Nan is a mostly rural province in North Thailand. The province bordering Laos is a remote place of valleys and forested mountains, a tranquil place little visited by foreign tourists.
Because Nan has long been isolated due to its remote location, the province has developed its own distinct culture. During the last two centuries a large number of people from Yunnan province in Southern China settled in Nan province. These people, the Thai Lü brought with them their own culture and architecture, visible in the Thai Lü temples across Nan.
The provincial capital is Nan town, a small town in the center of the province. The town on the banks of the Nan river still has parts of its old city walls as well as a large number of ancient temples.
In the 13th century a small independent Kingdom was formed in Nan which was associated with the Sukhothai Kingdom. The small Kingdom was fairly isolated and did not have many connections with other regional powers because of its remote location.
During the late 14th century Nan came under the influence of the Lanna Kingdom. After the decline of Lanna the area came under control of the Burmese. Nan regained its independence until 1931 when it was incorporated into Siam (present day Thailand).
To do & see in Nan
Nan province hosts many interesting attractions, including ancient Buddhist temples, old teak mansions and museums.
Nan houses a great number of old temples in various architectural styles including Thai Lü and Lanna. Some of the best known are Wat Ton Laeng, Wat Phra That Chang Kham, Wat Hua Khuang, Wat Phra That Chae Haeng and Wat Phumin.
The Wat Phaya Wat’s most interesting structure is a 17th century Mon style chedi. Standing on a square base its five tiers of receding size contain niches on all of its four sides in which are enshrined standing images of the Buddha. The chedi is similar to the Suwanna chedi of the Wat Phra That Hariphunchai in Lamphun and the Mahabol chedi of the Wat Ku Kut in Lamphun, which was built centuries earlier around the year 1150.
Wat Phra That Khao Noi on top of a hill near Nan town is known for the great views of the town of Nan, the valley and the mountains in the background. A large Sukhothai style walking Buddha image standing on a circular pedestal overlooks the valley. Other structures on the grounds include an ordination hall and a large white chedi. The temple is found a few kilometers South West of Nan town off road 1025.
The Wat Suan Tan comprises of a 14th century Sukhothai style chedi and a large viharn with a multi tiered roof that enshrines a large bronze Buddha image cast in the 15th century.
Old teak houses
Nan province has some of the most extensive teak forests in Thailand and was one of the centers of the teak logging business during the late 19th, early 20th century. A number of impressive teak houses was built, among them the Nan Noble House and the King of Nan’s House.
Nan Noble House, or the House of Chao Fongkham, is a large teak wood house built over 150 years ago by one of Nan’s rulers. The name Noble House stems from the fact that in those days large teak houses were reserved for nobility. The large, well preserved teak mansion with its original antique furniture and artifacts has been turned into a museum. One of the rooms is used as an exhibition room for weaving, spinning and dyeing. Nan Noble House is located on Sumon Thewarat road near the center of town. Admission is free; Donations for the upkeep of the house are appreciated. The museum opens daily from 10 am until 5 pm.
The King of Nan’s House was built in 1866 as the residence of one of Nan’s last rulers. Its interior is filled with valuable antiques and artifacts. The house is found on Mahaprom road near the Nan National Museum.
Nan National Museum
Nan National Museum is housed in the Khum Muang Nan, a large two storey mansion built in 1903 by the last ruler of Nan as his Palace. The informative museum with well laid out displays exhibits items relating to the history of Nan province and the various peoples that live there. Most items have labels in English language.
The first floor is dedicated to the various ethnic groups like the Thai Lü and several hill tribes that live in Nan province like the Hmong, Khmu and the Mien. Exhibited items include costumes and silver works, as well as information about their culture, beliefs, traditions and festivals.
The second floor is dedicated to the history of Nan. Exhibited are items from prehistoric times, ancient weapons, pottery, ceramic items and a collection of Buddha images in various styles. The museum is located on Pha Kong road opposite the Wat Phra That Cham Kham temple. Entrance fee is 100 Baht. Opening hours are Wednesday thru Sunday from 9 am until 4 pm, closed on Thai National Holidays.
Every year around October longboat races are held on the Nan river. Several teams in colorful decorated boats compete, each boat holding dozens of men in two rows wearing the same colors. A tradition for centuries, the races are held to observe the end of the rains retreat, the three months during the rainy season that Buddhist monks remain in the temple.
Getting to Nan
Nan airport is located a few kilometers North of the old town. Nok Air serves Nan several times daily from Bangkok international airport. Flights take 1 hour and 35 minutes, fares start at around 850 Baht one way.
Nan does not have a railway station. The nearest station is Den Chai in Phrae province, on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai Northern route. The ride from Chiang Mai to Den Chai takes 4 to 5 hours. Fares for 1st, 2nd and 3rd class are 194, 98 and 43 Baht respectively. A bus from Den Chai to Nan, a trip of 150 kilometers takes some 2½ hours at a fare of about 150 Baht.
Nan is well connected by bus. The bus station is in the Southern part of town just South of Highway 1091. Several companies offer bus services from Bangkok to Nan. Busses leave from Bangkok’s Northern bus terminal Mo Chit. The trip takes between 10 to 12 hours. Fares vary between 400 and 800 Baht depending on the type of service. Busses from Chiang Mai to Nan leave from the Arcade bus station in Chiang Mai. The trip takes around 6 hours. Fares are between 200 to 450 Baht for 2nd class to VIP.