Regarded by some visitors as one of the most naturally beautiful provinces in Thailand, Nan has been spared the influx of mass tourism and commercialisation that has affected some regions of Thailand. In recent years an increasing number of Thai tourists have discovered Nan and savvy international travellers have also become aware of Nan’s quiet appeal. Beautiful temples, rugged mountain scenery and traditional Lanna culture combine to make Nan a rewarding region to visit.
Where to stay
There are some excellent accommodation options in the centre of Nan covering a range of budgets. If you intend to visit the city during the Nan Boat Races, make sure you book a room well in advance.
In the northern Thai language, Huen (also written as Huan) translates as house/home and the word features in the name of a number of restaurants and hotels throughout northern Thailand.
What to see
The star attraction in Nan city is Wat Phumin with its exquisite murals including the famous ‘Whispering’ painting which has become a symbol of Nan and can be found on a host of souvenir post-cards, key rings and t-shirts. Look out too for another symbol of Nan, a serpent-like creature known as the ‘naga’ which can be seen at various locations around Nan. A short walk away from Wat Phumin is the Nan National Museum, a lovely old building and former palace which was once home to the rulers of Nan. The museum has displays in Thai and English explaining the various local festivals and events including the Nan Boat Races. A few kilometres away from the city centre provides visitors with one of the iconic views of Nan with the standing Buddha image at Wat Phra That Khao Noi looking down on the valley below and mountains beyond.
What to do
The city of Nan is a great place to explore independently, but to get your bearings first you could take advantage of a tram tour (30 Baht). This takes in the main temples and museums although it doesn’t give you much time at each, so once the tram tour is over just go back to the locations that appealed to you and explore them at your leisure. The tram departs from the tourist information office opposite Wat Phumin at 10.30 and 15.30 each day. A number of Nan’s main attractions are close together and can be reached easily on foot and if you visit the main tourist office opposite Wat Phumin you will see large maps with suggested walking routes. Nan also has dedicated bicycle lanes so hiring a bike is a good option to discover what the city has to offer.
If you stay overnight in Nan city make sure you get up early to visit the lively morning market and observe the monks on their early morning alms collection round. Just across the road from the site of the morning market is the location for Nan’s evening market which is also worthy of a visit for another slice of local life. Another smaller market sets up each evening on Phakong Road between Wat Phumin and the tourist information centre.
Nan is renowned for its traditional longboat races which take place on the Nan River in September/October as part of the celebrations for the end of Buddhist Lent. If you are the adventurous type, Nan province is gaining an excellent reputation for white-water rafting with a number of companies organising trips on the Wa River (e.g. Nan Adventure Tour)
Eat and drink
The morning market is excellent for fresh fruit and local snacks and there are also stalls selling breakfast favourites such as pa thong koh. The road where the morning and evening markets are located (Khaluang Road) has a number of cheap places to eat, but for food with a view try one of the riverside restaurants like Huen Chao Nang. The guest house Huen Gum Gin doubles as a restaurant and serves some very tasty northern Thai food (open 11.00-15.00 and 17.00-22.00). Huen Hom is another popular lunchtime spot for locals.
Nok Air and Air Asia currently run flights between Bangkok Don Muang airport and Nan. The airport at Nan is located a 10-minute drive away from the centre of town.
Buses from Bangkok to Nan depart from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit). The bus station at Nan is situated in the western part of the city just off Chao Fa Road. Journey time from Bangkok is approximately 13 hours. From Chiang Mai to Nan it’s 6 hours with the pick of the buses operated by the Green Bus Company. The Nan to Chiang Mai route normally also includes stops at Phrae (journey time 2 hours) and Lampang (4 hours).
There is no direct train service to Nan. The nearest railway station is Den Chai from where shared songthaews travel the 20km route to Phrae. Passengers then need to make the 2-hour onward bus journey from Phrae to Nan.