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Looking for a new, charming and authentic destination in Northern Thailand? Someplace non-touristy? Then Phayao is the place to be! Let us introduce you the largest lake in Northern Thailand’s, and you’ll soon understand why we love Phayao so much!

After an amazing motorbike trip of a few hundred kilometers through Chiang Rai province, we arrived at Northern Thailand’s largest lake:

Kwan Phayao.

The edge of the lake is decorated with palm trees and colorful lanterns. Older Thai men were sitting on the benches along the banks busily discussing whatever it was that caught their interest that day. As we approached to have a closer look at the lake, the gentlemen kindly nodded and smiled at us.

Wow… this place is amazing!

We decided to stay a few days longer to explore and drive around the lake.

Boulevard around Kwan PhayaoImpressive Kwan Phayao lakeAn elderly man looking at the horizon at PhayaoBeautiful sunset at Kwan Phayao

Trip around the lake: Wat Analayo

During breakfast, we decided on our route. The owners of the place pulled out a map with pictures: a mountain temple, a waterfall and a boat trip across the lake. We couldn’t understand much of what she was saying but pointed us in the right direction.

That’s all we need to know!

We started our adventure across the lake at the temple Way Analayo; about half an hour away from the Phayao’s ‘touristic’ center.

Entering the temple was already a spectacle in itself. Old steps and a beautiful gate led us to a 600-meter long path through the forest.

The path was completely deserted, save for a few cobwebs here and there and some curious monkeys peering at us attentively from high up the trees. We passed modest wooden cabins where monks reside.

Once we arrived at the temple grounds, we noticed the mix between old and new temples. We had a look around and until we lost our way after about half an hour and the footpath ended. A pack of dogs had already noticed our presence and started to bark; our cue for leaving!

The entance to Wat Analayo in PhayaoThe entance to Wat Analayo in PhayaoStairs to Wat AnalayoSpiderweb at Wat Analayo in PhayaoWat Analayo in PhayaoWat Analayo in PhayaoA monk's residence at Wat Analayo in PhayaoWatch where you're going - Wat Analayo in PhayaoView from Wat Analayo temple

Champa Thong Waterfall

We sat down for lunch at a small stall in front of the temple. We were alone, except for a couple of naughty puppies that kept trying to enter the restaurant.

After a few bites, we headed out towards our next stop: the Champa Thong waterfall.

Champa Thong is a four-tier waterfall that you can only climb by going over slippery rocks and small steps. To us, this sounded like a fun challenge – which it was!

After the climb, we arrived at the foot of the waterfall, where the dense jungle, large banana plants, tree trunks overgrown with moss and some rickety ladders awaited us.

We were completely isolated, far away from the civilized world.

We took off our shoes, pulled up our trousers and carefully climbed the different tiers. There was no-one else around. We loved being here, at this secret waterfall in the middle of the jungle.

Exploring Champa Thong Waterfall in PhayaoChampa Thong Waterfall in PhayaoLevel 4 at Champa Thong Waterfall in PhayaoChampa Thong Waterfall in Phayao

Wat Tilok Aram: the 500-year old underwater temple

We closed off our trip around Phayao’s lake (about forty kilometers) with a visit to Wat Tilok Aram, a 500-year-old temple that’s been submerged underwater ever since a flood that happened 300 years ago.

Near the underwater temple, a small island was built. There’s a shrine there and a Buddha statue; locals come here to pray, light a candle and to make merit.

To get to the island, you can rent a small boat for 30 baht person. The crossing takes about ten minutes. You’ll receive wreath and a candle which you can choose to light near the Buddha statue.

Places to eat and sleep in Phayao

Because Phayao is still a relatively small tourist destination, most of the sights, restaurants, and hotels are targeted towards Thai tourists rather than western. We still managed to find some great hotels and restaurants that we highly recommended.

We spent the night in one of Phuglong’s apartments that came with a fantastic view of the lake and had dinner at the Aurora restaurant, right by the water. For lunch, we went to a small local place (Khao Soi Sang Pean) that serves the best Khao Soi in all of Northern Thailand.

Mariska in the boat to Wat Tilokaram in PhayaoWat Tilok Aram in PhayaoLighting a candle at Wat Tilok Aram in PhayaoPrayers at Wat Tilok Aram in Phayao


Should you visit Phayao?

Phayao is the perfect destination for anyone that wants to experience Thailand at its purest. Because there aren’t many tourists, it can get hard to get around. It’s best to rent a motorbike or car, or arrange for a taxi at the hotel reception desk.

Most people in Phayao don’t speak English, so you can understand that communication might be a bit difficult. This can be a downside, but the upside of visiting Phayao is that it’s one of the purest and most authentic bits of Thailand you’re likely to come across. So whether you’re traveling alone or with your family, Phayao is the perfect destination for the more adventurous traveler.

Beautiful sunset at Kwan Phayao

Getting to Phayao

Phayao is situated about 150 kilometers north of Chiang Mai and about 90 kilometers south of Chiang Rai.

The best way to reach Phayao is by bus from either one of these cities. If you’re traveling from Chiang Mai, your best bet is the Green Bus, which operates at fixed hours, is comfortable and also is the fastest way to get there. It will take about two and half hours to reach Phayao. Check out the timetable here.

From Chiang Rai, only local buses go to Phayao. There’s one operating every half an hour between 8:30 AM and 3:30 PM. It takes about two hours. You buy tickets on the spot at the bus station.

Finally, it’s also possible to rent a car in Chiang Mai and drive to Phayao yourself. The roads are well-maintained, and all signage is in English.

We took the boat to Wat Tilokaram in Phayao

So… will you be visiting Phayao?


Author Sander

Former elementary school teacher, storyteller, sports enthusiast, and adventurer. Love to do the "impossible", which is usually the exact opposite of what’s expected.

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