Phayao, a pretty lakeside town worth visiting
Phayao or ‘the place with the big lake’ as we had started to call it, had been on our list of places to visit for a while but after 2 years of living in Thailand we had never quite made it there.
When our good friend, Gillian, visited us from England, we wanted to take her to some new places that we hadn’t been to yet rather than revisiting all the usual spots we had taken most of our other visitors to. So Phayao finally found itself on our road trip route.
The sign says it all…
We reached Phayao after a pleasant and uneventful 1.5 hour drive (95 km) from Chiang Rai, the late afternoon sun glistened off the surface of the large fresh water lake as we arrived in town, setting the scene for an enjoyable place to watch the sunset, it was certainly a very welcoming view.
Sunset over the lake
We checked into our room at Home Town Guest House and went back out to join the cluster of people who had gathered by the lake’s edge, all stopping to watch the sky turn orange over the water. People pulled over in their cars to get photos on their iphones as the early evening exercisers began to emerge now the heat of the day had lessened, cyclists, runners and dog walkers all making good use of their laid back location by the water. There were even a group of elderly women dancing in synchronized formation to music as others partook in a hypnotic Thai Chi session looking out onto the watery expanse. Our first impressions of Phayao were good.
Ladies practising Thai Chi by the water
The only slight let down was our accommodation, not being able to find a pet friendly hotel online, our friends who had visited the area before told us they had asked in a guesthouse who said they did allow pets, so that was where we headed. However the room was smelly, (there was a drainpipe outside the window) the bed sheets, though they smelt fresh and clean, had marks and stains on and the bathroom was dirty, someone’s old toothbrush and comb was left on the floor.
The thought of walking straight out did cross my mind when we first arrived, yet we had already agreed to stay there, we were only in Phayao for 2 nights and didn’t want to spend our first few hours finding a new place to stay and relocating. We are quite hardy traveller’s and this really wasn’t the worst room we had slept in, so we stayed. However, should we return to the area, we probably won’t be staying there again.
Home Town Guesthouse – Not the best
Accommodation aside, we liked Phayao and unlike our experience in Nan, we were soon discovering lots of nice looking cafes and restaurants and spent our days wandering by the lake side, leisurely sipping coffees and enjoying the unhurried air to the town.
Unhurried and leisurely being the key words here. Phayao is indeed laid back, but almost to the point of being completely horizontal. We found ourselves waking up to enjoy a 7am run or dog walk by the lake and being ready to start the day, heading out for breakfast by 8:30am, only to be met with silent streets, Phayao is a ghost town at this time of the morning.
We discovered on our first morning that most cafes do not open until at least 10am. Unless you want to eat a Thai curry or salted fish from a street vendor, it is not worth going in search of food until much later. Some places that did appear to be open were only serving drinks and no food, so an early breakfast was out of the question.
Phayao is all about ‘chilling out’ so for this reason, it would be nice to have a relaxing room to chill out in. Once you have walked by the lake, had some food or spent your afternoon enjoying a coffee and slice of cake, we found ourselves stuck for what to do, not wanting to return too often to our smelly room, we ended up staying out and sitting in cafes for longer than we would have normally, thank you to the cafes with WIFI!
Having a nice room to return to and enjoy before heading out later in the day for dinner would have been perfect.
Chillin’ in Phayao Cafes
Phayao is full of seating areas and nice garden sections all along the lake side, which is where we sat and had breakfast one morning after buying fresh fruits from a street vendor while we waited for the cafes to open. It is a perfect place for relaxing and people watching, sitting and watching the sunset over the lake is also very nice.
Seats by the water
As towns go, Phayao is a pretty good example of an undiscovered and un westernized part of North Thailand. There are a couple of bars and late night spots as well as local restaurants and cute cafes.
Western tourists that venture to this part of the land will probably find they are in the minority, tour buses have yet to discover this town and it is quiet, laid back and relaxing.
Kwan (lake) Phayao
The only thing I would say is that I was expecting there to be more lake activities. For such a large lake being the main attraction of the town, the lake itself is not open for tourists. There are no wooden rowing boat rentals or canoes which I thought there may be. Motor boats are not allowed on the lake due to it being a life source for many local fisherman, and the presence of motor boats would pollute the lake.
Fisherman boats on the water
Being so close to an area of water that’s not in river form this far North is appealing and as it is only a short distance from both Chiang Rai and Chaing Mai, Phayao makes for a good weekend getaway from the cities. We enjoyed our time there, despite the bad choice of accommodation, it is an attractive town with lots of potential and we will definitely be returning.
Things To Do In Phayao Map
View Things To Do in Phayao in a larger map
Sacha El-Haj – 8 Miles from Home