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Travel Guide

Lying between Chiang Mai and Nan provinces and due south of Chiang Rai, Phayao province is split between lowland rice growing areas and mountains home to substantial hilltribe populations.

The province was administratively separated from Chiang Rai in 1977 but further back in Thai history it was an autonomous city-state, though generally still under the tutelage of one of its more powerful neighbours. Unfortunately, little of Phayao city's rich heritage remains to be seen today.

Phayao is rarely visited by backpackers, though it is beginning to creep onto bus tour itineraries. It does remain quite popular with Thai tourists who flock here from as far away as Bangkok, and foreign visitors will find that the local infrastructure is tailored more to domestic tastes. Regardless, it is a worthy destination for travellers, thanks in part to its scenic lakeside location.

Believed to have been first built by the king of Chiang Saen around the turn of the 12th century, today Phayao city is just another urban centre, though a very laidback and peaceful spot, thanks to its scenic location on the edge of the beautiful Phayao Lake. The lakeside strip of Chai Kwan Road is lined with bars, restaurants and nightclubs, and is set against gardens and parks enjoyed by picnicking Thais.

Two small wats of interest lie close to town of which Wat Sri Khom Kham, with its heaven and hell garden, warrants a quick look. While further afield, just under 20 kilometres from Phayao proper, the ridge top Wat Analayo is well worth a visit.

These sights aside, there's little to do in town for the ordinary traveller, but it does make for a comfortable, relaxing base for exploring the surrounds. Lakeside breezes help keep the city cool, and the sunset views across the lake to the distant hills from one of the excellent restaurants make at least an overnight stop here well worthwhile. It is also the most convenient stopover if you're looking to break up the Chiang Mai to Nan journey, or are looking for an alternate "scenic" route between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.

Depending on the route taken, Phayao is 600 to 700 kilometres from Bangkok, 90 kilometres from Chiang Rai, 140 kilometres from Chiang Mai and 137 kilometres from Nan.

The layout of downtown Phayao is confusing at best, and takes some time to get a feel for. Many visitors will be happy to confine themselves to the main thoroughfares, as most spots of interest to them can be found here. Forming the boundary around the downtown area are Chai Kwan Road and Rob Wiang Road. Chai Kwan runs along the edge of the lake, while Rob Wiang borders the northern side of town. Chai Kwan is the most tourist-friendly by a long shot, boasting many excellent restaurants, a few guesthouses, and the best lakeside views.

Running through the middle of town is a road that changes names several times. From its eastern origin, the road's named Pratu Chai, then it turns into Don Saman, then Pahon Yotin, which leads out of the city heading northwest toward Chiang Rai. In the middle of town, the rest of Don Saman Road veers off eastward, turns into Pahon Yotin, and joins up with the Super Highway (we did mention the layout is confusing, right?)

The Pratu Chai/Don Saman/Pahon Yotin hybrid road is home to many useful institutions. The police station is located right next to the Don Saman intersection/traffic circle, the hospital is about 3 kilometres west of downtown on Pahon Yotin, and the entire downtown portion of the hybrid road is littered with banks and ATMs.

There is an internet spot near the intersection on the western edge of town where Pahon Yotin, Chai Kwan and Rob Wiang all come together. The bus station is a short distance from Rob Wiang Road on the north side of town, and there is a small mall right next to it in case the local market doesn't have what you're looking for. The information desk at the bus station can provide a semi-decent map of the city.

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Text and/or map last updated on 16th March, 2012.

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Phayao - Nakhon Sawan, Mueang Nakhon Sawan ฿367 7h
  •   Bus Express XL 08:00, 09:30, 11:30
  •   Bus Express XL 07:45, 10:00, 11:00
Phayao - Phitsanulok ฿295 5h
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  •   Bus Express XL 09:50, 12:05, 13:05

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