The province of Phrae in the centre of far northern Thailand is steeped in history and natural beauty, with several attractions making it well worth a visit.
The provincial capital Phrae is one of the oldest cities in Thailand. It was originally founded in 828 under the name Muang Phon. Though nominally independent, the city state changed hands on numerous occasions throughout its history. A stint under Burmese rule culminating in the sacking of the city in 1902 by Shan invaders resulted in its last ruler Chao Piriyathapawong fleeing to Luang Prabang, after which Phrae was assimilated into Thailand proper. Traditionally teak has been the province's main industry, though a logging ban in force these days has curtailed this to small-scale furniture-making using salvaged existing wood.
Like many Thai cities, Phrae is split into old and new sections. The new is quite uninteresting, but the old is packed with traditional Thai architecture in the form of beautiful teak houses, eclectic wats and quiet lanes worth spending a few hours wandering through. The proliferation of large, colonial-style teak mansions date back to the 19th century when many European traders set up business here for the teak trade.
If you're looking for something to buy other than a teak mansion, 'Made in Phrae' is a well-known phrase for the indigo dyed cotton worker shirts you see all over Thailand. Phrae is where the best originate.
The area surrounding Phrae city possesses large stretches of teak-covered mountains which are now protected, national parks, hilltribe villages and the bizarre soil pillars at Phae Muang Phi -- if you've the time, it is an interesting region to explore.
There are two major roads in the city of Phrae: Yantrakit Koson Road runs north to south through the centre of town, and leads south on highway 101 towards Den Chai and Sukhothai, and north towards Nan. This road will likely be your starting point, as all main highways that come into Phrae lead to it, and the bus station is located on its northern end.
Yantrakit Koson bisects the other main road in town, Charoen Mueang, to the west of the intersection, and Cho Hae Road to the east; Charoen Mueang leads to the centre of the Old City, and Cho Hae extends to the nearby district of the same name. The Old City is bordered by Rob Mueang Road, which runs along the city wall.
No one will mistake Phrae as a town for the average tourist, and things like internet cafes or coffee shops with free WiFi and full English breakfasts are not terribly easy to come by. However, the two main roads through town do house some very accessible spots for when it’s time to get down to business. Yantrakit Koson is fairly riddled with banks, most of which have ATMs with English menus. There are hospitals on both Yantrakit Koson and Cho Hae Roads, and the police station is just off Charoen Mueang near the Old City wall.
There is evidence of a TAT office (firstname.lastname@example.org) at 34/130 Mueang Hit Road, but the more convenient option is the information booth at the bus station on Yantrakit Koson, where you can find a bit of English spoken and a very helpful map of the city and immediate surroundings -- many of the hotels give out severely substandard maps.
Internet can be a trickier endeavour, but where there are Thai kids addicted to online gaming, there also will be internet cafes. A good place to begin looking is near the night market on Charoen Mueang at the southeastern gate of the old city; we found a couple shops there that were fairly inexpensive and well equipped. There are also a few coffee shops and restaurants, such as Check In on Cho Hae Road, and Good Time on Yantrakit Koson, that offer WiFi to customers. If you’re desperate (or it's after 21:00 and everything is closed) head to the nearest mid-to-upper-range hotel; most offer WiFi and will probably give you the password if you buy a soda or ask very politely.
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Text and/or map last updated on 12th March, 2012.