Although unhurried travel is hard to find in a big, touristy city, we spent four days and three nights in Nan to slowly indulge in its art, culture, natural surroundings, and simple, local lifestyle.
Nestled in the eastern valley of the northern part of Thailand, Nan is a small province where the Tai Lue (a Tai ethnic group) and Lanna people have lived for generations. In the midst of peace and cool fresh air, people live a simple life, just like the flow of the Nan River. Driving from south to north, we started out from the city, heading to Na Noi district, stopping by Pua, and ending the trip at the village salt ponds. As the local people suggest, just travel around Nan at a slow pace.
An Old City that Lives
We arrived at Nan at noon, less than ten minutes from the airport to our downtown accommodation. Here, winter days are shorter than nights. While driving to the city, we saw people coming out of their houses to greet each other with pleasure. Old houses and beautiful temples lie on both sides of the road, and just as the old Thai saying goes, the prosperity of the city can be measured by the number of temples. Despite its small area, various temples can be found around the city.
Dating back 600 years, Nan was founded during the Sukhothai Period. The city governors have continuously maintained Buddhism since then, and all the Thai Kings have been the chief patrons of Buddhism, especially King Bhumibol, who visited Nan more than 20 times to help citizens make a better and more sustainable living. The peaceful city that we see today is all due to the abundance of
royal grace and development.
Trading is the typical way of life in Nan which we witnessed in the afternoon. Local food can easily be found on the streets, such as Khao Soi (curried noodle soup with chicken), Rice Noodle in Nam Ngiao Soup (spicy pork curry), and Khao Kan Chin (rice mixed with minced pork and pork blood). A common scene in the shop houses are vendors greeting tourists in a friendly, native language. Later, we stopped by at the Erabica Coffee shop, located in a colonial-style house.
Just opposite the street, the hundred-year-old Rangsikasem western-style building is another place to learn about Nan’s past from its exhibition hall, which displays missionary artifacts and historical photos. Then, we headed out to see the outstanding Buddhist art at Wat Phumin, a 400-year-old Thai temple, featuring an architectural combination of Uposot and Viharn, which makes it a beautifully unique temple. Inside, the hall enshrines a Buddha statue placed in four directions. The temple is also famous for its
ancient mural painting “The Love Whisper”.
The central city area includes various tourist attractions to explore on foot, ranging from Wat Phra That Chang Kham, Nan National Museum, and The Leelawadee Tunnel.
From Friday to Sunday, 4pm – 9pm, a walking street is available where tourists can enjoy local and contemporary food in front of Wat Phumin, and shop for souvenirs, including Thai Lue handicrafts, local woven clothes, and local coffee.
Na Noi: Explore the South
Charm of Northern Nan, Pua District – Salt Pond The next morning, before we headed to Doi Samer Dao,
Na Noi district, we still had time to see the sunrise and the 360 view of Nan from Wat Phar That Koa Noi. The highlight was the important city landmark – Phra Buddha Maha Udom Monkhon Nanthaburi Si Muang Nan on a 9-meter-high lotus base. After that, we visited Wat Phra That Chae Haeng to pay respects to
the relic of the year of the rabbit, according to Chinese zodiac animal signs.
Just in time for sunset, we headed south, taking about 1½ hours before arriving at Si Nan National Park. That night, we stayed at Mon Kiang Dao, a camping lodge, where we lay down to look at the stars, as well as enjoying the white mist floating nearby in the early morning. Sometimes, we were very
surprised how we could stay passive all day.
Charm of Northern Nan, Pua District – Salt Pond
If you can’t imagine Pua, think of a picture of a rice field and coffee shop. We stopped for a hot drip coffee at Doi Skad, and then went for a walk before dipping our feet in the canal at Ban Sa Pun village.
We continued to Bo Kluea district through the renowned 1256 route, where mist and beautiful mountain scenery can be seen on both sides. It is the only rock salt source in the world, and has existed for over 800 years, and from where the villagers have inherited the ancient wisdom and methods of traditional salt-making. Local souvenirs include spa salt, skin scrub, footbath salt, and crystal salt soap.