this is a very inconvenient option, as public transportation will not take you to the sights.

Yeap, Phayao is worth visiting. It is a beautiful city with a rich cultural heritage, stunning natural scenery, and plenty of activities to enjoy. There are also many interesting historical sites to explore, as well as a variety of restaurants and shops.

Phayao is known for its stunning natural scenery, including mountains, lakes, and rivers. It is also known for its rich cultural heritage, with many temples and traditional festivals. Additionally, Phayao is known for its delicious local cuisine, which includes dishes such as khao soi and nam phrik.

Phayao is located about 725 kilometers from Bangkok. The trip by car takes about 12 hours.

There is a small airport here, but it is not used for commercial air travel. The nearest airport for commercial and passenger air transportation is in Chiang Rai, 102 kilometers away.

It depends on what you want to do and see in Phayao. Generally, two to three days is enough to explore the city and its attractions. After visiting Phayao, you can travel to the nearby provinces of Phrae, Nan or Chiang Rai.

If you are visiting Phayao province, we recommend visiting Kwan Phayao Lake, Phu Lang Ka Forest Park with the Magic Mountain Café, Wat Nantaram Thai-Yai-style temple, which you can rarely see nowadays, Doi Phu Nang Nature Park, Doi Luang Phayao Mountain and Analayo Temple.

You can stick to the previous recommendations, but check out Phu Klong Hill. This place has a water park with water slides, a sheep farm, vineyards and strawberry fields where you can harvest your crops, a cafe with sweet desserts among numerous lushly blooming flowerbeds, and sculptures of fairy tale characters and pedal boats.

The easiest way to get to Phayao from Chiang Mai is by bus. There are several bus companies that offer direct services from Chiang Mai to Phayao, with the journey taking around 3-4 hours.

The population of Phayao city is approximately 19,000 people.

Phayao is a province in northern Thailand. The capital city of the province is also called Phayao.

Yes, there is nightlife in Phayao. There are several bars and clubs in the city, as well as live music venues and karaoke bars.

Lake Phayao is known for its stunning natural beauty, with crystal clear waters and lush green mountains surrounding it. It is also known for its abundance of fish, making it a popular spot for fishing. Additionally, the lake is home to several underwater temples and is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike.

The walking street (Chaykwan Rd) in Phayao is located in the city center, near the intersection of Phahonyothin Road and Chiang Mai Road. It is open every day from 5pm to 11pm and is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike.

Feel free to ask us if you need a bike rental in Chiang Mai for your trip to Phayao. In addition, for independent travelers exploring Northern Thailand, we have created online travel guides to the most exciting places in our region. Finally, don’t forget to read our guide on safe driving in Thailand.

Cat Motors Team

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  1. Good morning from a French expat dwelling in Jomtien
    Will Chiang Kham military airfield be revamped as to accommodate commercial aviation?

    I appreciate this northern region of Phayao province.

    Kind regards, Michel

    1. Cat Motors Team says:

      Good evening Michel! Unfortunately, we do not have such information. Today, the nearest commercial airport to Phayao is airport of Chiang Rai (102km, 1hr 30min driving). In our opinion, this is also very cool, because during your trip you will be able to see many more sights. In order not to return after visiting Phayao to Chiang Rai, you can fly out of Lampang (134km, 2hr driving), Chiang Mai (163km, 2hr 40 min driving) or Nan (182km, 3 hr driving) airports, making your trip even more fun =)

      We have removed your phone number from the comments to avoid the situation when people find your phone number on our website and send you spam messages or make promotional calls.

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