An old and important community of Northern Thailand, Phrae was founded after Chiang Mai had been established as the capital of the Lanna Thai kingdom. With one of the largest reserves of teak forests in the country, it is located on the banks of the Yom River, 555 kilometres from Bangkok. Covering an area about 6, 538 square kilometres and surrounded on all sides by mountains with level plains in the middle.
A stairway flanked on both sides with nagas (dragon-like serpents), and stone singhs (lions), leads through the teak forest up to the hilltop Wat Phra That Cho Hae , a popular pilgrimage site. Dating back from 12th-13th century, the temple is named after the satin-like cloth (cho hae) that worshippers wrapped around the 33-m tall guilded chedi at the annual fair. Inside the chedi is the revered Phra Chao Than Chai, believed to grant wishes. Also see the beautiful lotus and star-shaped colored glass mosaics.
Phae Muang Phi (Ghost Land) is a popular excursion to view the surreal, unnatural Mars-like landscape of rock formations. Soil erosion has produced large, weird mushroom-shaped pillars rising up from the baked ground, in part resembling a miniature Grand Canyon. Local legend says that the ghost land is haunted by those who lost their way in this desolated place.
Wat Chom Sawan , located northeast of the city, is an early 20th century Shan temple with a distinctively copper-crowned Burmese chedi and elegantly carved wooden wiharn with tiered roofs. It was built during the reign of King Rama V and took 5 years to complete. Considered to be the most beautiful structure in the Lanna region, the temple contains 2 rare and holy artifacts. The Buddhist bible (teachings) is carved in Burmese on 16 sheets of ivory, and a Buddha basket made of bamboo, covered with sheets of gold. These items are probably the only ones of their kind left in the country.
Within town, the plain interiors of the bot (hall) and wiharn (chapel) in Wat Si Chum, contrast dramatically with the ornate Buddha images within.
The 12th century Wat Luang is considered the province's oldest temple. Entrance is made through a section of old city wall. Within the chapel is an esteemed, graceful Buddha image built in the Chiang Saen style. The grounds contain an unusual octagonal Lanna-style chedi with elephants protruding from the base, and a museum displaying swords, jewellry and photographs.
A fusion of several architectural styles can be seen at Wat Phra Ruang. The bot resembles those temples of nearby Nan, while the Laotian-style wiharn has intricately carved doors, and the chedi has characteristics of a Lanna design. Similarly, Wat Phra That Suthon Mongkol Kiri , just outside of town, also depicts the elegant incorporation of many Southeast Asian architectural designs, but was built in recent decades. The Laotian prayer hall of Wat Phra Bat Ming Muang Voraviharn dates from the 18th century, while the modern wiharn houses the town's principal sacred Buddha image. The temple is part of a Buddhist university and is always bustling with monks.
Teak trees once covered Phrae's hillsides and were important exports until logging was banned in 1989. The town still has several old homes made from teakwood. Nearby Wat Phra Non is Baan Vongburi , opened to visitors as a museum but is still used in parts as a private residence. The elegant Victorian house was built 100 years ago and features elaborately carved eaves and balconies. The exhibition rooms contain an interesting collection of Chinese ceramics, locally made handicrafts, Buddha images, and large carved silver bowls. The restored house received many accolades and publicity during the 1990s.
Further west of the city is Baan Prathup Jai (Impressive House), one of the nation's largest teakwood Thai-style house built in 1976. The main attractions are the carved animals (i.e. elephants, lions, etc) at the base of the teak pillars supporting the enormous home and other elaborate northern-style woodcarvings. Spare teak logs from nine other homes were used to build this one, comprising over 130 teak logs in all, with each log being about 300 years old.
Slightly north of town, the roadside market of Tung Hong Village makes and sells the best selection of Phrae's most famous product, the Mae Hawm fabric. Still worn by Thai famers and popular throughout the country, the indigo-dyed cotton is usually sold as shirts and pants at relatively inexpensive prices.
Wat Luang on Kham Lue Road in town is an ancient and principal temple built at the same time Phrae was established. Several restoration works have taken place. Some of its major features include the V ihan and Chiang Saen-style C hedi enshrining a H oly Relic brought over from Myanmar. Others are the museum housing various antiquities including several 500-year-old Buddha statues and a n ancient Lanna-style wooden structure.
To the west of Wat Luang is Wat Phra Non near the site of the old city walls. Some of the architectural works include the Chiang Saen - style Ubosot with narrow openings to let in light instead of normal windows. The lintel is made of wood with graceful designs. The eaves over the V ihan are all fretted, a symbol of northern architecture. Inside is a 9 met re -long plaster Reclining Buddha.
Wat Phra Bat Ming Mueang , located on Charoen Nakhon Road near the townhall, was built in 1955 by combining two ancient temples. There is an old C hedi containing a replica of the Holy Footprint inside.
The City Pillar Shrine of Phrae , situated on Khum De o m Road in the town centr e, features an inscription stone with ancient Thai scripts of the Sukhothai period, describing the construction of a temple in the town.
Located on Nam K h u Road next to the city moats is Wat Sa Bo Kae o , a temple with several exotic Burmese artistic-styled structures and Buddha statues. It is also where Burmese monks who travel to Thailand t o study the Buddhist scripture stay.
Just one kilomet re from the townhall on Yantrakit Koson Road is Wat Chom Sawan, a Burmese architectural style temple. The building, which combines the hall for conducting religious rituals and the monk's living quarters, is beautifully decorated both in its interiors and exteriors. The over-lapping roofs are adorned with fine fretworks. Antiquities found here include marble Buddha statues, statues made of woven bamboos coated with lacquer, and Buddha statues made from ivory, as well as ivory scripture slabs with Burmese scripts.
About 4 kilomet re s away on Highway No. 101 (Phrae-Nan) is Ban T h ung Hong , a village noted for the making of products f ro m Mo Hom (ÁèÍÎèÍÁ) material. It is a local cotton fabric dyed in blue, which is used in the making of native and modern wear.
Ban Rong Fong speciali s es in making metal agricultural tools using traditional production methods. The village can be reached by taking Highway No. 101 (Phrae-Nan) with a turn into Highway No. 1101 leading to Rong Fong.
About 12 kilomet re s out of town, and with a further 6 k ilometres after a right turn, is the Phae Mueang Phi , a wide area with no large trees. Because of subsidence and erosion of the soil, the harder elements remain and are formed into the shapes of exotic-looking mushrooms.
A small, 2-level waterfall, Nam Tok Mae Khaem is located at Tambon Suan Khu a n. To reach it, go on the Pa Daeng- Thu ng Hong road for 4 k ilometre s. Then turn left and continue for another 12 k ilometres. There is another fall, larger and with three levels, in the vicinity. It is Nam Tok Tat Mok , which is about 22 k ilometres from town.
Wat Phra That Cho Hae is about 8 k ilometres to the east of town on Highway No. 1022. A major religious site of the province, it was built since the time of Sukhothai. The 33 met re - tall Chiang Saen - style C hedi houses a Holy Relic. It was built of bricks and covered with bright brass sheets. The name of the temple refers to fine silk woven in Si p S ong Panna (in southern China) which was first used to wrap around the C hedi when the temple was first constructed. There is a fair celebrating the Chedi in March every year.
Three kilometres from Phra That Cho Hae is Wat Phra That Chom Chaeng , some 10 k ilometres from town. Built in the year 788, the name of the builder was unknown. The golden C hedi is 29 metr e s tall and enshrines a Holy Relic. There is also a museum of rare ancient relics.
The Phraya Chaiyabun Memorial is about four kilomet re s from the Phrae townhall on Highway No. 101. Governor of the town during 1897-1902, he was slain by rebelling Shan tribemen when he refused to cede t he town to them. After the rebellion was put down by government troops, King Rama V ordered a memorial erected in his honour.
The Folklore Museum , in the same compound as the Ban Fai garden restaurant three kilomet re s from town on the Phrae-S u ng Men road, is made up of several buildings and wooden structures displaying exhibits on the local way of life. The different types of wooden houses demonstrate the different statuses of the local people. There are also market and shophouses of the past.
About 9 k ilometres to the south of town on Highway No. 101 in S u ng Men district is the Hua Dong Market. It is the cent re of products made from wood and rattan, mostly household furnitures and decorative items.
Some 700 met re s off Highway No.101 at Ban Hua Dong is Wat Phra Luang. It features a Sukhothai - style C hedi and is refer red to by the local people as "That Neong" , meaning the leaning Chedi.
Three kilomet re s from Den Chai district, or some 2 k ilometres from the provincial town, is Wat Phra That Suthon Mongk h o n K hiri. Although a comparatively modern temple, it boasts highly eye-catching structures. The Ubosot in particular is noted for its delicate sculptures with fine designs. There is also the golden teak structure in the Lan n a-style which houses valuable relics of the North, including Buddha statues, lacquerware, Lanna musical instruments, ancient weapons and pictures depicting past events
Long District , some 45 k ilometres from the provincial town on Highway No. 1023, is the site of a centuries-old community since the time of Hariphunchai Period. The local people are skilled in the craft of weaving, both silk and cotton. The art of making the Tin Chok fabric in particular has been handed down from generation to generation. Its design has also been developed to meet with new and different preferences, although the original method has been retained. A fair celebrating the Tin Chok is held annually in Long district around November.
A leading attraction, Kaeng Luang , is located in Tambon Ban Pin, Long district. To get the r e, traverse the Phrae - Lampang road for about 50 k ilometres, then take a right turn at Km.69 and continue on for another 7 k ilometres. The scenery is lovely, and in the Yom River are rocky formations, which create fast-flowing rapids. On the other side of the river, which can be crossed by ferry, and with a 100- metre walk uphill, will be found the Erawan adorned with elephant-and-female-shaped hanging, and protruding crops of rock.
There is a huge gold C hedi housing a Holy Relic at Wat Phra That Si Don Kham. Legend has it that it was built as early as 535 A.D. when the land was under the dominance of the Hariphunchai kingdom.
The Wiang Kosai National Park is about 70 k ilometres from the provincial town in Wang Chin district. It can be reached by taking Highway No. 11 (Phrae-Lampang). Then take a left turn toward Wang Chin district and continue for a further 13 k ilometres to reach the turn to the park headquarters. A further 1.5 k ilometres on are two waterfalls, the Mae Koeng Luang , one kilometer from the headquarters, and the Mae Koeng Noi , 2 kilometres on foot further on. Streams from the falls flow into the Yom River.
Nong Muang Khai
Located in Tambon Nam Ra t of Nong Muang Khai district in Tham Cham Pu, some 17 k ilometres from town, with a further distance of 8 k ilometres after a left turn. Within the cave is a large hall-like chamber with smaller rooms connected by tunnels. It is beautifully adorned with glittering stalactites and stalagmites.
Located in a cool forested area is the Hua i Rong Waterfall. It can be reached by taking Highway No. 101 (Phrae-Rong Kwang) and continuing on for 60 k ilometres northward. Turn left at Km. 78 and proceed for a further 4 kilometres.
Another interesting cave is Tham Pha Nang K h oi, which is about 40 k ilometres north of town on Highway No. 101 at Km. 59 in Rong Kwang district. A 50 met re -long trail leads to the cave mouth. Along the winding tunnels are strange shaped stalactites and stalagmites. At the end of the cave is a stalagmite, which is shaped like a woman holding a small child. In front of the Nang Koi (waiting woman) stone, is a heart-shaped stalactite. They are the source of the legend of the love of a woman who waited for her lover until she turned into stone.
Phra That Phra Lo is a 400-year-old Chedi believed to contain the remains of a king named Phra Lo, ruler of Nakhon Ma e n Suang once located in the vicinity. It is said he died together with his two lovers, Phra Phuean and Phra Phaeng, which gave rise to the legend of folklore. The Chedi itself is a t Tambon Ban Klang, Song district on Highway No. 103 some 45 kilometres north of the provincial town.
The Mae Yom National Park is in Song district 48 k ilometres from town. The terrain is mountainous with deciduous and rich teak forests, probably the densest in the country. Along the Yom River in front of the camping are a of the park, are the Kaeng Sua Ten rapids, a two-kilomet re -long stretch of rock formations, best visited during November-February when the weather is cool, and the scenery at its loveliest. Visitors may camp along the riverbanks.
The Phra That Cho Hae Fair is held around March, and involves a procession to carry robes to cover the Chedi. The procession follows the Lanna style. All participants are decked out in traditional Lanna attire.
The Kin Salak Fair is an old Buddhist merit-making event. Villagers prepare offerings and carry them in procession to present to the monks. The fair is held around September yearly.
Hotels and accommodation
- Bua Khao : 8/1 Ratchadamnoen Road Amphoe Muang [Tel:0 5451 1372] : 100-220 baht
- Bussarakam : 39/12 Ratchadamnoen Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5451 1437] : 160-300 baht
- Ho Fa : 206/1 Charoen Muang Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5451 1140] : 80 baht
- Mae Yom Palace : 181/6 Yantrakitkoson, Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5452 1029-35 Fax: 0 5452 2904] : 650-3,000 baht
- Nakhon Phra : 118 Charoen Muang Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5451 1122 Fax: 0 5452 1937] : 400-700 baht
- Nakhon Phra Tower : 3 Muang Hit Road, Amphoe Muang [(Tel: 0 5452 1321 Fax: 0 5452 3503)] : 600-1,800 baht Nam Ram Garden : 98/1 Mu 4 Tambon Huai Rai Amphoe Den Chai [Tel: 0 1473 0983] : 700 baht
- Paradon : 177 Yantrakitkoson Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5451 1177, 0 5451 1059, 0 5452 1719 Fax: 0 5452 2340] : 250-550 baht
- Sawatdikan : 76-78 Yantrakitkoson Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5451 1032] : 100-150 baht
- Siriwattana : 152 Charoen Muang Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5451 1047] : 60-100 baht
- Thep Wiman : 226-228 Charoen Muang Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5451 1033] : 100-160 baht
- Thung Si Phaibun : 84 Yantrakitkoson Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5451 1011] : 130-280 baht
- Yaowarat : 11 moo 2 Yantrakitkoson Road Amphoe Den Chai [Tel: 0 5461 3293] : 60-80 baht
- Local Cuisine
- Yomhom Kitchen : Mae Yom Palace Hotel, 181/6 Yantarakij Kosol Rd., Tel: 0-5452-1029-35
- Chatchai : 2/120 Yantarakij Kosol Rd., Nai Wiang, Tel: 0-5451-1368, 0-5451-1909
- Dan Kwian : Yantarakij Kosol Rd., Tel: 0-5451-1488
- Nakhon Phrae Coffeeshop : Nakhon Phrae Hotel, Tel: 0-5451-1122
- New Phrae Restaurant : Ratdamnoen Rd., Tel: 0-5452-3304
- Bann Suan : Ratdamnoen Rd.
- Metta : Yantarakij Kosol Rd. (opposite Ban Tung Post Office)
- Mae Yom : Mae Yom Palace Hotel, Tel: 0-5452-1029-35
- Wandee Restaurant : Yantarakij Kosol Rd.
- Wooden Town : Yantarakij Kosol Rd.
How to get there
* By car
From Bangkok, take Highway No. 1 and Highway No. 11 to Phrae via Nakhon Sawan, Phichit, Phitsanulok and Uttaradit.
* By bus
Transport Co. Ltd. operates regular buses to Phrae at 10 a.m. and 10.30 p.m.. The buses leave Mochit 2 Bus Terminal, Tel: 0 2936 2852-66. Private bus companies are: Choet Chai Tour; Tel: 0 2936 0199, Phrae Tour, Tel: 0 2936 3720, Sombat Tour, Tel: 0 2936 2496.
* By plane
Thai Airways flies directly from Bangkok to Phrae on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, and also operates Bangkok-Phitsanulok-Phra-Nan flights on other days. For more information, contact their Bangkok office at tel. 1566, 0 2280 0060, 0 2628 2000 or view their website at www.thaiairways.com.
Air Andaman provides daily flight services from Bangkok to Phrae. For more information contact their Bangkok office at tel. 0 2996 9119 or view their website at www.airandaman.com.