Published/Last edited or updated: 25th February, 2016
With an abundance of ancient wats and historic buildings scattered across a compact and relatively traffic-free area, the old town of Phrae lends itself to a scenic walking or cycling tour. Convenient for most of the town’s accommodation, we’ll start off at Prathu Chai, the walled city’s east gate and home to the evening night market. Heading up Rob Muang Road, which follows the city moat, past the small market and convenience stores you’ll see a small parking area to your right. On the far side a collection of what we can best describe as Buddhist totem poles indicate the start of a city wall walking trail.
This tree-lined path leads along the top of the old ramparts, affording views of the old town to the left and the moat and new town to your right. To your left, down on Rob Muang Road, you’ll see the Ban Thep Museum, which was under construction when we passed in late 2015 but which we were told will eventually feature traditional handicrafts. A short walk around the old walls brings to you to the northern gate, Prathu Mai, opposite which, and worth a look, is the old brick chedi of Wat Hua Khuang.
From here if you’re feeling energetic, or especially if you have a bicycle, continue around the edge of the old town, with the walls to your right, along Prathu Sri Chum Road, which gives some good views of the chedis and older buildings. To your right, private gardens cover much of the earthern ramparts but occasionally steps allow access to the top, from where you also have views across the Yom River and paddy. It’s around a 20-minute walk to the west gate, Prathu Mar, where you can cut back through the town centre along Khum Lue Street. Alternatively, from Prathu Mai you can take a short cut by walking straight down Khum Sean Boom Road, which is the name for the eastern section of Khum Lue.
Hommek Coffee at the beginning of Khum Lue opposite the west gate serves good coffee and juices so it makes for a convenient break. Then, on your left is Wonburi House, followed closely by picturesque Wat Phong Sunan. Straight after the wat, Soi Khum Lue 1 will take you down to the town’s oldest temple, Wat Luang. After visiting, return to the main road and take the next right, which brings you out onto Khum Derm Road. A short distance east, set in an attractive park, is the not to be missed Khum Chao Luang Residence. This was the former home of the Phrae royal family and is now restored as a fascinating museum.
Next right at the lights leads you back onto Charoen Muang so, if it’s a morning walking tour, stop off at Punjai’s for an excellent lunch. If you’re doing this later in the day, the Prathu Chai night market may be kicking off.
Note that in addition to the sights mentioned here you’ll pass several other wats and see plenty more old teak mansions. In early times, only the nobility was permitted to use teak for building but after a law change in 1902 anyone was allowed to use it. At the time it was just about the cheapest building material anyway, so a proliferation of teak houses sprung up. Some are slightly fading, others renovated; some are public buildings, some private houses.
This older section is still very leafy and low-rise, with very few new buildings apart from the municipal offices on Charoen Muang in the centre of town, making Phrae old town a very pleasant spot to tour. Including visit times at wats and museums, we’d allow around four hours for the walking tour.
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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