Great half day or day trip by bicycle or motorbike
This circumnavigation of Phayao Lake makes for a great trip with varied sites on route and, including a couple of detours to Wat Analayo and Champatong Waterfall plus, time permitting, a stop at the Phayao Cultural Hall on your way back into town, you can incorporate pretty much most of the area’s main sights into a convenient and interesting day tour.
Being in a Buddhist country we set out clockwise around the lake so you begin from downtown winding your way through some quiet residential streets, following signs for the ancient port, Ban Thung Kiew. Today it’s a little way off the lake shore – presumably due to silting – and these clearly well excavated, and partially restored, brick ruins are what’s left of the, we guess, (since there’s no information panels around), 13th or 14th century port. Note for those twitchers out there the marshland in front looked interesting for bird-life and we spotted a serpent eagle as well as herons, egrets and kingfishers. The ruins are down another series of quiet lanes but are relatively well signposted in English.
From here a brand new black-top with designated cycling track followed the lakeside west. We didn’t see many cyclists but there were hardly any cars either and this scenic, windy route looks like a great initiative from Phayao council. Most local residents we came across were either fishing, collecting lotuses or messing around in their narrow wooden boats though we did see a couple of Thai birders too.
Views back across the lake, as you make your way round to the opposite shore, were picturesque with plenty of pink lotus flowers opening up in the early morning. Some of the boatmen looked up for offering rowing trips out on the lake and there were plenty of great picnic spots with newly built salas and shady seating areas so we reckon weekends it could get very popular.
On the far side of the lake the new road runs parallel to route 1193 and there’s a series of villages located amid paddy-fields between the 2. One, named Mae Sai if you can find the turn-off, had a couple of local handicraft stores and even a water-hyacinth weaving workshop. Artisans were more than happy to let us wander and take photos and no-one tried to sell us anything. (We’ve had problems with water hyacinth creations before – from the excellent Saray community scheme in Cambodia – since attractive as they are, hyacinth stems are edible and our dog knows that too.)
This new, lakeside road doesn’t quite complete a circumnavigation and so you’ll have to make your way back to the main highway at Ban Tom. The village has a lively little market, a couple of cafes and a coffee shop and from here turning left will take you on a brief detour to Wat Analayo or right, back towards Phayao. The hill-top wat is only a short, well signposted, distance through farmland from the lake and takes you back past Mae Sai weaving village. The entrance to Wat Analayo is, we calculated 21 anti-clockwise to Phayao and 18 clock-wise, so you’re more or less half way around.
After your detour to the attractive wat, return to the 1193 and head north. Back past Ban Tom you’ll hit a crossroads with Phayao to your right, Mae Chai and highway 1 straight on to the north and, again signposted in English, Champathong Waterfall to your left. The return trip to the waterfall, through villages and down a pretty country lane, is around 25 kilometres so, easy enough on a motorbike but maybe a bit much on a bicycle if you were hoping to get back to Phayao in time to see a couple of the sites on the north side of town.
Without the side trip to Champathong but allowing plenty of time to amble; stop in the villages, check out Wat Analayo and take in the various viewpoints we’d say a day on a bicycle and a good half day by motorbike with Champathong, perhaps the Cultural Hall and another temple or two on the north side of Phayao rounding the latter up to a day.
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.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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