The new-age traveler knows Thailand as the country famous for its partying scene, the nightlife, the overcrowded cosmopolitan cities, spicy food and… Bangkok (thanks to an exaggerated portrayal in the movie ‘The Hangover 2’).
Are they wrong? Well, each coin has two sides to it. Ironically, our country’s tourism rose to fame at the climax of the last century thanks to the infinite backpack routes that were discovered. And while the tourism sector kicked off making profits from the bustling urban cities, so many of these backcountry routes were left out of the limelight.
Lying at the heart of one of such routes is Nan. Far away from the hustle-bustle of busy commercial tourist destinations, lies a sleepy city in the valley of the pristine Nan river. It is situated in a densely forested area, and it is not just the fauna that strives to woe the visitors here. It is also the historical importance of this place that makes it special.
So let’s get to know ‘the ancient town of Thailand’ a bit better!
Where is Nan actually located?
Bearing its name from the very river, the historic city is located in Northern Thailand bordering the country of Laos. Nan lies approximately 700 km off the capital of Thailand and is spread out in an area of about 4 km between the airport and the bus station at the north and south ends of the town respectively.
The place oozes with the colors and the sounds of nature, thanks to the majestic mountains of Doi Phu Kha National Park that surround the little town. Owing to how people have lived here for years, one can still see the locals living in old teak houses even today. All you have to do is get out of the main city, and you will be surrounded by ancient and rusty – yet, still functional wooden homes. Trust me, this is one of the experiences of the traditional Thai culture here that you have to see for yourself.
Want to know more? Let’s dig deeper!
Getting to Nan from – Chiang Mai or Bangkok
Nan was once considered to be an arguably remote destination to reach. Not anymore! While the town is now well-connected to other parts of the country via roads, Nan still misses out on its railway terminal. An airport though is present and functional, but it barely qualifies to be one as it has just one airstrip.
You have the option of reaching Nan via two parts of Thailand primarily – Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Here is how:
I. From Chiang Mai
- By Bus
If you are looking for the most direct way to reach Nan without any complications, this is it. Period. There are loads of options to take a bus from Chiang Mai. Green Bus is one of the most reliable options with around 4-5 buses plying on this route every day for the 6-hour journey.
- By Motorcycle
Nan is actually considered a haven for motorcyclists, as is most of the northern part of the country. There are several service providers in Chiang Mai which offer rental motorbikes. Be sure to bargain well as the cost can vary as per the demand and the season.
II. From Bangkok
- By Plane
Nan’s Nakhon Airport is located about 1.5 km from downtown and is probably one of the smallest airports that you will ever see – But still, functional! You can choose to take a direct flight of 1.5 hours from Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport if this is your preferred way to travel.
- By Train
The nearest railway station to the little city of Nan is about 2.5 hours away in Den Chai. You can opt for a train journey from Bangkok if a memorable railway experience is what you are looking for!
From Den Chai, regular buses ply to Nan which can make up for a picturesque journey owing to the winding roads through rich green forests.
- By Bus
Let’s admit it, Nan is no commercial or tourist hub. Hence you cannot expect world-class luxury bus services to this place from the capital of Thailand. That being said, there are a few decent options to choose from.
In Bangkok, you can head to the Mo Chit Bus Terminal or Ekkamai Bus Terminal where you can choose a bus according to your preference. I advise you to take an overnight bus to Nan, as buses on this route usually take 10-12 hours for the journey.
Things that you can do when you are in Nan
There are plenty of options despite being a small town, there is really no best thing or things that you should do.
1. Visiting Wat Phumin in Nan and be amazed by ‘Thai Lu’ murals
Nan certainly is like an abode for temples. Don’t just skip this point yet, even if you are not a religious traveler. The temples of Nan have so much more to offer. The architecture, the exquisite ancient Thai art, the culture, and the lifestyle of the monks are just a few things on the platter for you.
Of all, Wat Phumin is at the top of this list of places to see in Nan. The unique temple seems like it was built on the back of two gigantic snakes, which makes it an architectural marvel for its visitors. Be sure to check out the countless ‘Thai Lu’ murals which are responsible for the fame of the temple.
2. Visit Nan’s Seven National Parks
Yes, you read that right – Seven! As if the temples’ overload was not enough, Nan is home to seven national parks which is enough to put so many similar destinations in the world to shame.
Of these, the most famous one is Doi Phu Kha National Park which spans across Luang Prabang Range, the Nan Province itself, and parts of northern Thailand. Allowing you to explore the wildlife of Thailand, Doi Phu Kha introduces the beauty of infinite waterfalls across some of the most rewarding trails you will ever see.]
Pro Tip: These national parks allow you to stay overnight at designated campsites. You can avail of such campsite services for a fee of 300-2500 Baht. For more information, check the Thailand Tourism website.
There is no greater feeling than to be able to sleep under a blanket of stars in a cozy tent. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself!
3. Nan National Museum
Remember that I told you that Nan is not just a natural wonder, but a historic one as well? The Nan National Museum here captures this perfectly. Remarkably, the museum was once the palace of the last two lords of Nan from the years 1903 to 1931, after which the royal palace was donated to the government.
Immerse in the local history and culture of the city, thanks to numerous collections of silverware, textile, and clothes of ethnic Thai tribes. For a modest entry fee of 20 Thai Baht, this place makes up for a good day’s outing.
4. Wat Phra That Khao Noi – Blessing Buddha
On your visit to Nan, make sure that you visit the Blessing Buddha at Wat Phra That Khao Noi at sunrise or sunset. Why? Stunning 180-degree views of the settlement from the summit of the temple, where a marvelous 30 feet tall Golden Buddha looks down on Nan.
If you are up for the climb, the demanding 300-odd steps to the temple can make up for good exercise. Alternatively, a nice winding road leads to the temple which is an absolute delight to be on during the dusk/dawn!
5. Art Galleries & Cafes
A simple search on your smartphone for ‘Places to see in Thailand’ will fetch you results for elaborate sights full of tourists and touts, alike. But to really take in the culture of a place, you have to go out and explore. And once you do go out and explore Nan, you will see that art is predominant in this part of the country.
Spend your evenings in one of the many art cafes like Nan Art Cafe, or spend time looking at timeless masterpieces at the Riverside Art Gallery. Few other places in the world can offer such diversity to tourists.
6. Kuang Mueng Nan Walking Street
Every perfect vacation is incomplete without a night spent out in the local markets. This is exactly where Nan Walking Street shines bright. A busy street in the day filled with shops and stalls turns to an alluring market at night.
Handicraft shops selling local produce by the tribes of this region makes for a fulfilling shopping spree, doesn’t it? Located right in front of Wat Phumin, you can actually tick this one off the list the same day as you are visiting the beautiful temple in the middle of the town.
What do you think about Nan Thailand?
According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, around 97% of Nan’s tourists in the previous years have been local Thai. This means that Nan as a destination is largely bespoke for a foreign traveler who wants to explore a side of Thailand that not many know.
So, if you want to explore a city that is as historical as it is undeniably beautiful, this town is for you. If you want to cruise on winding hilly roads through the backcountry, this place is for you. If you are someone who constantly strives to take the lesser road traveled by, Nan welcomes you! ?