Photo: Meet Phrao.

Exploring the surrounds

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One of the delights of Phrao is just cruising around the picturesque countryside and its quaint villages.

Photo of Exploring the surrounds

If you need wheels, your best bet is to hire a bicycle from Doi Farang -- ideal since most of the valley is flat. The west side of the valley is mainly rice paddies and for fans of those kind of things you could make the hot springs at Nong Khrok a destination. They’re not the most exciting hot springs (Fang’s take a lot of beating), but they’re certainly very hot and very sulphurous. You can bathe and there are changing rooms but make certain you’re bathing in the right pool or the consequences could be dire. (The ones with the boiling eggs for example are good to avoid.)

The western part of the valley is more undulating. The hills are covered with extensive fruit orchards and in between you’ll come across tranquil villages, some with the occasional noodle stall and Lanna-style temple worth stretching your legs for. In the valley to the south of town, Wat Doi Mae Pang makes for an easy and interesting destination.

The routes leading to and from Phrao are themselves highly picturesque -- just getting there and away is part of the fun of the place. From the west Route 1150 diverges from Route 107 -- the Chiang Dao to Fang route -- at the village of Ping Khong, some 11 kilometres north of Chiang Dao. From here it winds its way 30 kilometres or so along a valley surrounded by lush jungle and limestone cliffs. Unusual landscape for this part of the country and you’d be forgiven for thinking you are in the south, say Trang or Krabi.

Travelling east from Phrao along the same highway you’ll climb up the steep valley side to find yourself in much more typical northern Thai scenery of rolling hills with dry dipterocarp forest on the lower slopes, teak higher up and stands of pine at the highest elevations. Views looking down to the Phrao Valley and beyond to Doi Chiang Dao are truly spectacular. As you climb out of the valley to the east you’ll see a large damn project under construction. They will lose one of the myriad valleys but locals are hoping the resulting lake will be a big tourist draw plus it will be a big help for valley farmers. (It’s a big project though so give it a few years!)

You’ll see a Royal Agricultural Project signposted at the summit of the first mountain, but it’s not a visitor-friendly spot like Doi Ang Khan, though they do have a handful of bungalows for rent. Just past this is the Lisu village of Khun Jae, the first of several on the road, and which has a grocery store and petrol as well as spectacular views. After approximately 50 kilometres the road descends abruptly into a valley where you’ll hit the main Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai highway, Route 118, between Mae Kachan and Wiang Pa Pao.

In a southerly direction from Phrao, the scenery changes again as Route 1001 follows a valley towards Mae Taeng and Chiang Mai. The scenery is perhaps not quite as spectacular as the east and west routes but there are a couple of sites of significance en route. First up, at just short of the 20 kilometre mark, is the highly prestigious Wat Doi Mae Pang complex.

At around the 40 kilometre mark heading south, you’ll see signs on the left to Bua Tong Waterfall. A short distance further the road bifurcates with a left fork heading down through the northern suburbs of Mae Jo and San Sai to Chiang Mai city, while straight on leads you to Mae Malai at the junction of the Pai, Mae Rim and Chiang Dao routes. Phrao to Chiang Mai is around 80 to 85 kilometres, depending upon which road signs you believe.

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Phrao.
 Check out our listings of other 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.
 Browse tours in Thailand with Tourradar.

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