And today, Dear Reader, we’re debuting a new running feature for your reading pleasure: the Thailand Unveiled series, where we are going to introduce you to the lesser known delights of our adopted home!
The first of this series, thanks to our new and very dear indeed friends at the Tourism Authority Of Thailand, is the northern province of Phrae, some 500 km north of Bangkok and 140 km southeast of Chang Mai. Here’s a Google Maps link to check it out while you watch our highlights reel from our two days there:
Sure looks like fun, doesn’t it? OK, let’s break down that itinerary for you:
Getting To Phrae
While you can get to Phrae by bus — best way to book Thailand bus tickets is at 12go.asia — it’s much quicker and convenient to grab one of the two daily Nok Air flights to Phrae (PRH) airport, which we recommend booking at Kiwi.com as we do to start researching pretty much every itinerary. And the bird livery on those Nok (“Nok” is “bird” in Thai) Air planes is just so cute, isn’t it?
Wat Pra That Cho Hae
This translates to “temple of the relic wrapped in satin cloth,” the relic being hair of the Buddha enshrined in the 33 meter tall gilded chedi; the main viharn houses the Buddha image above in the Bhumisparsha mudra “calling the earth to witness” posture. Generally considered a must visit when in Phrae province, although we’d rate it second behind our favorite below…
Lunch – Pan Jai Restaurant
Our lunch was at Pan Jai restaurant, which for some reason is named Pan Chai on Trip Advisor — the top local review is “The Must Local Lunch For First Time Visitor” and we have no reason to doubt that, it was indeed delicious!
Khum Chao Luang Muang Phrae
This was the residence of Chao Piriyathapawong the last ruler of Phrae before it was fully incorporated into the Kingdom of Siam in 1902 after a bit of a tiff about Northern independence which saw him decamp to Luang Prabang — still remembered fondly, the shrine above on the second floor appears actively used! The building itself is a great example of the “gingerbread” style of teak mansion favored by provincial royalty of the time.
Special Bonus: The prison cells in the basement — be sure to back into the basement from the outside door, not enter forwards, or you’ll go to jail yourself. That’s the local superstition, anyways. We backed in as instructed, and haven’t gone to jail since, so apparently it works then.
The City Sightseeing Tram
If you caught that flicker of a yellow tram in the video, that is the vehicle of Phrae’s apparently one and only sightseeing tour, which visits 16 points of interest in the old city with both day and evening runs — you can get information on that as well as guided tours, car rentals, and so forth at Phrae Travel Agency, which appears to be by far the most comprehensive tour agent for the area.
Wat Chom Sawan
This is a Shan (Burmese Thai) style Bhuddist temple dating from when the Shan came to Phrae to work the teak concessions — completely made of teak, which gives it a distinctly different feel from the usual run of Thai temples; even if you’re feeling completely templed out, seriously consider giving this one a visit. Still not our favorite though, that’s still coming below…
Activity Workshop Bonus: We had a stop here to learn about cutting paper to form those spaceship-looking luck-bringers you may have noticed in the video … the main takeaway we have from that is that if we want any luck at all, we’re going to leave the bringing of it to the professionals.
Coffee — Gingerbread House Gallery and Cafe
We’d never actually stumbled across ginger coffee before, somehow, but as you could probably imagine that’s on the menu at Gingerbread House Gallery and Cafe the #3 Phrae restaurant on TripAdvisor along with all the tasty gingerbread you can eat, so good place for a cosy break.
Teak Museum (Forestry Museum)
Our next stop was the Teak Museum — a small museum of teak in a building of teak with samples of various kinds of teak. If you’re a true aficionado of teak that’s fascinating no doubt; us, we were mainly impressed by the photograph collection of the teak logging operations back in the day. Particularly the ones with the elephant herds teaming up to harvest them!
Wat Phra Non
The quick cut after the teak elephants in the video is Wat Phra Non — renowned for its sleeping Buddha so we’re told, but apparently when we dropped by whoever maintains access was also sleeping, or something. Maybe you’ll have better luck, in any case the outside is worth a look, like all Thai temples.
Vongbury House Museum
They’re pretty proud of their ancient teak aristocratic residences in Phrae, and the pink gingerbread Vongbury House Museum is definitely the prettiest of the lot; it was built for the first wife of the last lord of Phrae mentioned above, and it’s quite the house museum indeed with elaborate lacy carvings inside and out.
Dinner — Rommaiyai Restaurant
Having been to the #2 and #3 rated Phrae dining places already, clearly the #1 on TripAdvisor was the choice for dinner, and why yes this one of the most stylish restaurants we’ve ever seen with those sunken tables surrounded by pools and all, and the food’s good too so this is a dontmiss dinner place for sure!
Huern Na Na Boutique Hotel
Our stay the first night was at the Huern Na Na Hotel — the only 4+ star hotel in Phrae, and an excellent example of a modern-contemporary style boutique hotel, and excellent breakfast as well. Unconditionally recommended for your stay — and that you book your stay with Agoda.com our current employer!
Phrae City Pillar Shrine
Like most cities we visit around Thailand, Phrae has a city pillar shrine, the supersized version of the spirit houses you see everywhere — but this is the first one we’ve noticed where the guardian troll is actually sleeping on the job. We’re not sure if that’s supposed to be a snarky commentary on what a quiet town Phrae is or what, but we figured it was definitely Instaworthy.
Wat Phong Sunan
And this, this is our favorite wat of the trip we were foreshadowing above, one of the prettiest and definitely the most packed we’ve seen in thailand. We have a regular golden chedi and viharn like everyone else does, it seems they were thinking, now let’s throw up another chedi with that forest of gold-tipped white spikes there; and to top it off let’s throw a great big reclining Buddha down that end, we done yet? No. No, what we’re missing is A GIANT TURTLE. We need A GIANT TURTLE!
There’s some pretty eclectic temples in Thailand so we can’t state for certainty this is the most eclectic of them all, but this is certainly a top contender — there is no other wat with A GIANT TURTLE that we know of. So although these other wats have more history and spiritual significance and all, we recommend that no matter what you make the time to visit Wat Phong Sunan. Because A GIANT TURTLE.
Phrae City Wall Walking Trail
Although we can’t find any reference to it in English, that shot with the path through the trees past the unusual Buddhist totem poles there appears on Google Maps as “กำแพงเมืองแพร่” aka “Phrae City Wall” and it’s a park on top of the old city walls that you can walk possibly the entire 4.3 km or so that we’re told the old city walls encompass, with the old town on your left and the moat and new town on the right.
Banmatjai Indigo Workshop And Cafe
It doesn’t take long in Phrae to notice that indigo-dyed fabric is the haute coture of the province — seriously, it’s in every clothing shop everywhere — and an awesome place to stop for a coffee and have an indigo dyeing workshop is Banmatjai where we stopped for a workshop in indigo dyeing, you can see there our best efforts at an artisinal indigo tie-dyed bandanna. Everyone on our trip enjoyed it quite thoroughly, definitely recommend stopping by to check it out!
Phae Mueang Phi Forest Park
Our last stop on the way out of Phrae was Phae Mueang Phi Forest Park, which is rather misnamed as the protected area is not, in fact, actually a forest at all but rather an area of intriguingly eroded mushroom pillars and sandstone rock formations. Interestingly, the name translates as “Forest City of Ghosts” from a local legend about an old lady who found some treasure but the local spirits wouldn’t let her find her way out of the forest until she dropped it, and apparently the area was avoided ever since. So if you go for a walk and do find some gold on the ground, don’t pick it up or the spirits will be angry.
And that is the first half of our northern Thailand fam trip — thanks again, #TATNews! — check in next time for our second installment, visiting their neighbour Nan Province: the taster, so to speak, is that closing track over our delicious welcome to Nan lunch at Huean Chao Nang Restaurant on the banks of the Nan River!