Nan Travel Guide
Introduction to Nan
Located in a long-forgotten corner of northern Thailand, the cultural riches that Nan boasts comes as a surprise to the travellers who discover this place. For such a small place population-wise, you’ll be taken aback by the sheer quantity of temples you’ll find here.
Combine that with quaint villages you’ll find in the countryside, and you have the recipe for the perfect off-the-beaten-track getaway.
Cultural Attractions in Nan
There are plenty of temples to see within Nan, so start your day early by visiting Wat Phumin. A stunning specimen regarded by locals and experts to be the most beautiful temple in town, it is best known for its ubosot or inner sanctum where ordinations take place.
Graced by statues of nagas (snakes) and demons from Chinese mythology around its exterior, and with an interior featuring dazzling murals and a dozen teak pillars painted with elephant motifs, its design will impress any temple enthusiast.
Next, cross the river to check out Wat Phrathat Chae Haeng. Deemed the most important temple in town due to a relic of the Buddha (a strand of his hair) being present in one of its chedis, visiting this wat is a must for all culture hounds visiting Nan.
Its most distinctive feature is a gilded stupa standing 55 metres high; once on the grounds, also check out the Reclining Buddha, and various statues depicting rabbits. If you happen to be in Nan between late February to early March, check out this temple’s annual festival, as it is held during the full moon of the fourth lunar month of the year.
Once you have gotten all the pictures you can out of Wat Phrathat Chae Haeng, move along to Wat Ming Muang. A brilliant white temple topped with a red roof, it was built on the site of the old city pillar in 1857, it is known for the intricate carvings contained within. Depicting the life of the Buddha and the people of Nan province, this Buddhist hall of worship is an interesting and beautiful place to visit. Be sure to keep your eyes open for carvings depicting dinosaurs, as the artist responsible for some of the reliefs managed to slip the ancient reptile in when he was creating the masterpiece found here.
Round out your temple tour of Nan by exploring the temple grounds of Wat Phra That Khao Noi. Sitting just outside town atop a hill, its views of rice fields aren’t the only reason to head out this way – it also is home to a nine-metre tall Walking Buddha statue. Photographers take note: this wat faces east, making the late afternoon a good time to get panoramic pictures of the town and farmer’s fields from this site.
Other Attractions in Nan
Learn about the history of one of Thailand’s more remote provinces by spending an hour or so within the Nan National Museum. Built in 1903, this grand house was the palace where the last two rulers of Nan lived before it was converted into a provincial hall in 1931.
On its two floors, you’ll find numerous exhibits profiling everything from local history to the family tree of Thailand’s Royal Family. There is even an elephant tusk relic – fortunately, pictures are allowed, so snap away during your tour of this beautiful museum.
Check out the works of local creatives by visiting the Nan Art Gallery. Located 20 kilometres out of town on highway 101, this private riverside art collection is the work of artist Winai Prabripoo, a native of the Nan area.
After spending 25 years in Bangkok, he decided to give back to the community that had raised him by establishing a museum where local artists could showcase their sculptures, paintings, and mixed media. The outside of the building doesn’t disappoint either, as it is decorated with a well-maintained garden.
When exploring the countryside of Nan via motorbike, don’t forget to include the village of Nong Bua in your plans. While its top attraction is Wat Nong Bua, which features stunning murals and naga sculptures, this village also shows off the culture of the Tai Lue neatly. With a museum, traditional houses, and souvenir shops selling this area’s signature cloth, you won’t regret lumping this charming place into your plans.
End your time in Nan by taking a stroll down the Kuang Mueng Nan Walking Street. Held on weekend nights (Friday through Sunday), this market gives local artisans a chance to show off their wares to residents and tourists. Located well off the Banana Pancake Trail, foreign travellers looking to avoid tourists will be able to get a taste of the real Thailand here.