With its distinctive charm and identity, Phrae is appealing yet surprisingly seldom visited. The town was built beside the Yom River in the 12th century and remained an independent city state until it came under Ayutthayan control. In the 18th century, the town was taken by Myanmar (Burma) and later became a base for Myanmar and Lao teak loggers. Myanmar influence is obvious in Phrae’s temples, which also have Lanna features. The town prospers on agricultural produce from the surrounding fertile valley, as shown by the growing commercial district outside the walled town. Remains of the old city walls and moat can be seen in the northeast of town.
Phrae’s oldest temple (12th century) is entered through a section of old city wall. The octagonal Lanna chedi is notable for its elephant caryatids. Swords, jewelry, and photographs are displayed in the museum.
Wat Phra Ruang
Several architectural styles are blended at this temple. The cruciform bot is more characteristic of temples in nearby Nan. The Lao wihan has delicately carved doors, shown here. The chedi is Lanna.
Wat Phra Bat
The Lao bot of Wat Phra Bat dates from the 18th century, while the wihan, housing a revered Buddha image, is modern. Part of a Buddhist university, the temple is often bustling with monks.
Wat Si Chum
The plain interiors of the bot and wihan contrast with the ornate Buddha images inside. Unfortunately, the chedi is in a state of ruin
These teak houses are typical of Phrae. Their roofs are decorated with kalae, a feature of Northern Thai houses
Wat Chom Sawan, in the northeast of Phrae, is an early 20th-century Shan temple with a distinctive, copper-crowned Myanmar chedi.
To the west of Phrae is Ban Prathup Chai, one of Thailand’s largest teak houses, with its ornate pillars. The structure was assembled in the mid-1980s; even though teak logging was not banned then, spare logs from nine other houses were used to build it.
To the southeast is Wat Phra That Chaw Hae, thought to date from the 12th–13th centuries. Staircases flanked by nagas and stone lions lead through a teak forest up to the hilltop wat. The temple is named after the satinlike cloth (chaw hae) that worshipers wrap around the 110-ft (33-m) gilded chedi. Inside is the revered Phra Chao Than Chai, believed to grant wishes.
Phea Muang Phi is a popular excursion from Phrae. This surreal landscape (muang phi means “ghost city”) consists of pillars of soil and rock that rise from the ground like mushrooms. Like Sao Din in Nan province, they are the result of the erosion of clay beneath a hard crust.