Phayao feels like this odd town in the middle of nowhere in Northern Thailand. A place that you have absolutely no reason to go to. But it is a pleasant lakeside town, with a lot of local activities going on near the lake. There is plenty of exercise equipment around in the nice park, some market life, outdoors massage and some people gone fishing. Walking in town you will get your share of old wooden Thai houses and as usual there is no lack of food in a Thai town.
We met with an older lady in a local fish restaurant that said that her family moved to Phayao during the Second World War, at the time when some bombs fell on Bangkok. The lake was partly supposed to be a food reserve in times of war. First this was a small wetland but since it was often flooded the local government turned it in to a small lake.
Kwan Phayao(Kwan is northern Thai for marsh but here it is definitely a lake) is the biggest freshwater reservoar in Northern Thailand and the fourth biggest in Thailand. The lake has a mountain range in its backdrop. The source of water in the lake is from 18 streams. In the middle of the lake there are historical remains of a submerged temple known as “Tilok Aram Temple” built during the reign of King Tilokaraj in the 15th century, the twelfth monarch of the Mengrai dynasty.
Wat Tilok Aram was located at a swamp by an intersection called Nhong Tao, a historic community in town. The temple was half drowned in 1941, when the Department of Fisheries built concrete gates to block the water from Nam Mae Ing and other rivers from Phee Pan Nam. The whole community sank to the bottom of Kwan Phayao. Some part of the temple can be seen above the surface making it look like a small island. During an exploration of the lake between 2006 and 2007 the brick Chedi caught the attention of a revered monk, and since then it has become a more convenient place of worship and a tourist attraction.
There is a boat service for around 20 baht to go out to the island. Phayao Lake is also an inviting place for cycling along the lake.
Phayao was founded in 1096 as a small city-state kingdom. In the 13th century it gained enough importance to be an equal partner with King Mangrai of Lanna and also the Sukhothai kingdom. It didn’t last however. Phayao was incorporated into the Lanna kingdom in 1338. Some of the royal treasures from the Phayao kingdom can be seen in a museum in Chiang Rai. The town was abandoned for a short while after a Burmese invasion. Since 1977 Phayao is its own province, previously belonging to Chiang Rai.
We stopped in Phayao when we drove from Chiang Rai towards Nan on a roadtrip during the green season in 2017. Phayao is about 140 kilometers from Chiang Rai and nice place to spend a night. We found a local homestay just by the lake that was really cute, and with a lovely view of the lake. I will not recommend this accommodation though since we didn’t get much sleep that night. For every truck that passed the building it felt like the truck was driving through the building, or that the whole thing would go down.
We had some local meals in no name restaurants. One famous eatery we did try out was the restaurant called So Good. It did not dissapoint. Phayao has been promoted as the Vienna of the East. Do not expect this. But for a short break it is a pleasant enough town of 20 000 inhabitants to explore.