Must-see Nan turns into a Lao gateway

August 5, 2015 by  
Filed under THAINESS

BANGKOK, 5 August 2015: NAN province, must-see destination identified in the 2015 Discover Thainess campaign, was not always in the travel head lamps.

It was more likely to be missed by visitors exploring northern Thailand. But that changed as low-cost airlines added services from Bangkok and an alternative route from Nan to Luang Prabang, the former royal capital of Laos that stands on the banks of the Mekong River, caught the attention of tour companies.

Nan’s charm has always been its remoteness in a valley, 670 km north of the Thai capital, nestling under the shadow of forested mountains and flanked by 2,000-metre high ridge that marks the border with Laos to the west.

So when copywriters called it one of Thailand’s hidden gems they were not exaggerating.

2The province is predominantly a refuge for travellers who wish to explore the natural beauty of northern Thailand and its rich cultural heritage in peace and tranquility.

Historians tell us that over the centuries, Nan alternated between being an independent principality under the control of Lan Na, Sukhothai, Burma and Siam in that order.

By the late 18th century Nan forged an alliance with the new Bangkok centered Rattanakosin Kingdom and existed as a semi-autonomous kingdom with a line of monarchs that ruled from 1786 until 1931. Today, Nan is also the home of numerous Thai Lue and other hill tribes who retain many of their fascinating customs and traditions.

Nan’s history was forged out of links with Luang Prabang. Its future more so as the overland distance of just 370 km makes Nan an interesting gateway to explore Luang Prabang and neighbouring Laos.

Ecotourism activities such as trekking and mountain bike excursions top the tour list in Nan, which has six national parks, including Doi Phukha National Park, extending to mountain peaks nearly 2,000 metres high.

Motor bike tours are also attracted to Nan due to its quiet winding roads through forested mountains, slopes often covered in orchards and valleys blanketed with emerald green paddy fields.

The roads are in good condition and traffic is light, making it ideal for a leisurely tour, either based from Nan town, or as part of a larger North Thailand motorbike trip taking in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai provinces.

Nan is a relatively small town of no more than 2300 residents who live in a maze of lanes that extends from the old district that nestles on the banks of Nan River.

2.2At the heart of the city, stand Wat Phumin, the national museum and other tourist attractions many of them restored including Parts of the old city wall dating back to the Lan Na period

They are very distinctive with structures reflecting Lan Na influence or in some instances a Thai Lue legacy brought from Xishuangbanna in China, where Thai Lue people originated.

TripAdvisor identifies Nan’s most popular attractions based on traveller comments and recommendations.

One of the top attractions is the National Museum that was once a palace of the last two feudal lords of Nan.

Built in 1903, the last lord’s heirs donated the palace to the government in 1931 to be used as the provincial hall.

Its role as a national museum began in 1973 after renovations. It is now one of Thailand’s most up-to-date provincial museums with even English labels for many exhibits on display.

Other sights

King of Nan’s Teak House

Built in 1866 with golden teak and reconstructed in 1941, this large house on Mahaprom Road, opposite the rear entrance of Wat Phra That Chang Kham) is now the residence of Chao Sompradhana Na Nan. It exhibits heritage antiques such as ancient weapons, war elephant ivory and photographs by King Rama V.

2.3House of Chao Fongkham

This is a large, rambling teak house in classic northern Thai style set in a beautiful garden. Chao Fongkham was a descendant of Chao Anantaworarithidej, the 62nd Lord of Nan and the father of the last two lords.

Dating back 150 years, it is probably the best preserved former noble house in the province.

Originally erected in the area of Nan now occupied by the military camp, it was moved to its current site, on a quiet soi behind Wat Pragert by Chao Fongkham’s parents, about 100 years ago. It is now the residence of Chao Fongkham’s children.

The Old Wall

Constructed in 1885 by Chao Anantavorarittidet, Nan’s ruler, the wall replaced an old log wall destroyed by floods in 1817. A restored 400-metre section of the original 3,600-metre wall can be seen at the junction of Mahawong and Rob Muang Roads, at the southwest end of town.

Wat Phumin

This is the town’s most famous wat renowned for its cruciform ubosoth, which was constructed in 1596 and restored during the reign of Chao Ananta Vora Ritthi Det (1867 to 1875).

The wat’s interior is impressive example of Thai Lue architecture with well preserved murals painted by Thai Lue artists during the restoration of the temple at the end of the 19th century.

Wat Phra That Chae Haeng

Located 2 km past the bridge that spans the Nan River, heading southeast out of town, this temple dates from 1355 and was built during the reign of Pray Kan Muang. It is the most sacred wat in Nan Province. It is set in a square, walled enclosure on top of a hill with a view of Nan and the valley.

2.4Wat Phra That Chang Kham

Located on Pha Kong Road, this temple is the second-most important religious site in the city.

After soaking up Nan’s charm, visitors can extend their trip to Laos. This link gives Nam an attractive future as a gateway to Mekong Region travel.

Laos connection

At the end of highway 101 beyond Nan town, the border at Huai Kon on the Thai side and Muang Ngeun on the Laos side is open to independent travellers heading for Luang Prabang.

Once across the border they can connect with a mini bus services to Pak Beng where they can join the downstream river boat service to Luang Prabang on the following morning.

The alterative is a 370 km trip (ex Nan) north on highway 101 to the border and then via the small town of Hongsa (highway 4A) and on to Luang Prabang The road in Laos are in bad shape.

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