Nan 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.
The city spreads out along around 4 km, between the airport at the North end of the town and the Bus station at the Southern one but its historical and commercial center is more compact. Its area follows roughly a North-South direction, along the right bank of the river Nan. The two main axes of the town, more or less parallel, are the Th Sumonthewarat (the easternmost one and the closest to the river) and the Th Mahayot. The city’s main monuments are located at the junction of the three parallel axes, the Th Pha Kong (West), the Th Mahayot (middle) and the Th Sumonthewarat (East) and the Th Suriyapong which is perpendicular to them. As to the main shops, they can be found along the Th Sumonthewarat and its perpendicular, the Th Anantaworattidet.
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 racing and the northernmost, the Nakorn Nan Pattana bridge, seriously damaged during the August 2006 floods but fixed since the beginning of July 2007.
ATTRACTIONS IN NAN
The Nan National Museum
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 30B; 9AM-4PM Mon-Sat) was inaugurated in 1973 after the new provincial hall building had been erected. Thanks to relatively recent renovations, it is one of Thailand’s most up-to-date provincial museums, contrary to 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 round 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, archeology, local architecture, royal regalia, weapons, ceramics and religious art are shown on the second floor, divided into two sections. The first is the main hal whic used ro 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 (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 archeology are sold in a building adjacent to the museum.
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 out of the original 3 600 m – can be seen at the junction of the Th Mahawong and the Th Rob Muang, at the South-West end of the town.
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 22.5m 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.
King of Nan’s Teak House
Built in 1866 with 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 visiting (Tel. 0 5471 0605).
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 built temple as if it were on the backs of two immense snakes (or Naga).
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; Th Suan Tan) 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 4,10 meters and could have been ordered by the Chiangmai sovereign Tilokaraj following its conquest of Nan in 1449.
Wat Min Muang
This temple is located close to the Wat Phumin on the same side of the Th Suriyaphong, 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 meters 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.
Nan Art Gallery
Nan Art Gallery is located on Nan River, about 20 km out of the town on the road headed to Tha Wang Pha (Road No. 1080). It has many exhibition hall with temporary exhibition and souvenir shop. It can be accessed by local sawngthaew (one that goes to Tha Wang Pha). But the most comfortable way is to drive there yourself.
The House of Chao Fongkham
This is a large, rambling teak house in classic Northern Thai style set in a beautiful garden. Chao Fongkham was a descendant of Chao Anantaworarithidej, the 62nd Lord of Nan and the father of the last two Lords. The oldest parts of the house show planks formed by axe and knife, before large saws were available in Nan. At the time it was built, about 150 years ago, such large teak houses were reserved for the nobility. It is probably the best preserved such noble house in the whole province. Originally erected in the area of Nan now occupied by the military camp, it was moved to its current site, on a quiet soi behind Wat Pragert, by Chao Fongkham’s parents, about 100 years ago. It is now occupied by Chao Fongkham’s children.
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.
The city of Nan’s most famous wat is renowned for its cruciform ubosoth (or bot) which was constructed in 1596 and restored during the reign of Chao Ananta Vora Ritthi Det (1867-1875). It is the only temple which was built as if it were on the back of two immense snakes (or Nagas). Each of the four entrances is preceded by a small corridor topped by a finely decorated point shaped structure (underlining the royal origin of the temple) and is equipped with smoothly carved doors; with Chinese demon guards in the East, flowers in the North and forest life motives in the Lanna style in the West and South. The wat’s interior is impressive. It is also a good example of Thai Lue architecture. Well preserved murals of great value illustrating the Khattana Kumara Jataka on the Northern wall and the Nimi Jatakas on the Western wall as well as scenes of the local life of the time when they were painted by Thai Lue artists during the restoration of the temple at the end of the 19th century. Europeans can even be noticed: a reference to the arrival of the French to whom the East of the Nan valley area was yielded in 1893.
Wat Phaya Phu
Located in the Th. Phaya Phu, west from 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.
For centuries, long-boat racing have been held annually in provinces with a major waterway running through. Long-boat racing is one of the traditional rites which commemorate 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. In that time, boat racing however was only a way to keep boat means 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 color) in a double row. The festival event attracts several hundreds of spectators. Trophies and prizes are given to the winning teams at the end. The race on the Nan river are colorful and unequaled because the racing boats are brightly adorned with imaginatively designed prows. The cheering squads on the river bank are usually thunderous and joyful.
Nan is connected by plane and by bus to the rest of the country.
SGA Airlines connects Nan to Chiang Mai daily.
Solar Air connects Nan to Don Muang airport in Bangkok 5 flight per week.
Happy Air connects Nan to Bangkok Suvarnaphumi airport in Bangkok 5 flight per week.
Nok Air connects Nan to Don Muang airport in Bangkok 7 flight per week.
The airport is located at the northern end of the town, on the Pua road, about 1.5 km from downtown.
If you want to take train, train station that serve for Nan is Den Chai in Phrae Province. From the train station, take a sawngtaew parked in front of the station to Phrae bus station for about half an hour. And 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 Khaw Saw) is located at the southern edge of the town, at the end of a road perpendicular (turning left when arriving from Bangkok) to the Wiangsa/Phrae/Bangkok road.
From Bangkok: Buses to/from Bangkok takes from 10 to 13 hours, according to the type of bus.
From Chiang Mai: 6 – 7 hours
From Chiang Rai: 5 – 6 hors @ 9:30 from the Old Bus Station in Chiang Rai – 164 Bhat – As to October 2010.
From Phrae: 2 hours
From Phitsanulok: 5 hours @ 11:00 and 16:30
The local means of transport include sawngthaews, motorbike-taxis and trishaws.