Nan National Museum
- Last Updated on 18 December 2012
- By Koustabh 'AKASH' Dolui
Why should you visit Nan?
If you are an intrepid globetrotter who loves to travel off the beaten track, then Nan is for you. Nan is a sleepy little town in the remote Northern part of Thailand, near its border with Laos. But it also offers a stunning vista of natural beauty, together with a laidback, gentle lifestyle that you will find quite irresistible. If you are planning to carry just a few essentials into your backpack and spend a few days far from the maddening crowds, then look no further than Nan.
To reach Nan, you can fly down to the Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand, and then take a connecting flight to Nan Airport lasting about an hour and a half. But probably a more fruitful option is to reach Chiang Mai, the cultural center of Northern Thailand, and then take an overnight bus or a private car trip – the road goes along magnificently forested mountain territory, interspersed with brightly feathered birds of paradise and rushing brooks that tinkle in the sunlight.
Once you reach Nan, there are several staying options, ranging from the luxurious, to the quaint boutique hotels, to the more economical guesthouses that also rent out bikes and cycles, the popular transport of the town. There are several tourist attractions in Nan, chief among which is the imposing Nan National Museum. Offering exhibits ranging from the historical, to the archaeological, to the ethnological, it is quite an imposing affair that you certainly should not miss.
Nan National Museum
Located on the Pha Kong road, the museum was built in 1903 by Phra Chao Suriyapnong Phalidet, the penultimate lord of Nan, when he wanted to renovate his wooden residence. His successor, the Chao Maha Brahma Surathada, spent his lifetime in this building, and after his death his heirs donated it to the Thai government in 1931, with a request that it be used as a town hall for the province of Nan. In 1973, the government constructed a new town hall building and inaugurated the present museum. There is a regular schedule of renovation work, making this one of the most updated of all the museums in Thailand – you will even find many English labels for the displayed items, which is otherwise uncommon in Thailand.
Exhibits in the Museum
The museum has two floors, with the ground floor being devoted to the province’s ethnic groups, and the first floor displaying exhibits on Nan history and architecture. The ethnic groups represented are the northern Thais, Thai Lue, Htin, Khamu, Mabri, Hmong and Mien. In addition, you will also find fine specimens of textiles, utensils and tribal costumes, as well as silverwork of historical significance. In the second floor, you will find exhibits that deal with Nan history, such as royal regalia, ceramics, weapons that were used in battles as well as temple art and architectural styles. In fact this floor is divided into two sections, with the predominant one being the main hall used by the lords of Nan as their royal court. In addition there are several smaller rooms in the north and south wings, displaying a rare collection of Buddha statues in the Lana style and local floppy-eared style. The wooden statues, displaying the Luang Prabana influence, are depicted with their hands pointed towards the ground and in the side of the body, which is the “calling for rain” posture.
The pride of place, however, is held by a magnificent 97 cm long and 47 cm diameter elephant tusk, which was originally supposed to have been offered 300 years ago to a Nan king, in obeisance to him, by the Khun lord of Chiang Tung (Kengtung). The tusk is blackish or reddish brown, and sits atop a wooden Garuda structure. If you are further interested in delving into Thai history and archaeology, you can buy books in an adjacent building.