Things to do in Phrae
Table of Contents
Wat Phra That Cho Hae
One of the things to do in Phrae is to visit Wat Phra That Cho Hae. It is the most famous and revered temple of Phrae. It is located about 10kms outside the center of town. There are relics of the Buddha enshrined inside its chedi. The shape of the main chedi is very unusual. Striking is the craftmanship that is on display, of which the decorated ceiling is a good example. It is one of the most beautiful temples in North Thailand.
It is believed the temple dates back to the Sukhothai era but an exact date is not known. Followers of the “engineer-monk” Kruba Srivichai restored the temple in the 1920s. Wat Phra That Cho Hae is a must-see in Phrae and features in our Lampang, Phrae and Nan tour.
Wat Chom Sawan
Wat Chom Sawan is probably our favorite temple in Phrae. This pretty wooden Burmese-style temple was constructed in 1857, according to information at the temple. Other sources mention that Shan (Tai Yai) workers constructed this temple during the reign of Rama V between 1910 and 1912. Many Shan people worked for the British Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation and the Danish East Asiatic Company. These firms were involved in teak logging. According to information at the temple, Mr.Jong (or Chong) Nanta and Mr.H.A.Slade (misspelled Salade on the explanatory board) were instrumental in the reconstruction of the temple.
Chong Nanta was the British headman in Phrae from 1914 until at least 1933. It appears that he later became the manager of the East Asiatic Company. Herbert Slade, the former Deputy Conservator of Forests in Burma, became the first director of the Royal Forest Department. King Chulalongkorn established this department to manage forests and control revenue from the teak forests of northern Thailand in 1896. How Slade became involved in Phrae in the 1930s is at the moment unclear to me. In the temple, a portrait of a young foreign man with a 1920s boater hat adorns the wall. That appears to be a different person, also called Slade.
The temple is located outside the old city walls.
Wat Phongsunan is a remarkable temple within the old city walls of Phrae. It is the temple of the Vongburi Family, who built the Vongburi House. At this location, there used to be an abandoned, ruined temple called Wat Pong Sanuk. In 1929 Luang Phong Phibun (Chao Phrom) and Chao Sunanta, owners of the Vongburi House decided to reconstruct this temple and renamed it after themselves: Wat Phong Sunan.
The temple is worth a visit for many reasons: the main Buddha statue, called Phra Chao Saen Suk, is believed to be more than 500 years old. The temple furthermore has a reclining Buddha statue, a huge turtle, and an unusual structure with many small white chedis.
Wat Sra Bo Kaew
Wat Sra Bo Kaew is the second Shan or Burmese-style temple in Phrae. It is located outside the old city walls, not far from Wat Chom Sawan. Unfortunately is right next to a telecom station with a huge, ugly tower. It is a beautiful temple, quite different from Wat Chom Sawan. There are more than 30 sitting Buddha statues in different poses. According to an explanatory board in terrible English a Burmese man, called Mong Phoan, constructed the temple in 1876. The Danish East Asiatic company is wrongly identified as “from England”. Reconstruction of the temple took place in 1909.
Wat Sri Chum
Wat Sri Chum is special because it has two viharns, one with a sitting and one with a standing Buddha statue. This temple appears to be one of the oldest temples of Phrae. It was constructed in the period of the foundation of the town which means that it is more than 1000 years old. It has a beautiful brick chedi that was reconstructed in 2007. When I visited the museum was closed. It is a nice wooden building on the left of the compound.
Wat Phra Non
Wat Phra Non is the temple of the reclining Buddha in Phrae. It is located in the old town. It has a large reclining Buddha statue and is believed to be over 300 years old.
Wat Sung Men
Visitors would easily bypass Wat Sung Men, at first sight just one of many similar temples in the area. This temple though has the largest collection of palm-leaf manuscripts in the country. They are stored in an interesting learning center. They are written in the old Lanna language, which is similar to the Tai Lue alphabet.
Mo Hom Indigo Workshop
“Mo Hom” is a traditional indigo dyeing process that was mainly used to dye the clothing of farmers. Mo Hom was passed on from generation to generation. The village Ban Thung Hong, close to Phrae town, is famous for this centuries-old process. Mo means pot. Hom is the indigo plant to produces the deep blue color of the dye. In Ban Thung Hong you can do a Mo Hom workshop during which you learn this technique and dye your own shirt. It is great fun.
Vongburi House or Baan Vongburi was built in 1898. It was, without doubt, the most famous if Phrae’s “gingerbread” houses, built by the first wife of the last ruler Chao Luang Piriya Theppawong. It is still owned by the Vongburi family. This family has pioneered the conservation of heritage houses in Phrae. The Vongburi House now is a museum.
Khum Chao Luang
Khum Chao Luang was the residence of Chao Luang Piriya Theppawong, the last ruler of Phrae. It predates the Vongburi House by 5 years. It was built in 1892 and clearly shows Western influences. Khum Chao Luang is now a museum. Definitely one of the “must-see” things to do in Phrae.
Seri Thai Museum
The Seri Thai Museum is dedicated to the Thai resistance movement against the Japanese occupation during World War Two. Seri Thai means “Free Thai”. The museum has interesting exhibits about a history few people know about. Most captions are in Thai only so you will need to some preparatory reading before you go there. The museum is in a nice teak wooden building behind the Paradorn Hotel.
Vichai Racha House
The Vichai Racha House dates back to 1898. The house has a turbulent history. The owner played an important role during the Shan Rebellion of 1902 after which King Rama V bestowed the title Phra Vichai Racha on him. The Free Thai movement used the house as a base against the Japanese army during World War Two. An elderly man now owns the house. He tries to raise funds for its restoration.
Restored Missionary House
There are two former missionary houses in Phrae. Both houses probably were constructed in the early 1890s by American missionaries. Around 1912 the two houses were dismembered and relocated. They restored this house with funds from the American consulate in Chiang Mai. On my last visit, an event took place at this house. It was nice to see it being used by the community. This house is at the compound of the Phrae Vocational Educational College.
Derelict Missionary House
The second house is located at the Christian Hospital which is next to the Phrae Vocational Educational College. This house is in very poor shape. You can approach the house but have to walk through the compound of the hospital. I would not recommend entering the house as the wooden floors are in poor condition. More about the missionary houses in this article.
The Green House
The Green House was the former office of the Royal Forestry Department. In 1896 the Siamese government established this department to manage the teak forest concessions and control revenue from the forests of Northern Thailand. It is believed that the house dated back to the early 20th century. When I visited Phrae in 2017 there was an event of the Forestry Department in the house that was in good condition. I took the below picture.
The demolition of the Green House
In June 2020 a construction company demolished the building. This led to outrage in the media and in the community. The house was wrongly identified as the former office of the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation, a British company that was active in teak logging in Phrae about 100 years ago. It is still unclear why they demolished the building. It might have been a misunderstanding but I think someone just decided to get rid of this old building and construct a new concrete one. Under pressure, the Forestry Department decided to reconstruct the building in its original design.