Phrae is a bit of an oddity when it comes to food and drink, as there may be times you feel like you have to hunt for a place to grab a meal or crack open a beer, a feeling that will be unfamiliar to anyone who has spent significant time in Thailand.
The town doesn’t see many foreign tourists, so little English is generally spoken at restaurants, and sometimes there’s no English-language menu. However, Phrae does actually have many delicious, affordable and accessible food options, and even a fairly lively nightlife; you simply need to put yourself in the right place at the right time.
Phrae rises early. Several stalls line the main thoroughfares (Yantrakit Koson, Charoen Mueang, Cho Hae and Ratdamnoen) and serve typical Thai on-the-go breakfasts, while there's also a small morning market near Pratu Chai, the main gate of the old city.
Late risers may find themselves in food limbo, but a safe bet during the late morning or early afternoon is to head to the day market, which stretches between Cho Hae and Ratdamnoen roads just east of Yantrakit Koson. This market is a cornucopia of fresh produce and protein, in various (and often pungent) states of decomposition. While these types of products may not necessarily be what you're after to buy, this is an excellent place to observe daily Thai life, and there are several small stands serving prepared food in and around the market.
Lunch provides you with many options, again especially on the main thoroughfares. Ratdamnoen boasts a few excellent noodle shops, along with several other good, cheap Thai restaurants. Put yourself near the old city or on Yantrakit Koson during this time of day and you won’t go hungry.
The evening hours bring with them a relatively exciting array of options, in the form especially of the night market at Pratu Chai, where Charoen Mueang intersects with Rob Mueang. Here you will find a delicious array of well-prepared street food and snacks. Many restaurants around town also come to life later in the day, especially on Charoen Mueang and Yantrakit Koson, but even inside the old city.
The night owl will find little of interest in Phrae. Like most small towns in Thailand, the city’s establishments generally start closing their doors around 21:00 or earlier. However, those in the know with an itch to party head down to the bus station – and not simply to catch the next bus to Lampang...
On either side of the lane leading from Yantrakit Koson to the station are several bars and clubs catering to a younger, more energetic crowd. Any given night you can find plenty of Thai 20-somethings enjoying the evening’s football matches or busting a move on a crowded dance floor.
It seems that the police move in swiftly at midnight to enforce the citywide bar curfew, so if you want to go out don’t put it off until 23:30. After you get your fill of Leo, head back to Pratu Chai, where a few noodle shops will linger open long after the night market stalls have shut up shop.