Nan, Thailand Nan
Nan is a sleepy little town in the extreme north of Thailand, close to its border with Laos. It is also a charming place with considerable natural beauty and a laidback way of life, and could be ideal if you are considering a few days off completely away from the big cities and their bustle. Situated about 700 km to the North of Bangkok, it has a population of more than 24,000 people, and is the administrative capital of the Nan province. It is sprawled along the right bank of the lazy Nan River, and covers an area of just 5.5 sq.km.
How to reach Nan
In order to reach Nan, you must fly to Bangkok first. Bangkok, being the capital city of Thailand, and about 12 hours’ flight time from London, is served by all the major international airlines of the world, ranging from full-service to economy. From Bangkok you can take another flight to Nan Airport, the flight time being somewhat more than an hour and a half, or you can fly to Chiang Mai first, and then onwards to Nan. There are two airlines that offer connecting flights between the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and Nan Airport, Happy Air and Solar Air; the SGA Airlines offers flights between Chiang Mai and Nan. Being just 320 km to the east of Chiang Mai, it is also an excellent idea to travel by train or by road; these will take you through lush green countryside, rocky terrain and wild rivers that sparkle in the sunshine. Several types of bus services are available, including air-conditioned coaches, and they take from 10 to 13 hours to cover the distance. One of the best options is to book your seat on Sombat Tours, which run overnight bus trips from the Mochit Bus Terminal, Bangkok; the bus departs at 8:15pm and runs virtually non-stop, reaching Nan next morning at 6am. There is no direct train to Nan, but you can travel from Chiang Mai up to Den Chai, and proceed by bus. This is also an overnight journey, lasting around 12 hours.
The history of Nan
Nan has a venerable history stretching back several centuries, and in fact till recently it was the capital city of an autonomous kingdom with little contact with the outside world. While archaeologists have conducted excavations that have brought to light numerous evidences of pre-historic settlements, the documented history of Nan begins only from the 14-th century onward, when several small “mueang”, or protectorates, united to form the larger kingdom of the Nanthanburi, on the Nan river. Nanthanburi soon aligned itself with the mighty Sukhotai Empire, took the title of Wara Nakhon and became fiercely independent and nationalistic. Nan flourished till the middle of the sixteenth century, when it was annexed by the Burmese – who deported many people as slave labor. After Western Thailand was wrested back from Burma in 1786, the former dynasty re-established its rule over Nan, and ruled as a semi-autonomous state till 1931, when it accepted full Thai dominion. Portions of the old city and some ancient Wats, or temples, still exhibit architecture dating back to the Lanna era, while others show the Thai Lue legacy, imported from China.
Staying at Nan
While Nan does not obviously have any five star lodging options, it does offer a few Spartan yet warmly hospitable choices. The Nan guest house is one of the oldest, offering rooms with attached baths, and bike rental facilities. There are also the modern Nakorn Nan Tower Hotel and the Dhevaraj Hotel, with a lot of modern amenities and dining facilities. A cheaper option is the Amazing Guest House, offering dormitory-style living arrangements at a surprisingly affordable rate.
Highlights of Nan
The people of Nan believe in an unhurried life, and you will find the streets empty most of the time.However, Nan offers a rich tapestry of ancient temples because of its varied history. Some of the most famous include the Wat Phumin, the Wat Phra That Chae Haeng, the Wat Phra That Chang Kham, the Wat Hua Khuang, the Wat Suan Tan etc. most of these temples feature highly distinct architectural style, and each is uniquely resplendent in its own glory. The Wat Chang Kham, for example, was constructed in 1458, and depicts an enormous Buddha, along with murals. It houses the largest Tripitaka library in Thailand, which unfortunately is mostly disused now. The Wat Suang Tan, built in 1456, sports an interesting combination of Khmer and Hindu architecture, in the form of a chedi shaped like a prang.
Apart from its numerous temples, Nan also boasts of a National Museum, housed in the original palace of its last two feudal lords. Originally constructed in 1903, it was donated to the government in 1931 as a town hall; the present museum was unveiled in 1973, and is one of the most up-to-date in Thailand. You can also visit the magnificent Teak House of the King, constructed in 1866 with splendid golden teak, and renovated in 1941. It is an excellent repository for antiques such as ancient weapons, ivory war elephants and portraits of King Rama V. There is also the house of Chao Fongkham, descendant of the 62nd Lord of Nan, built in classic Northern Thailand style out of teak wood. In fact parts of the house are so ancient that you can see planks cut with axe and knife, before the usage of saws became known.
Another great attraction of Nan is its tradition of boat racing on the Nan River, a practice going back almost six centuries. Long-boat racing is held on the occasion of the Buddhist Rains Retreat, and is great fun. The boats are fashioned out of tree trunks, and accommodate as many as 60 rowers, colorfully attired in bright team uniforms, seated on either side and cheered on by a throng of spectators.
Visit Nan for solitude and peace!
To conclude, if you are thinking of having a quiet holiday away from the big city, Nan is the perfect destination for you.