One of the main reasons that bus loads of tourists take the journey to Phayao, is to see the partly submerged Wat Tilok Aram, in the middle of Lake Phayao.
Fortunately, the buses full of tourists, leave just as quickly as they arrive, so for anyone wanting to stay a day or two, to see and do more in this slow paced city, you will be able to take in the great sunsets, watch and chat with the keen fishermen, feed the 1,000s of fish that call the lake home and just enjoy a regional Thai city, free of shopping malls, bars and other mainstream tourist draw cards.
The boats to Wat Tilok Aram leave from the small jetty that is located about in the middle of the lakefront promenade. The trip costs 30 baht (no ‘special tourist price’) and includes a life vest, use of a wide brimmed hat and temple offerings (incense, candle, gold leaf and a flower).
The boats wait until there are 5 people, or can be rented for the return trip by one or more people, each boat seating about 8 people, plus a single oarsman.
Getting into the narrow boats takes a good sense of balance and a slow, sure footed, lowering of your body into the craft. The trip across to the partly submerged island, is at a leisurely pace and takes about 10 to 15 minutes.The disembarkation process is also a bit wobbly but not terrifyingly unsafe.
There is a large, floating metal platform with a few steps up to the land area where the main shrine is located. There are 2 or 3 vendors selling small turtles, fish and eels for release into the lake for merit making. Strips of orange cloth are also available for sale and it is the orange ribbons (with writing) in the trees that really add to colour of the small island and give it more spiritual aura.
Photo opportunities abound and I was lucky enough to be only 1 of about 6 people on the island at the time of my visit. The serenity was short lived as two boats full of Chinese tourists arrived after about 20 minutes and the peace and quiet of the setting was lost completely.
Back at the small jetty, I notice a photo of a bamboo jetty that showed people walking across a makeshift floating bridge from the mainland to the Wat. When this existed and why it no longer exists, remains a mystery.
This was probably the best value and most enjoyable trip I’ve ever done in Thailand. The boat ride was just the right length, the Temple area quiet enough and interesting enough and the focus on safety very reassuring.