Virtually enveloped by mountains and valleys, Phayao is a peaceful province. Though with only modest facilities and conveniences, it is an enchanting community with delightful natural beauty and fascinating religious sites. Dating back to more than 900 years, it used to be an independent state with its own rulers before it became a part of the Lanna Thai kingdom in mid-14th century.
Phayao is about 691 kilometres from Bangkok and covers an area of 6,335 square kilometres.
Take a walk down to the lake and watch the locals trying to catch fish. There are tuk-tuks at the bus station if you want to get around.
Make a boat trip to the "sunken wat" in the middle of the lake (Wat Tilok Aram). Small boats leave from the jetty. Price: 40 baht per person. If you are into scuba diving, you might discover one of the world's true underwater gems (update 04/09/13: this is no longer possible according to several locals).
Go fishing on the lake. You can rent or buy fishing gear along the lake shore.
Take a stroll on the lake shore or do it as the locals and make a picnic in the grass next to the lake. It is also a great place for taking photos with the reflections on the water (day and night) and the fog is really pretty in the mornings. Look for fisherman near the shore as well.
Doi Bussarakham. There are a string of important Buddhist temples (Wat Analyo foremost among the group), shrines and monuments on the edge of a national forest and on Bussarakham mountain about 15 km outside of town. You can walk from one to the other. One which is a shrine to Kuan Yim and the last one on the trail (The villa of the King- vacant most of the year) both provide stunning views of Phayao city on the lake. The forest is thick and lush. If you are really adventurous, you can visit a nearby village (a long dirt trail) with a nice waterfall (Tom Dong Village). A nice place for a picnic.
Rent a bicycle or motorbike and visit the local villages. Fishing is a popular activity here and interesting to watch. You can do so on the lake or in the rice paddies (during rainy season)
Phayao Cultural Exhibition Hall, (next to Wat Khomkam along the lake about 1 km from most accommodation in the city. If you head towards the lake from the city, the road that Tharntong Hotel is located on, there is an intersection where you can follow the lake to the right or to the left. Take the road to the right here.). The museum features a lot of information about Phayao and Northern Thailand in both English and Thai (the main parts are in English although there are a few in Thai). It includes stone inscriptions gathered from around the province, ancient pottery ware and stone implements, a section on the role of elephants in Thailand, and little bits and pieces of historical data on Phayao as an independent kingdom before it became part of Thailand. Most notable is the section on Kwan Phayao (Lake Phayao) which gives an interesting illustrated history of the lake both scientifically and in legend. Enlightening is the illustrated map of all the fish in the lake and section with all of the fishing implements and their names. If you sit by the lake or take a journey into nearby villages, you will still see all of these being used. This is one of the better-kept museums in northern Thailand (and at a lower price of 40 baht than the standard 100 baht admission found at several other less impressive museums), perhaps because it was privately put together with great effort by the abbot from Wat Khomkam next door.
Wat Khomkam, (along the lake road that heads towards Chiang Rai and right next to the Phayao Cultural Exhibition Hall). The most important temple in Phayao which houses a very important local Buddha image.
The Brick Oven Pizza & Salad, 80/3 Tha Gwaan Rd (a block from the waterfront), ☎ +66 88 415 6923. Closed Su & M. Makes authentic American-style pizza with home made sausage and real fountain drinks to boot. Further, 100% of profits are reinvested in local projects in the Phayao region. Pizzas are quite large and slices are available.Pizzas start at 240 baht.
Hwy 1202 Garden Cafe & Guest House, Hwy 1202 km9.5 (travelling north at intersection of Pra Tu Chai at Hwy 1 and Hwy 1202, turn right (to Pa Daet), go approximately 9.5 km to location on right), ☎ +66870004725. Variable.
If you are anywhere near the bus station, head up to the night eatery about 200 m distant. There is a line of restaurants stretching over several hundred metres. Buy your beer at the 7-11 across the road, and then choose which stall you like, sit at their table, eat and drink. Cheap meal, most under 50 baht, and the beer is under 50 baht at the 7-11. The 7-11 always has a bottle opener!
Right around the corner from the Tharnthong Hotel is a little noodle shop that sells nam ngiew noodles khanom jeen-style. (Classic northern Thai style noodle dish) It is excellent and very popular with the locals. They serve khao gun jeen which is a local favourite as well and a very delicious snack for 10 baht.
Most of the accommodation is in one of three places and all are relatively close to each other especially the first two. The lake is probably a twenty minute walk from the first two areas. Most budget accommodations tend to be between 200-400 baht. There is none of the house-to-house rooms available (for tourists) that you see in many other parts of the north. Phayao has not really caught on as a tourist destination yet. Area one is near the bus station on the road that passes the long line of food stalls: Win Hotel and a multi-storey new place with rooms for 400 baht. (Something "Lake" hotel). Both of these places are pretty new. This area is the best place to find street food in town and most convenient if you are walking from the bus station. Area two is near Chinatown. Tharnthong Hotel and Wathana Hotel are right next to each other. This area is really right around the corner. Win Hotel is sandwiched between the main street with food stalls and the main road that goes through Chinatown. The accommodations in the area here tend to be older and were probably the first of their kind in the city. Area three, and the most scenic is near Phayao Lake locally called "Gwan Phayao" (One was a new home stay with a different name from the one listed below and with room starting at 600 baht. (No budget offerings.) Most of the places by the lake tend to be newer and more expensive but might offer a scenic view of the lake. This is also the part of town where most of the trendy cafes and restaurants are clustered. There is also a hotel behind the Phayao Ram Hospital along the superhighway to Chiang Rai. (maybe 2 km from the bus station).
Gateway Hotel, 7/50 Pratugakong Rd (This hotel is about 200 m from the bus station. As you exit,turn to the left and you will soon see it on your left), ☎ +66 54 411 333. A 10 storey hotel, with great views of the lake from the upper floors. Air-con and modern. Breakfast is included, a buffet, either Thai or Western. The shower has hot water. Front desk is friendly and some English is spoken. 800+ baht.
Ruernchomkwan Homestay, 39 Chaykwan Rd (on the lakeshore, close to the jetty), ☎ +66 54 480 933. A great location right on the lake front. The drawbacks are the (allegedly) sometimes ill maintained bathrooms (in marked contrast to the rest of the house which is spotless) and the noise in the morning from the town's loudspeaker and the maids who don't seem to understand that clients can hear their loud discussions. Despite all this, a decent option. The lake view double room (No. 6, 800 baht) on the second floor is lovely and shares a spacious and comfortable terrace with a single room next door. Dorm, 100 baht; rooms, 500+ baht.
Tharn Thong Hotel, 55-59 Donsaman Rd, ☎ +66 54 431 302. Unostentatious concrete building in the city centre, friendly staff, simple and clean rooms with fan or air-con and TV, Wi-Fi, free drop-off at the bus station, bike hire. Not quite as nice as staying at the lake front, but really OK. No English language sign. Good for price. It also features a drive through lobby area where you can check-in by bicycle, motorbike, or car. Charming for me.300 baht for double room with air, cheaper rooms with fan. (19.1684,99.9203)
Win Hotel, 38/7 Ratchasamphan Road (in the middle of the road with all the food stalls on it. Turn right out of the bus station and take your first left at the corner with Hot Pot chain and air conditioned shopping premises, and you will be on the road to Win Hotel. It is located on your right hand side about halfway down before the 7-11. You have to walk down a narrow alleyway about 50 m and it is right in front of you. The sign is not in English, but it is large if that helps. Just ask when you reach that area.), ☎ +66 54 480 333, 484 456, 481 456. checkin: 13:00; checkout: 12:00. Rooms are new, clean and feature the largest bathrooms I have encountered anywhere at budget prices like this. (The huge showerheads are my favorite). Rooms come with a fridge, towels, soap, air-con, TV and have funky artistic inspiration. 380 baht.