Nan (น่าน) is a town in the remote valley of the Nan River in the Northern River Valleys region of Northern Thailand, bordering Laos. The area is heavily forested with arable land used mainly for agriculture. It is an ancient city steeped in history with its long association with the Lanna Thai culture and the Sukhothai kingdom.
Little-known Nan goes back to the depths of the history of Thailand. For centuries it was an separate, autonomous kingdom with few relationships with the outside world. The name Nan is also used in Thailand as a name given to annoying, buck-toothed, moon-faced children.
There are many evidence of prehistoric habitation, but it wasn't until several small meuang united to form Nanthaburi on the Nan river in the mid-14th century - contemporary with the creation of Luang Prabang and the Lan Xang (Million Elephants) kingdom in Laos - that the city became a power to be taken into account. Associated with the mighty Sukhothai kingdom, the meuang took the title Wara Nakhon and played a significant part in the development of early Thai nationalism.
By the end of the 14th century Nan was one of the nine northern Thai-Lao principalities that comprised Lan Na Thai (now Lanna) and the city state flourished throughout the 15th century under the name Chiang Klang (Middle City), a reference to its position roughly midway between Chiang Mai (New City) and Chiang Thong (Golden City, which is today's Luang Prabang.
The Burmese took control of the kingdom in 1558 and deported many of the inhabitants to Burma as slaves; the city was completely deserted until western Thailand was retaken from the Burmese in 1786. The local dynasty then regained local sovereignty and it remained semi-autonomous until 1931 when Nan finally accepted the full dominion of Bangkok.
Parts of the old city wall and several early wat dating from the Lanna period can be seen in contemporary Nan. The city of Nan's wats are distinctive: some temple structures show Lanna influence, while others belong to the Tai Lü language, a legacy brought from Xishuangbanna in China, where the Tai Lüs came from.
The city spreads out along around 4km, between the airport at the north end of town and the bus station at the south end, but its historical and commercial centre is more compact. Its area follows roughly a north-south orientation, along the right bank of the River Nan. The two main axes of the town, more or less parallel, are Sumonthewarat Rd (the easternmost and the closest to the river) and the Mahayot Rd. The city's main monuments are located at the junction of the three parallel axes: Pha Kong Rd (west), Mahayot Rd (middle), and Sumonthewarat Rd (east) and Suriyapong Rd which is perpendicular to them. As for the main shops, they can be found along the Sumonthewarat Rd and its perpendicular, Anantaworattidet Rd.
In the town, three bridges connect the right bank to the left bank of the River Nan: the southernmost, the Sriboonruang Bridge, the middle one, the Pattana Paknue Bridge, under which are held the boat races, and the northernmost, the Nakorn Nan Pattana Bridge.
- Tourist Information Centre, Pha Kong Rd (opposite Wat Phumin). Daily, 08:00-17:00.
Nan is connected by plane and by bus to the rest of the country.
Nan Airport (NNT) is at the north end of town, on the road to Pua-Thung Chang-Thai-Laos border (Rte 1080), about 1.5km from downtown.
- Nok Air connects Nan to Don Mueang Airport (DMK), Bangkok.
The train station serving Nan is Den Chai in Phrae Province. From the train station, take a songthaew parked in front of the station to Phrae bus station, about 30 min. Then catch a bus to Nan. There is also bus service directly to Nan from Den Chai. But you need to go to Den Chai bus station to take the bus.
The main bus station (Baw Kaw Saw) is at the south edge of town, at the end of a road perpendicular (turn left when arriving from Bangkok) to Wiangsa/Phrae/Bangkok Rd.
- From Bangkok: Buses to/from Bangkok take from 10-13 hours, according to the type of bus.
- From Chiang Mai: 6-7 hours
- From Chiang Rai: 5-6 hours at 09:30 from the old bus station in Chiang Rai, 164 baht.
- From Phitsanulok: 5 hours at 11:00 and 16:30
- From Phrae: 2 hours
Transportation in Nan is terrible. A traveller recently (Mar 2015) reported arriving at the bus station at 20:30 and finding no songthaews, tuk-tuks or taxis available. That resulted in a 3 km hike to the guesthouse.
- Hill Tribe House, 430/1 Sumondhevaraj Rd (On the far side of Nan River, but you can call and they come get you), ☎ . Do "Nan Sightseeing Tour- Riding and Camping Tour". You can also just rent a motorbike, although they only have 125 cc bikes.
- Ultimate Adventure, 77/1-2 Mahawong Rd. Rents out Honda Dreams, 110 cc (250 baht/day), Kawasaki D-Trackers, 125 cc (500 baht/day) and Kawasaki KlX 250 cc (800 baht/day). All bikes are new.
- Boat Races. For centuries, long-boat racing have been held annually in provinces with a major waterway. Long-boat racing is one of the traditional rites which commemorates the end of the Buddhist Rains Retreat. It takes place mainly in the 10th and/or 11th lunar months (around Sep-Oct) when the water level is at its peak. At present, long-boat racing is considered as a national sport. Its history can be traced back to Ayutthaya period, around 600 years ago. In that time, boat racing however was only a way to keep boatmen fit for national defence. Racing boats are usually made from dugout tree trunks and can accommodate up to 60 oarsmen (commonly dressed in the same colour) in a double row. The festival attracts several hundreds of spectators. Trophies and prizes are given to the winning teams at the end. The races on the Nan River are colourful and unequalled because the boats are brightly adorned with imaginatively designed prows. The cheering squads on the river bank are usually rumbustious and joyful.
- King of Nan’s Teak House, Mahaprom Rd (Opposite the back entrance of Wat Phra That Chang Kham), ☎ . Built in 1866 of golden teak and reconstructed in 1941, this large house is now the residence of "Chao Sompradhana Na Nan". It exhibits heritage antiques such as ancient weapons, war elephant ivory and photographs by King Rama V. Contact the owner for visits.
- Nan Art Gallery (หอศิลป์ริมน่าน) (On the Nan River, about 20km out of town on the road headed to Tha Wang Pha (Rte 1080)). Has many exhibition halls with temporary exhibition and souvenir shops. It can be reached by local songthaew (one that goes to Tha Wang Pha).
- Nan National Museum (Pha Kong Rd). M-Sa, 09:00-16:00. In the original palace of the last two feudal lords of Nan. The building was originally constructed in 1903 by Phra Chao Suriyapnong Phalidet, the penultimate Lord of Nan, to replace his former wooden residence. After the death of the Chao Maha Brahma Surathada, the last Lord of Nan, his heirs donated this palace to the government in 1931 in order to be used as the provincial hall. The museum was inaugurated in 1973 after the new provincial hall had been erected. Thanks to relatively recent renovations, it is one of Thailand's most up-to-date provincial museums. Unlike many of them it also has English labels for many items on display.
The ground level is divided into six exhibition rooms with ethnological exhibits dealing with the various ethnic groups found in the province, including northern Thais, Thai Lü, Htin, Khamu, Mabri, Hmong, and Mien. Silver work, textiles, folk utensils, and tribal costumes can be found on display. Exhibits on Nan history, archaeology, local architecture, royal regalia, weapons, ceramics, and religious art are shown on the second floor, divided into two sections. The first is the main hall which used to be the throne hall of the feudal lord. The second consists of the rooms in the north and south wings.
The museum exhibits a wide collection of Buddha images which includes some rare Lanna styles as well as the floppy-eared local styles. Usually made from wood, these standing images are in the "calling for rain" posture (with hands at the sides, pointing down) and they show an obvious Luang Prabang influence.
Also on display on the 2nd floor is a rare black (or more accurately reddish-brown) elephant tusk said to have been offered to a Nan king over 300 years ago by the Khün lord of Chiang Tung (Kengtung). Held aloft by a wooden Garuda (mythical bird) sculpture, the tusk measures 97 cm long and 47 cm in circumference.
Books on Thai art and archaeology are sold in a building adjacent to the museum. 30 baht.
- The Old Wall. Constructed in 1885 by Chao Anantavorarittidet, Nan’s ruler, the wall was built in place of an old log wall destroyed by flood in 1817. Remnants of the wall, around 400 m of the original 3,600 m, can be seen at the junction of Mahawong Rd and Rob Muang Rd, at the southwest end of town.
- Wat Hua Khuang (Diagonally opposite Wat Phra That Chang Kham). This small wat comprises a distinctive Lanna / Lan Xang-style stupa with four Buddha niches, a wooden hàw trai, now used as a kùti (monk cell), and a noteworthy bòt with a Luang Prabang-style carved wooden veranda. A carved wooden ceiling and a huge naga altar can be found inside. Stylistic cues suggest this may be one of the city's oldest wats though the temple's founding date is unknown.
- Wat Min Muang (Close to Wat Phumin on the same side of Suriyaphong Rd, further west). Its ubosoth's exterior is embellished with elegant bas-relief stucco while its interior is adorned with mural paintings depicting Nan people's way of life, painted by present-day local artists. The Holy City Pillar is enshrined in the four-sided Thai styled pavilion in front of the ubosoth. This pillar is 3 m high, stands on a carved gilded wooden base and is topped with a four-faced Brahma, representing the four virtues on Buddhism. It is an ancient Thai totem that is still very significant. The city pillars were probably erected as a ritual centre for agrarian fertility rites in ancient Thai towns and kingdoms, in the heart of the old cities and just next to the seat of power of a king or a chief.
- Wat Phaya Phu (On Phaya Phu Rd, west of the police station,). This wat was built during the reign of Pra Chao Phukheng and is about six centuries old. There is a big chedi behind the vihara where are enshrined two ancient Buddha images. The vihara's door are carved with image of mythical giant guards.
- Wat Phra That Chae Haeng (2km past the bridge that spans the Nan River, heading southeast out of town). This temple dates from 1355, built in the reign of Pray Kan Muang. It is the most sacred wat in Nan Province. It's set in a square-walled enclosure on top of a hill with a view of Nan and the valley. The Thai Lue influenced bôt features a triple-tiered roof with carved wooden eaves and dragon reliefs over the doors. A gilded Lanna-style stupa sits on a large square base next to the bôt with sides 22.5 m long; the entire stupa is 55.5 m high.
- Wat Phra That Chang Kham, Pha Kong Rd. After Wat Phra That Chae Haeng, this wat is the second-most important temple in the city. The main viharn, reconstructed in 1458, has a huge seated Buddha image and faint murals. Also in the viharn is a set of Lanna-period scrolls inscribed (in Lanna script) not only with the usual Buddhist scriptures but also with the history, law and astrology of the time. A thammdat (a dhamma seat used by monks when teaching) sits to one side. The magnificent stupa behind the viharn dates from the 14th century, probably around the same time the temple was founded, It features 24 elephant supports similar to those seen in Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai. Next to the stupa is a small, insignificant bôt from the same era. Wat Phra That Chang Kham is also eminent by having the largest hàw trai (Tripitaka library) in Thailand, but it is now empty.
- Wat Phra That Khao Noi (On top of Khao Noi hill, 2 km W of town). The hill is 250 m high. The recent temple buildings are nothing special but from the top of the hill, easily accessed by a road, one can see, side by side with a giant Buddha statue, Nan.
- Wat Suan Tan. Supposedly established in 1456, the Wat Suan Tan (Palm Grove Monastery; Suan Tan Rd) comprises an interesting stupa of the 15th century (40m high) which combines Hindu/Khmer style motives (stupa in form of prang) and, surmounting it, an obviously Sukhothai-style motive in the shape of a lotus bud, modified in its current form in 1914. The heavily restored viharn contains the Phra Chao Thong Thipun, out of early Sukhothai-style bronze seated Buddha in Bhûmisparsha-Mudrâ. It measures 4.1m and could have been ordered by the Chiang Mai sovereign Tilokaraj following his conquest of Nan in 1449.
- . Wai Phrathat Festival (งานประเพณีไหว้พระธาตุ) Nan is a town in the Lanna kingdom where Buddhism spread for a long period of time. Within the ancient city, both in Nan and in Pua Disrict, are wats on the hills. Every year, festivals paying respect to the important phrathats are organised as follows:
- Namatsakan Phrathat Beng Sakat Fair (งานนมัสการพระธาตุเบ็งสกัด) is organised on the full night of the 4th northern lunar month (around January).
- Hok Peng Waisa Mahathat Chae Haen Fair (งานประเพณีหกเป็งไหว้สามหาธาตุแช่แห้) takes place on the full moon night of the 6th northern lunar month or the 4th central lunar month (end-February-March). Rockets are fired as an offering to the Buddha.
- Namatsakan Phrathat Khao Noi Fair (งานประเพณีนมัสการพระธาตุเขาน้อย) takes place on the full moon night of the 8th northern lunar month or the 6th central lunar month (around May). In the festival, there is a ceremony paying respect to Phrathat Khao Noi and rockets are fired as an offering to the Buddha.
- Namatsakan Song Nam Phrachao Thongthip Fair (งานประเพณีนมัสการสรงน้ำพระเจ้าทองทิพย์) at Wat Suan Tan during the Songkran festival, 12-15 April.
- Tan Kuai Salak, Hae Khua Tan or Khrua Than Festival (งานตานก๋วยสลาก หรืองานแห่คัวตาน หรือ ครัวทาน) Than Salak or Kuai Salak is an ancient tradition created in the Buddha's time. For the northern people, it is considered as a major local merit-making ceremony possessing local uniqueness. Monks are invited to receive the offerings by drawing lots.
Banks with ATMs can be found all over town, notably at Sumonthewarat Rd, Anantaworrattidet Rd and Sumon Thevarat Rd.
- D Best Super Store, 42/3 Suriyapong Rd (Near Nan Museum), ☎ , fax: +66 54 710727. With a small cinema.
- Nara Department Store (Old Nara), 400/1 Sumon Dhevaraj Rd.
- Nara Hyper Mark (New Nara), 155 Sumon Dhevaraj Rd, (Opposite Soi Aranyawat 2), ☎ . 09:00-21:00. The biggest department store in town with a parking lot.
- Tesco Lotus, 320 Moo 4, Yantarakitkosol Rd (Hwy 101 to Phrae, about 2 km from town centre), ☎ . 09:00-22:00. Department store.
Good buys include local textiles, especially the Thai Lu weaving styles. Typical Thai Lu fabrics feature red and black designs on white cotton in floral, geometric and animal designs and also indigo and red on white. The lai naam lai (flowing-water design) shows stepped patterns representing streams, rivers and waterfalls. Other excellent quality textiles are the local Hmong appliqué and the Mien embroidery. Thin grass-and-bamboo baskets and mats and Hmong silverware are also available.
- Jaangtrakoon, Sumonthewarat Rd. Mainly clothes for sale here.
- Lan Nan Som Noek, 347/7 Sumonthewarat Rd (No English sign).
- Pongparn, 10/4 Suriyapong, ☎ , e-mail: , email@example.com.
- Easyintersoft, 345/8 Sumonthewarat Rd. Software and computer hardware.
- Kodak, 347/4 Sumonthewarat Rd. Processing, passport photos, batteries.
- Fresh Noodles stall, 90/3 Anantaworarittidet Rd (Between 7-Eleven and the Ayuthaya Bank). 17:30-22:00. Thai food. 20-25 baht.
- Jan Paa Lap Pet, 57 Sumonthewarat Rd (Opposite Ampron Guesthouse, before Wat Pranete). 11:00-20:00. Thai (Isaan) food. 40-70 baht.
- Night Market, Pha Kong Rd (Just after the crossroads with Anantaworarittidet Rd (towards the Wat Suan Tan)). 17:30-02:00. Thai food. Many stalls, among which, the first one on the right side heading towards the Wat Suan Tan, serves up good value. Still on the right-hand side, but further on closer to the wat, is Luang’s stall. He's a charming man who speaks French, as the sign, Ici on parle français indicates. 20-50 baht.
- No name, Mahayot Rd (Heading north from Wat Suan Tan, before the Elephant Crossroads, on the right side, after the Mitsubishi dealer). 11:00-14:00. Thai food. Very good gai yang (grilled chicken), and som tam (papaya salad). 30-60 baht.
- Ratchaphatsadu Market (Between Sumonthewarat and Khao Luang Rd, close to the Dhevaraj Hotel). For take-away dishes (chicken or fish BBQ, Thai curries) and fresh fruit.
- Tanaya Kitchen, 75/23-24 Anantaworarittidet Rd. 10:00-15:30; 17:00-20:00. Thai, Chinese, vegetarian food. English menu. 30-60 baht.
- Yota Vegetarian Restaurant, Mahawong Rd. 07:00-15:00. Thai food. 10-30 baht.
- Boat Restaurant, 21/1 Suan Tan Rd. 11:00-22:00. Western and Thai food and ice cream. English menu. Main dishes 40-120 baht, ice cream 30-130 baht.
- Dhevee Coffee Shop, 466 Sumonthewarat Rd (In the Dhevaraj Hotel). 06:00-02:00. Western and Thai food. English menu. Breakfast buffet, 100 baht; lunch buffet, 59 baht.
- DoReMi (Hot Pot Suki Shabu) (Sumonthewarat Rd, in the New Nara parking lot on the right). 17:00-22:00. Korean BBQ. Musical show from 19:30. All-you-can-eat dinner buffet, 69 baht.
- Nan Steakhouse, 15/7 ถนนสมุนเทวราช Sumon Thevarat Rd, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily, 11ː00-22ː00. Steaks, pizza, barbecue. Serves only Western food. An unlikely find in this small provincial town. Run by Dao for the past 9 years. Will deliver orders over 300 baht. 6 or 10-inch pizzas, 70-265 baht; burger, fries 100 baht.
- Poom 3 (Da Dario) (Anantaworarittidet Rd, near Hotel Sukasem). Western, Thai and Chinese food. English menu. 50-150 baht.
- Suan Isan, Sumonthewarat Rd (Turn left at the lane next to Rung Thip Sawoei). 11:00-23;00. Thai food. 30-90 baht.
- Drugstore, 347/6 Sumonthewarat Rd. The best wine cellar in Nan, many vintages from the end-1980s to beginning of the 1990s. French wines for moderate prices.
- Amazing Guest House, 25/7 Rat Amnuay Rd, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Run by a friendly Thai family with a German son-in-law, in a quiet part of town outside the centre. Call ahead for free pickup from bus station or airport. Has bicycles for rent for 30-50 baht (regular) and 80-100 baht (mountain bike). Free Wi-Fi. 150-350 baht.
- Ampron Guesthouse, 42/4 Sumonthewarat Rd, ☎ . 180 baht for fan, 280 baht for air-con..
- Nan Guesthouse, 57/15 Mahaphrom Rd (Close to the museum and bus station), ☎ . Friendly, clean and quiet budget accommodation at a good location. There is a full time information desk for local sights and the staff is very helpful when asking about places to go. Free Wi-Fi. 200-350 baht (depends on air-con or fan, shared or private bathroom). Internet, 35 baht/hour.
- P.K. Guest House, 33/12 Premprajarat Rd, ☎ . Fan 150-250 baht, air-con 350 baht. Bicycle, 30 baht/day; motorbike, 180 baht/day.
- Sabai Dee Guest House, Chao Fa Rd, Soi Aryawung 2 (Close to the bus station), ☎ . 100-150 baht (depends on shared or private bathroom).
- Fahthanin Hotel, 303/5 Anantaworarittidet Rd, ☎ . 450-600 baht.
- Grand Mansion Hotel, Mahayot Rd (Heading N, just after the Wat Suan Tan), ☎ . UBC cable TV. 350-500 baht.
- Nan Fah Hotel, Sumon Dhevaraj Rd, Nai Wiang, ☎ . Cable TV. Bike rental, 50 baht; motorbike rental, 200 baht. 350-700 baht.
- City Park Hotel, 99 Yantrakitkosol Rd (On Hwy 101 to Phrae), fax: +66 54 773135. 600-3,000 baht.
- Dhevaraj Hotel, 466 Sumon Dhevaraj Rd, ☎ , fax: +66 54 771365. 800-4,000 baht.
- Pukha Nan Fa Hotel, 669 Sumon Dhevaraj Rd (City centre), ☎ . 3,000-5,200 baht.
- Sasidara Resort, 629 Moo 4 (On the way to Wat Pratat Khao Noi), ☎ , , fax: +66 54 773894. 900-2,500 baht.
- Internet cafés. Many in town for around 20 baht/hour.
- Nan Hospital, 1 Vorawichai Rd (Near Nan Airport), ☎ , , fax: +66 54 710977, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 24 hr for emergencies.
- Nan Tourist Police Station, 20/1 Suriyapong Rd (Near Wat Ming Mueang), ☎ .