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 Lannathai culture and the Sukhothai kingdom.
Little-known Nan goes back to the depths of the history of Thailand. For centuries it was a 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 is much evidence of prehistoric habitation, but it wasn't until several small mueang united to form Nanthaburi on the Nan River in the mid-14th century, contemporaneously 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 mueang 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 full Bangkok dominion.
Parts of the old city wall and several early wats 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 Lü people came from.
The city spreads out for approximately 4 km, between the airport at the north end of town and the bus station at the south, but its historical and commercial centre is more compact. This area follows roughly a north-south axis, along the right bank of the river Nan. The two main axes of the town, more or less parallel, are Sumonthewarat Rd (the easternmost one 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, the Pha Kong Rd (west), the Mahayot Rd (middle) and the Sumonthewarat Rd (east) and the Suriyapong Rd which is perpendicular to them. As to 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 is held boat racing, and the northernmost, the Nakorn Nan Pattana Bridge which was seriously damaged during the August 2006 floods.
- Kan Air daily flies to Nan and back from Chiang Mai.
As at April 2016, flight times are 1345 from Chiang Mai, and 1450 return.
- Nok Air connects Nan to Don Muang airport in Bangkok, 3 flights per day, 21 flight per week.
The airport is located at the north end of town, on the road to Pua-Thung Chang-Thai-Lao border (Hwy 1080/AH13), about 1.5 km from downtown.
The train station that serves 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 half an hour). Then catch a bus to Nan. There is also bus service directly to Nan from Den Chai, however you need to go to Den Chai bus station to take the bus.
The main bus station is located at the southern 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 and from Bangkok take between 10 to 13 hours, according to the type of bus.
From Chiang Mai: 6-7 hours
From Chiang Rai: 5-6 hours @ 09:30 from the Old Bus Station in Chiang Rai, 164 baht.
From Phrae: 2 hours
From Phitsanulok: 5 hours @ 11:00 and 16:30
While Nan's layout may seem compact, the near-complete lack of foliage makes walking feasible only in the evenings and early mornings. Visitors without their own transport are best advised to rely on taxis, sonthaews, motorbike-taxis, and trishaws.
Motorcycle rental options are rather limited:
- Hill Tribe House, 430/1 Sumondhevaraj Rd, Nai Weing (on the far side of Nan River, but you can just call and they come and collect you), ☎ +66 81 472 4131. Do a "Nan Riding and Camping Tour". You can also just rent a motorcycle. They have only 125cc bikes. edit
- Ultimate Adventure, 77/1-2 Mahawong Rd. Has Honda Dreams 110cc (250 baht\day), Kawasaki D-Tracker 125cc (500 baht\day), and Kawasaki KlX 250cc (800 baht\day). All bikes are new. edit
Nan has a tiny fleet of metred taxis that are virtually impossible to ride in daytime, due to high demand. At night they charge a flat 100 baht fee for destinations within the town. Phone +66 54 773555
Trishaws offer a leisurely and old-school way of touring the town. For tourists they charge 150 baht per hour (500 baht for a full-day tour from 09:00 to 16:00). While fees are negotiable, it should be noted that the peddlers earn very little.
The local tourist office operates two trolleybuses that covers the town's main sights (they only stop at Wat Suan Tan and the house of Chao Fongkham, however). Tours, conducted exclusively in Thai, begin daily at 15.30 in front of Wat Phumin. Tickets can be purchased at the tourist information centre. Phone +66 54 751169
- The Nan National Museum is 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 last but one 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 (Th Pha Kong; admission 30 baht; 09:00-16:00, M-Sa) was inaugurated in 1973 after the new provincial hall building was erected. Thanks to relatively recent renovations, it is one of Thailand's most up-to-date provincial museums. It 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 in the province, including the 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 section on the second floor is the main hall, which was previously used as the throne hall of the feudal lord. The second section consists of rooms in the north and south wings.
- The museum exhibits a wide collection of Buddha images which include 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 (in fact 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.
- King of Nan’s Teak House. Built in 1866 of golden teak and reconstructed in 1941, this large house (Th Mahaprom, opposite the backwards entrance of the Wat Phra That Chang Kham) 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, (Tel. +66 54 710 605).
- 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 the Mahawong Rd and the Rob Muang Rd, at the southwest end of town.
- Wat Phumin. Nan's most famous wat is renowned for its cruciform bôt that was constructed in 1596 and restored during the reign of Chao Ananta Vora Ritthi Det (1867-74). It is the only temple built as if it were on the backs of two immense snakes (or Naga). Each of the four entries is preceded by a small corridor surmounted by a point shaped finely decorated (underlining the royal origin of the temple) structure and is equipped with smoothly carved doors, with Chinese demon guards in the east, flowers in the north and forest life motives of Lanna-style in the west and the south.
- The wat’s interior is impressive. It is also a good example of Thai Lue architecture. The structure of the roof is supported by twelve teak pillars decorated with gold on black and red lacquer and elephants motives. The ceiling is also finely decorated. The flowered altar resting in the centre of the bôt supports four Buddhas of Sukhothai style in the Bhûmisparsha-Mudrâ (“Buddha Invoking Mother-Earth, Bhumi to be His Witness ” or “victory over Mara”—the hand pointed down to the earth with the fingers touching the ground), facing the four directions. The shape of their ears and of their nose shows a Lao influence. To the side of the altar sits a splendid thammdat., (a dhamma seat used by teaching monks).
- Murals of great value and well-preserved illustrating tales from the Jataka are on the northern and the western walls, as well as scenes of the local life of the time when they were painted (Europeans can even be seen, a probable reference to the arrival of the French to which the east of the Nan valley area was yielded in 1893.) Thai Lue were carried out during the restoration of the temple by artists at the end of the 19th century]]. The style is rather distinctive, quite far from the traditional style and is close to the murals of the Wat Phra Singh of Chiang Mai. The setting is however, here, that of the culture and the everyday life of Thai Lue. The two most famous scenes are of greater dimensions than the majority of the other paintings: a man whispering to the ear of a woman (on the south side of the west door) and the portrait painted on the side of the south door, which could be the king Chao Ananta Vora Ritthi Det’s. Other natural size paintings on each side of the main entry are of Chinese influence which can be explained by the origins of Thai Lue.
Wat Phra That Chae Haeng
Two kilometers past the bridge that spans the Nan River, heading southeast out of town, this temple dating from 1355, under the reign of Pray Kan Muang, 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 55.5m high.
Wat Phra That Chang Kham
After Wat Phra That Chae Haeng, this wat is the second-most important temple (Th Pha Kong) in the city. The main vihara, reconstructed in 1458, has a huge seated Buddha image and faint murals. Also in the vihara 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 vihara 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 Hua Khuang
This small wat diagonally opposite Wat Phra That Chang Kham 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 Suan Tan
Supposedly established in 1456, the Wat Suan Tan (Palm Grove Monastery; Suan Tan Rd) comprises an interesting stupa of the 15th century (40 m 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 vihara contains the Phra Chao Thong Thipun, out of of early Sukhothai-style bronze sitting Buddha in Bhûmisparsha-Mudrâ. It measures 4.1 m and could have been ordered by the Chiang Mai sovereign Tilokaraj following his conquest of Nan in 1449.
Wat Min Muang
This temple is located close to the 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 the Nan peoples' 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 of 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
Located on Phaya Phu Rd, west of the main 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 whare are enshrined two ancient Buddha images. The vihara's door are carved with image of mythical giant guards.
Wat Phra That Khao Noi
This wat is on the top of Khao Noi hill, two kilometers west of the town. The hill is 800 feet 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, the entire Nan town.
Nan Art Gallery
Nan Art Gallery (หอศิลป์ริมน่าน) is located on Nan River, about 20 km out of town on the road headed to Tha Wang Pha (Road No. 1080). It has many exhibition halls with temporary exhibitions and a souvenir shop. It can be accessed by local songthaew (one that goes to Tha Wang Pha). But the most comfortable way is to drive there yourself.
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 September/October) 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, some 600 years ago. At that time, boat racing was only a way to keep boatmen fit for national defense.
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 event attracts hundreds of spectators. Trophies and prizes are given to the winning teams at the end. The races on the Nan River are colourful and unequaled because the racing boats are brightly adorned with imaginatively designed prows. The cheering squads on the river bank are usually rumbustious and joyful..
Wai Phrathat Festival (งานประเพณีไหว้พระธาตุ) Nan is a town in the Lanna Kingdom where Buddhism spread for a long period of time. Within the area of the ancient city, both in Mueang Nan and in Amphoe Pua, lie Phrathats on the hill. Every year, festivals paying respect to the important Phrathats are organized as follows:
- Namatsakan Phrathat Beng Sakat Fair (งานนมัสการพระธาตุเบ็งสกัด) is organized 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 (around the end of February-March). Sky 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 sky rockets are fired as an offering to the Buddha.
- Namatsakan Song Nam Phrachao Thongthip Fair (งานประเพณีนมัสการสรงน้ำพระเจ้าทองทิพย์) at Wat Suan Tan during the Songkran festival on 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.
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. edit
- Lan Nan Som Noek, 347/7 Sumonthewarat Rd (No English sign). edit
- D Best Super Store, 42/3 Suriyapong Rd (near Nan Museum), ☎ 0+66 5475 7161 (fax: 0-5471-0727). With a small cinema. edit
- Nara Department Store (Old Nara), 400/1 Sumon Dhevaraj Rd. edit
- Nara Hyper Mark (New Nara), 155 Sumon Dhevaraj Rd (opposite Soi Aranyawat 2), ☎ +66 5471 1102. 09:00-21:00. The biggest department store in town. A big sign points it out. edit
- Tesco Lotus, 320 Moo 4, Yantarakitkosol Rd, (On highway 101 to Phrae), ☎ +66 5474 3131. 09:00-22:00. The biggest department store, but about 2 km from the town centre. edit
- Easyintersoft, 345/8 Sumonthewarat Rd. Computer shop. edit
- Kodak, 347/4 Sumonthewarat Rd. Film processing, passport photos, batteries. edit
- Fresh Noodles stall, 90/3 Anantaworarittidet Rd (between 7/11 and the Ayudhya Bank). 17:30-22:00. Thai food 20-25 baht. edit
- Jan Paa Lap Pet, 57 Sumonthewarat Rd (opposite Ampron GH, before Wat Pranete). 11:00-20:00. Thai food (Isaan) 40-70 baht. edit
- 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-hand 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. edit
- no name, Mahayot Rd (heading north from the Wat Suan Tan, before the Elephant Crossroads, on the right side of the road, after the Mitsubishi dealer). 11:00-14:00. Thai food. Very good kai yang, roasted chicken, and som tam, papaya salad. 30-60 baht. edit
- 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. edit
- Tanaya Kitchen, 75/23-24 Anantaworarittidet Rd. 10:00-15:30; 17:00-20:00. Thai, Chinese, vegetarian food. English menu. 30-60 baht. edit
- Yota Vegetarian Restaurant, Mahawong Rd. 07:00-15:00. Thai food 10-30 baht. edit
- 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. edit
- 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. edit
- DoReMi (Hot Pot Suki Shabu), (Sumonthewarat Rd, in the New Nara parking lot on the right hand side). 17:00-22:00. Korean BBQ. Musical show from 19:30 All-you-can-eat dinner buffet 69 baht. edit
- Poom 3 (Da Dario), (Anantaworarittidet Rd, near Hotel Sukasem). Western, Thai, and Chinese food. English menu. 50-150 baht. edit
- Suan Isan, Sumonthewarat Rd (turn left at the lane next to Rung Thip Sawoei). 11:00-23;00. Thai food 30-90 baht. edit
- Drugstore, 347/6 Sumonthewarat Rd. French wines at moderate prices. The best wine cellar in Nan. Many vintages from the late-1980s, early 1990s. edit
- Amazing Guest House, 25/7 Rat Amnuay Rd, ☎ +66 54 710893 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . 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 (regular) and 80-100 baht (mountain bike). Free Wi-Fi. 150-350 baht. edit
- Ampron Guest House, 42/4 Sumonthewarat Rd, ☎ +66 54 772291. 180 baht for fan, 280 baht for air-con. edit
- Nan Guest House, 57/15 Mahaphrom Rd (close to Wat Phumin, the museum and bus station), ☎ +66 54 771849, . Friendly, clean and quiet budget accommodation at a good location. A roof terrace to relax, and a breakfast/lunch cafe with homemade bread, smoothies and fresh coffee. There is tourist information about local sights and the staff is very helpful when asking about places to go. Free WiFi, free coffe and tea, free drinking water bicycles and motorbikes for rent, local handicrafts and art for sale, etc. 250-450 baht (depends on A/C or fan, shared or private bathroom). (18.777738,100.76954) edit
- P.K. Guest House, 33/12 Premprajarat Rd, ☎ +66 54 771999. fan 150-250 baht, air-con 350 baht. Bicycle, 30 baht/day; motorbike, 180 baht/day. edit
- Sabai Dee Guest House, Chao Fa Rd, Soi Aryawung 2 (close to the bus station), ☎ +66 83 8681982. 400-500 baht (depends on shared or private bathroom). edit
- Fahthanin Hotel, 303/5 Anantaworarittidet Rd, ☎ +66 54 757321-4. 450-600 baht. edit
- Grand Mansion Hotel, Mahayot Rd (heading north, just after the Wat Suan Tan), ☎ +66 54 750510. UBC cable TV 350-500 baht. edit
- Nan Fah Hotel, Sumon Dhevaraj Rd, Nai Wiang, ☎ +66 54 710284, . Cable TV. Bike rental, 50 baht; motorbike rental, 200 baht. 350-700 baht. edit
- Khum Muang Min Boutique Hotel, 1 Achitawong Rd, Nan City (Only 50 meters walk from Nan's Tourist Information Center and Wat Phumin), ☎ +6654774166 (fax: +66 54 774 166), . Breakfast included, free WiFi, free bicycle hire and free airport pick up. 990-1,690 baht. (18.773495,100.773036) edit
- City Park Hotel, 99 Yantrakitkosol Rd, Du Tai (on Hwy 101 to Phrae), (fax: +66 5477 3135), . 700-3,000 baht. edit
- Dhevaraj Hotel, 466 Sumon Dhevaraj Rd, ☎ +66 54 751577 (fax: +66 05 477 1365), . 800-4,000 baht. edit
- Pukha Nan Fa Hotel, 669 Sumon Dhevaraj Rd (city centre), ☎ +66 54 771111, . 3,000-5,200 baht. edit
- Sasidara Resort, 629 Moo 4, Chaisatan (on the way to Wat Pratat Khao Noi), ☎ +66 54 773936, +66 54 774483 (fax: +66 54 773894), . 900-2.500 baht. edit
- Internet cafés. Many in town for around 20 baht/hour. edit
- Nan Hospital, 1 Vorawichai Rd, Nai Wiang, Nan 55000 (near Nan Airport), ☎ +66 5471 0138, +66 5477 1620 (email@example.com, fax: +66 5471 0977), . 24/7 for emergencies. edit
- Nan Tourist Police Station, 20/1 Suriyapong Rd, Nai Wiang, Nan 55000 (near Wat Ming Mueang), ☎ +66 5471 0216, . edit
- Post Office, 70 Mahawong Rd, Nai Wiang, Nan 55000 (city centre), ☎ +66 5477 1658. M-F 08:30-16:30, Sa 09:00-12:00. edit
- Tourist Information Centre, Pha Kong Rd (opposite Wat Phumin). 08:00-17:00 daily. edit
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