An old and important community of Northern Thailand, Phrae was founded after Chiang Mai had been established as the capital of the Lanna Thai kingdom. With one of the largest reserves of teak forests in the country, it is located on the banks of the Yom River, 555 kilometres from Bangkok. Covering an area about 6, 538 square kilometres and surrounded on all sides by mountains with level plains in the middle.

:: Attractions

A stairway flanked on both sides with nagas (dragon-like serpents), and stone singhs (lions), leads through the teak forest up to the hilltop Wat Phra That Cho Hae , a popular pilgrimage site. Dating back from 12th-13th century, the temple is named after the satin-like cloth (cho hae) that worshippers wrapped around the 33-m tall guilded chedi at the annual fair. Inside the chedi is the revered Phra Chao Than Chai, believed to grant wishes. Also see the beautiful lotus and star-shaped colored glass mosaics.

Phae Muang Phi (Ghost Land) is a popular excursion to view the surreal, unnatural Mars-like landscape of rock formations. Soil erosion has produced large, weird mushroom-shaped pillars rising up from the baked ground, in part resembling a miniature Grand Canyon. Local legend says that the ghost land is haunted by those who lost their way in this desolated place.

Wat Chom Sawan , located northeast of the city, is an early 20th century Shan temple with a distinctively copper-crowned Burmese chedi and elegantly carved wooden wiharn with tiered roofs. It was built during the reign of King Rama V and took 5 years to complete. Considered to be the most beautiful structure in the Lanna region, the temple contains 2 rare and holy artifacts. The Buddhist bible (teachings) is carved in Burmese on 16 sheets of ivory, and a Buddha basket made of bamboo, covered with sheets of gold. These items are probably the only ones of their kind left in the country.

Within town, the plain interiors of the bot (hall) and wiharn (chapel) in Wat Si Chum, contrast dramatically with the ornate Buddha images within.

The 12th century Wat Luang is considered the province's oldest temple. Entrance is made through a section of old city wall. Within the chapel is an esteemed, graceful Buddha image built in the Chiang Saen style. The grounds contain an unusual octagonal Lanna-style chedi with elephants protruding from the base, and a museum displaying swords, jewellry and photographs.

A fusion of several architectural styles can be seen at Wat Phra Ruang. The bot resembles those temples of nearby Nan, while the Laotian-style wiharn has intricately carved doors, and the chedi has characteristics of a Lanna design. Similarly, Wat Phra That Suthon Mongkol Kiri , just outside of town, also depicts the elegant incorporation of many Southeast Asian architectural designs, but was built in recent decades.

The Laotian prayer hall of Wat Phra Bat Ming Muang Voraviharn dates from the 18th century, while the modern wiharn houses the town's principal sacred Buddha image. The temple is part of a Buddhist university and is always bustling with monks.

Teak trees once covered Phrae's hillsides and were important exports until logging was banned in 1989. The town still has several old homes made from teakwood. Nearby Wat Phra Non is Baan Vongburi , opened to visitors as a museum but is still used in parts as a private residence. The elegant Victorian house was built 100 years ago and features elaborately carved eaves and balconies. The exhibition rooms contain an interesting collection of Chinese ceramics, locally made handicrafts, Buddha images, and large carved silver bowls. The restored house received many accolades and publicity during the 1990s.

Further west of the city is Baan Prathup Jai (Impressive House), one of the nation's largest teakwood Thai-style house built in 1976. The main attractions are the carved animals (i.e. elephants, lions, etc) at the base of the teak pillars supporting the enormous home and other elaborate northern-style woodcarvings. Spare teak logs from nine other homes were used to build this one, comprising over 130 teak logs in all, with each log being about 300 years old.

Slightly north of town, the roadside market of Tung Hong Village makes and sells the best selection of Phrae's most famous product, the Mae Hawm fabric. Still worn by Thai famers and popular throughout the country, the indigo-dyed cotton is usually sold as shirts and pants at relatively inexpensive prices.