Phrae does not offer a vast choice of places to eat in the centre of town – particularly in the evenings – but the excellent Gingerbread House for breakfast, Punjai for lunch and noodles in the night market for dinner will set you up. Enjoy a coffee in an old town cafe and a cold bevy in one of the bus station access way bars in between times.
There is a morning proliferation of noodle shops around the main market and along the commercial streets Charoen Muang and Yantarakit Kosol but Gingerbread House and Gallery, on the corner of Charoen Muang opposite the main old city gate, takes some beating for breakfast. A lovingly restored old building with a brick downstairs and teak upper level, it houses various eating areas separated by galleries and shelves of souvenirs and offers a range of local and Western breakfasts and lunches. Their signature dish is waffles and there’s also a choice of ice creams, smoothies, juices, coffees and teas with tempting bakery items in a display case. Some English is spoken and the menu is in English. Good place to start the day!
For lunch there are quite a few options and Na Phrae, next door to Bussaracum Hotel on Rat Damnoen Road, is a fine little coffee shop/restaurant serving up slushies, yoghurt smoothies and local coffee plus a few simple but well prepared dishes such as pad Thai or fried rice. Most dishes are a bargain 30 baht too.
For a more consistent meal and conveniently located in the old town – on Weera Road just down from the post office – try very popular Punjai Restaurant. It’s packed with family groups, lunching office workers and birthdaying students as they offer a huge set lunch for a fixed 480 baht for the lot. They claim a selection of no less than 12 dishes, including various curries, soups and local-style salads served with khnom cheen (rice flour noodles). They claim it's suitable for four to six people but looking at the quantity of food on some tables it’d easily feed eight or so. Of course if you aren’t that hungry or don’t happen to have turned up with a ready-made bunch of bank clerks you can just order a one-off dish where the emphasis is again on noodles. A fine khao soi will set you back 30 baht while for a snack their chicken sate is very good.
Evening hours sees a much reduced choice, with many restaurants shutting their doors as students, workers and shoppers head home. Unless you have your own transport to head out to some of the larger, edge of town restaurants and pub-type spots you’ll have to search around a bit. For classic Thai fare in pleasant surroundings with an English menu and decent service then the Maeyom Palace in-house restaurant takes a lot of beating. Prices are reasonable too, considering it’s a four-star hotel, with simple over-rice servings going for around 70 baht, curry dishes 120 baht or a whole fish for 200 baht. They also have a few reasonable Western options.
A few evening noodle stands stay open down Charoen Muang otherwise you can head to Prathu Chai and the intersection with the moat road, Rob Muang, where the old town’s small night market sets up late afternoon. It isn’t a large market and choice is limited but for a simple noodle or rice dish and a pleasant spot to sit it’s okay.
Coffee fans will be alright in Phrae with not only Gingerbread and Na Phrae but also a few more cafes dotted around the old town to provide coffee and bakery breaks between temples and museums. We particular liked <>Hommek Coffee at Prathu Mai, the southwest gate, for juices, a decent brew and local tips.
As you may have guessed, night life in Phrae isn’t really happening and again, unless you’re going to seek out one of the pub-style eateries in the 'burbs, then your options are mainly limited to a hotel bar. Maeyom is a good spot for an evening beer and the little in-house garden cocktail bat at Poomthai is excellent otherwise you’ll have to head up to the access road leading off Yantarakit Kosol to the bus station, where there’s a short strip of local bars doing Thai pub-grub, beers and local ‘whiskeys’. The first on the left, with no name, was extremely friendly and offered a list of inexpensive nibbles to accompany your drink. This strip shuts down at 00:30 sharp. A couple of club-style joints are also found down here though the patrons were a very young crowd as Phrae’s finest seem aware. Save your partying for Chiang Mai.
Gingerbread House Gallery: 94/1 Charoen Muang Rd; T: (054) 523 671; open daily 08:00-18:00.
Punjai: 2 Weera Rd; T: (081) 885 8727; open daily 08:00-17:00.
Na Phrae: Ratchadamnoen Rd (next door to Bussaracum Hotel); open daily 08:00-17:00.
Maeyom Palace Hotel Restaurant: 181/6 Yantarakit Kosol Rd; T: (054) 521 028-34; open daily 08:00-22:00.
Night market: Charoen Muang and Rob Muang Rds; open daily 16;00-21:00.
Hommek Coffee: Opposite the west gate; open daily 09:00-20:00, 22:00 on Saturdays.
Local bars: Along the access road between Yantarakit Kosol and the bus station; open daily 17:00ish-00:30.
While slightly away from the centre, we reckon delightful Phoomthai Garden Hotel is still well worth considering -- it's probably our fave pick for Phrae. A couple of three-storey blocks in an L-shape are set in a very cute garden area, with a pool one side and cafe on the other. They did well to preserve some mature trees during construction and the garden, though small, is lush with ferns and... Read our full review of Phoomthai Garden Hotel.
Tucked away down an alley off Charoen Muang Road is the three-storey, Lanna-style Bua-Khao Hotel set in a spectacular old teak mansion just back from a quiet lane in the heart of the city. Though lacking a garden, the location is convenient and it is peaceful enough. The rooms are small but cosy, and while nowhere near as ornate as the exterior of the building, they are comfortable and agreeably... Read our full review of Bua-Khao Hotel.
This large hotel, opposite the bus station, seems to have cornered the foreign tour group market for Phrae and as such is definitely the hotel most set up for Western visitors. In high season coach loads of Dutch, French or Belgian tourists may suddenly rock up flooding reception or the cafe, meaning the needs of a solo traveller may take a temporary back seat. In low season however things are... Read our full review of Maeyom Palace Hotel.
While the exterior of the Nakorn Phrae Hotel could serve as illustrative photo for a ‘shabby’ dictionary entry, rooms are not bad at all and staff are friendly and helpful. (The hotel is run by the same guys as nearby Nakorn Phrae Tower.) For 60 baht less, it’s barely worth considering the fan-cooled rooms, unless you’re seriously budget strapped, though we would recommend skimping on the... Read our full review of Nakhon Phrae Hotel.
Paradorn is another older hotel that doesn’t look much from the outside but has clean and acceptable rooms inside. Fan-cooled rooms in the older block are a bit on the dingy side though the air-con rooms in the newer block at the rear are fine, and quieter, with WiFi, fridge, TV and hot ensuite showers -- the price includes an Asian-style breakfast, with Western breakfasts available for a... Read our full review of Paradorn Hotel.
Wacky was the word that sprung to mind when we visited one of the few old town accommodation options, Priwan Home Stay. It is a one-woman operation, run by ex-English teacher Priwan. We had to return three times before we found her -- so some patience is required if she’s out at the market or having coffee with her mates. It is definitely the best budget bet around though, and conveniently... Read our full review of Priwan’s Homestay .
A large generic-style hotel that saw better days quite a number of years ago, Nakorn Phrae Tower flatters to deceive from the outside with an elaborate entrance. When it was first opened it must clearly have been the smartest address in town but these days illusions are shattered as soon as you step into the tired looking lobby. While in need of a make-over, rooms aren’t bad – they are better... Read our full review of Nakhon Phrae Tower.