Photo: Pretty rice field valley.


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Chiang Mai province’s tiny market town and administrative centre of Phrao lies in a wide and fertile valley forming an agricultural island surrounded on all sides by the forested mountains of Sri Lanna National Park.

To the east over the ranges lies Chiang Rai’s Wiang Pa Pao District; to the north lies Fang, west is Chiang Dao whilst south there’s little more than hills and forest until you reach Chiang Mai’s northern suburbs. Yet despite a convenient and central position in the province, the tiny town sees relatively few foreign visitors.

On the way to Phrao. Photo taken in or around Phrao, Thailand by Mark Ord.

On the way to Phrao. Photo: Mark Ord

Admittedly Phrao isn’t blessed with many tourist destinations as such but wonderful scenic views and bucolic countryside abound. The valley has rice paddy-fields on the flatlands to the east and orchards on the western side’s more undulating terrain, interspersed with still largely traditional farming communities. The surrounding picturesque hills are forested and inhabited mainly by people of the Lisu ethnic group while the rugged summit of Doi Chiang Dao provides a dramatic western backdrop to the farmland.

The town itself has a bustling little market, an elegant wat and plenty of friendly inhabitants as well as a couple of decent eateries and a fine place to lodge. If you want to get close to nature the comfortable Doi Farang Resort a few kilometres out of town in an outlying village is a delightful spot to while away a couple of days.

Rice field views. Photo taken in or around Phrao, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Rice field views. Photo: Stuart McDonald

So Phrao has no really famous tourist sites, but does deliver on picturesque countryside and traditional northern villages to explore plus easy access to Chiang Mai city and Chiang Dao we reckon Phrao’s worth a visit. If you’re heading north to Fang or Tha Ton or even as a side trip on your way up to Chiang Rai then a stop-over in Phrao is recommended.

Somewhere between a large village and a small town, Phrao is laid out in a compact rectangular shape split into two by its bustling “high street”. Highway 1150 forms the northern edge of the town centre and the small Mae Saluan River the southern. Beyond 1150 are Phrao’s limited leafy suburbs after which lanes fan out to reach the valley’s villages including Pa Nai to the northeast—the location for Dai Farang Resort.

Our favourite in-town guesthouse is located on the main highway a short distance to the east of Phrao centre with a few coffee shops and eateries dotted along the 1150 as well as around the market area. The central commercial street is home to the town’s main market, banks and 24-hour convenience stores whilst police station, hospital and Sunday market are situated on the west side of the rectangle.

Grab your wheels and explore. Photo taken in or around Phrao, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Grab your wheels and explore. Photo: Mark Ord

The post office, should you need it, is located just to the southwest of the town centre, (left at the hospital), whilst the main town temple, Wat Kang Wiang, is opposite the end of the main street where it meets the highway. The road heading north, down the side of the temple, leads to the small bus station.

Route 1150 heads east to Wiang Pa Pao some 50 kilometres distant while to the west it joins the main north-south route 107 a few clicks north of Chiang Dao Town. A less-frequented but highly scenic rural road numbered 1346, takes you north and also joins the 107 just south of Chai Prakarn if you’re heading up Fang or Tha Ton way.

Commencing opposite the police station, Highway 1001 winds south through the valley to Wat Doi Mae Pang before performing a right turn to link up with Mae Taeng District and on to Chiang Mai.

Phrao has a typical rural Thai downtown area. Photo taken in or around Phrao, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Phrao has a typical rural Thai downtown area. Photo: Mark Ord

We can’t come up with many safety issues in sleepy Phrao other than our regular motorbike warnings. The quiet and largely flat valley lanes are perfect for a gentle pedal or slow motorbike ride however having said that they’re not used to much traffic in these parts and some rural folk’s driving can best be described as erratic. Go slowly through the villages too—out of respect for locals as well as the stray dogs. Approach roads to the town and valley may involve plenty of climbs, descents and curves though so need to be treated with care. East on 1150, in particular, involves a steep climb and descent.

As the district HQ Phrao town’s police station, lying slightly to the west of the town centre is a large one. For any serious issues, or tourist or immigration police facilities, head to Chiang Mai.
Phrao Police Station: Tessaban Rd, Phrao. Emergencies. T: 191

Phrao hospital is situated just to the west of the town centre and conforms to our usual small provincial town advice so, fine for cuts and bruises while for anything more serious Chiang Mai is an 80-kilometre drive away.
Phrao Hospital: 4 Moo 1, Phrao. T: (053) 475 271. Emergencies: T: 1669

Stock up on corn while you are in town. Photo taken in or around Phrao, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Stock up on corn while you are in town. Photo: Mark Ord

You won’t find any postcards to write in Phrao anyway but should you need the post office—and it does have the usual EMS and Western Union facilities—it’s located just to the southwest of the town centre past Phrao Place.
Phrao Post Office 202 Moo 4, Phrao. T: (053) 475 289 Open: Mo–Fr 08:30-16:30

Climate-wise Phrao district conforms to northern Thai norms so; cool and dry from November through to late February when things begin to warm up and the dry, hot season kicks in until the rains begin in late April or May. Rains then continue sporadically through to October during which time temperatures are a bit milder than those of the hot season though humidity levels will be considerably higher. Winter temperatures are generally cool at night times in these rural parts—less than 15 degrees centigrade is not unheard of—while in hot season the mercury frequently climbs into the high 30s.

Never know what you might find. Photo taken in or around Phrao, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Never know what you might find. Photo: Mark Ord

When to go
The rainy season is a good time to visit Phrao since the landscapes—which are the area’s main highlight—are looking at their most lush and green whether you’re exploring the surrounding hills or valley farmlands and showers are more of a short and sharp nature than all day drizzle.

Early or mid-cool season is good too and Phrao’s certainly one place where you won’t have to worry about high season crowds though temperatures rise and air quality deteriorates rapidly from February onwards. With a bowl-shaped topography, the dry season smoke and dust seem to get trapped in the valley and the air is noticeably smoggier than districts further north. Temperatures too are often higher than those of neighbouring districts at higher altitudes.

All things considered then for visiting Phrao we’d plump for any time of the year with the exception of the late February to early May period.

Few and far between is the short answer to Phrao’s travel resources so lucky for you we’ve written this. Even our usual faithful source for these areas—GT-Rider—doesn’t mention Phrao in much depth and elsewhere a trawl through the web won’t show much more than a few brief mentions of Phrao as an appendage of Chiang Mai.

Doi Farang Resort’s site does include some general information and photos on the area though and once there, helpful owner Michael is a very good source for information on routes, sites and all things Phrao.

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Phrao.
 Read up on where to eat on Phrao.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Phrao.
 Read up on how to get to Phrao, or book your transport online with 12Go Asia.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Phrao? Please read this.
 Buy a SIM card for Thailand—pick it up at the airport when you arrive.
 Browse the web securely while travelling with TunnelBear. Try with a 7–day free trial.

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