Things to do in Phrae
Table of Contents
The Buddhist Temples of Phrae
Phrae boasts a remarkable variety of Buddhist temples: there are Shan-style temples, centuries-old brick chedis, temples perched on mountain tops, and reclining Buddha images. We have devoted a special section to these places of worship, divided in temples within the old walled city and temples outside.
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 Baan 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 Baan Thung Hong you can do a Mo Hom workshop during which you learn this technique and dye your own shirt. It is great fun.
Khum Vongburi House
Khum Vongburi House or Baan Vongburi was built in 1898. It is, without doubt, the most famous of Phrae’s “gingerbread” houses, built by the first wife of the last ruler Chao Luang Piriya Theppawong.
She was from the Vongburi family, who are still the owners of the house. 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 (พิพิธภัณฑ์เสรีไทย)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.
Wichai Racha House
The Wichai 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 Wichai 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.
The Teak Museum
The Teak Museum of Phrae is located at the former compound of the Danish East Asiatic Company (EAC). This company was logging teak trees in Phrae province from the end of the 19th century until World War Two. After this, they sold their compound to the Forest Department of Thailand, which is still the owner. There are three buildings left from the EAC days. One of the houses a small museum, dedicated to forestry in North Thailand and specifically to the history of the East Asiatic Company. The museum is closed on Sunday. I visited on Monday and Tuesday but I have the feeling that opening and opening times depend on the coming and going of the one person, who is responsible. Even if you are not interested in this history, the compound is worth a visit.
Walking the old city wall
The old town of Phrae has city walls and a moat. They have constructed them probably more than 1000 years ago. There were four gates: Pratu Man, Pratu Chai, Pratu Sri Chum, and Pratu Yang Ma. To make way for vehicular traffic they have widened them so there is nothing left of the original gates. I started my hike at the intersection of Chaiyabun and Rob Mueang roads and started walking in a clockwise direction. I like walking these old walls. The first part to the local market is easy going and paved. After that you have to walk for about a km until you can climb up the wall again. It then starts to become a bit more adventurous. There is no path until you reach the former East Asiatic Company compound, now owned by the Forestry Department.
References for this article
I visit Phrae on a regular basis. It is one of my favorite towns in North Thailand. Most of the information about temples, buildings, and sites comes from local information at those places.
This book is always a great source:
Sarassawadee Ongsakul, History of Lanna, Chiang Mai, 2005