First up breakfast and if the instant sachets at Phrao Place or Phrao Poo aren’t doing the trick a small coffee bar on the main street, set up outside the Saha Pharmacy and opposite the market’s main entrance, serves organic, Inthanon coffee from what they claim is 07:00 onwards. If you’re lucky they may have a few steamed buns or dim sum to accompany it.
At the southern end of the street and a few metres left at the Katsikorn Bank is another unnamed coffee stand offering local style filter coffee as well as fresh juices. Otherwise, an outlet of the Cafe Amazon chain opens its doors at 08:00 (and 07:00 on weekends) in the forecourt of the PTT garage on the corner of Highway 1150. They have a full range of coffee and teas as well as a few bakery items on offer. With a wider choice of breakfast food, the excellent Cafe Yum Yum has a location around one kilometre east of town just off the highway though it doesn’t generally open its doors until 09:00.
You’ll also find several rice and noodle shops along the bustling little main street serving up standard Thai fare with the cafe next to Saha Pharmacy offering a good version of the local khao soi noodle soup. As the market opens early morning certain of these cafes will be open early too while a couple of the ambulant fried chicken and som tam stands also keep going into the evening hours. For a more consistent brunch/lunch and with an English menu our shout is the curry and noodle shop (no English name) at the end of main street opposite the Katsikorn Bank. Food is copious and cheap with all your Thai standards available and they stay open from 06:00 until around 20:30.
For a more extensive menu including Western, as well as Thai choices, the large, modern looking, Euang Phrao just a kilometre out of town on the highway heading east is a useful address. With a large, airy, upstairs seating area they offer four pages of seafood—odd considering the location—as well as steaks, pasta and classic Thai dishes. Steaks of various provenance range from 99 (chicken) to 190 (rib-eye), pasta dishes 50 to 60 and all your usual Thai favourites from 35 baht upwards.
We’ve saved our favourite for last and back in the town centre, just on the north side of the highway, you’ll find the friendly little Lab 11 eatery knocking up a great selection of authentic local food. Their north Thai (or Chiang Mai) style laap (where added pig’s blood creates a richer sauce) is a winner at 50 baht. Do be careful ordering this one though as cooked or risky uncooked versions are both popular in these parts. It’s a cosy spot—basically just a cafe set up in someone’s front yard—and what’s more they stay open to what for Phrao is the late hour of 21:00.
There used to be a short string of bars/karaokes just west of town on the highway but these all seemed pretty much shut up when we last passed so your bar options in Phrao are seriously limited these days. Cafe Lum Lum is maybe your best bet with some variety in your beer choice and even a proclaimed happy hour from 17:00 onwards. Otherwise, a couple of cold ones while grazing on a laap at Lab 11 is a pleasant way to finish an evening.
Out of town, whether you’re staying that way or don’t mind a short drive, then Doi Farang Resort probably also has the area’s best kitchen as well as best rooms. Their open-plan dining area surrounded by lush vegetation offers you the choice of classic Thai or international dishes at reasonable rates and their bar menu is more extensive than you’ll come across in these parts too.
Our final pick is what we reckon is Phrao’s cutest coffee shop, the bromeliad-clad Phu Pak Cafe. It’s around one kilometre south on the Chiang Mai road so a good caffeine break before hitting the road although they don’t see fit to open until 09:00.
Amazon In the PTT petrol station, Highway 1150, slightly to the west of the town centre, Phrao; Mo–Su: 08:00–17:00 Sa–Su: 07:00–17:00.
Cafe Lum Lum Highway 1150, around 1 kilometre east of the centre, Phrao; T: (097) 918 4355; Mo–Su: 09:00–20:00.
Coffee and juice bar Tessaban Rd, nearly opposite the main street; Mo–Su: 08:00–17:00.
Coffee Bar On the main street, outside the Saha Pharmacy, Phrao; T: (087) 575 1203; Mo–Su: 07:00–17:00.
Doi Farang Restaurant 203 Moo 1, Pa Nai Village; T: (053) 017 556, (081) 885 0588; Mo–Su: 08:00–20:00.
Euang Phrao South side of Highway 1150, just east of the town centre, Phrao; T: (053) 474 741, (089) 997 6476; Mo–Su: 09:00–19:00.
Lab 11 North side of Highway 1150, near the town centre.; T: (091) 792 0145; Mo–Su: 10:00–21:00 .
Phu Pak Cafe Highway 1001 around 2 kilometres south of town; Mo–Su: 09:00–18:00.
Unnamed local cafe Tessaban Rd, opposite Kasikorn Bank, Phrao; T: (053) 475 166; Mo–Su: 06:00–20:30.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.