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.