Nan, in northern Thailand, is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. Its lush green mountains and serene atmosphere offer a refreshing escape from city life’s busy and lively scene. The region’s unique character and “laid-back” philosophy make it a must-visit for those seeking an authentic Thai experience.
Besides, the north is renowned for its beautiful nature and cool climate, which offer a great chance to discover and breathe in the forest’s fresh aroma. That said, what should you know about Nan?
Nan is a province in Northern Thailand that offers a window into the Province’s rich cultural history. With its distinctive blend of Burmese & Lanna-style temples, the Thai Lue’s unique traditions that originated from China, and other beautiful remnants of its ancient past, Nan is a living museum waiting to be explored.
The Province is also home to many undiscovered natural wonders, from pristine waterfalls to lush forests, that will leave you in awe.
But Nan’s charm doesn’t just lie in its culture and history – the Province is a nature lover’s paradise, offering countless opportunities for both indoor and outdoor activities. And if you’re craving a more immersive experience, homestays in local villages allow you to learn about the practical life and customs of the Thai Lue citizens. So, read on as this guide travels through some of the exciting and best things to know about the area.
With a unique and rich history that dates back to the 14th century, Nan was once an independent kingdom with solid ties to Laos and was founded by a group of small city-states that joined along the Nan River. Over time, the Province was influenced by the cultures of its neighbors, such as Laos, Burma, and China, but it also developed its own distinctive art and architecture.
The Burmese rule left Nan abandoned for many years, but it gained sovereignty and became a semi-autonomous kingdom to Siam (Thailand) in the 18th century. However, it was not until 1931 that Nan was fully incorporated into Thailand, improving its rich culture and diverse traditions and reviving its economy.
The Province and its history are somewhat a metaphor for what is currently happening in Nan, as it becomes increasingly popular among travelers looking to go beyond Chiang Mai and explore the deeper north of Thailand. Being one of the furthest provinces in Thailand, Nan was also one of the final sections to be fully and officially merged with Siam.
In the 1980s, a highway was completed that linked the provincial capital to the rest of Thailand, which enabled the town to have commerce and tourism. It has good access and a lot of tourist attractions, such as nice national parks, a superb town museum, and historic buildings. However, most of the tourism these days is from the domestic market.
But Nan is still definitely worth adding to any North Thailand travel plan. Foreign travelers have access to a land crossing to Laos in the far north of the Province, and the airport offers daily flights to Bangkok and good roads linked to Phrae in the south and Phayao and Chiang Rai in the west.
The ancient city of Nan had sturdy Burmese, Lanna, Tai Lue, and Shan influences. It is in the broad valley of the Nan River with inhabited mountains by hill tribes of Hmong and Yao to the east and west. Khamu, H’tin, and Mlabri (also known as Phi Tong Luang) cultures are usually only located in this northern section of Thailand.
Pua, an ancient town, is north of the provincial capital, with the amazing Doi Phuka National Park nearby. The rare village of Bo Kluea near the Lao border is beyond and makes exploring the Province a worthwhile and fascinating trip.
You can learn more about the Province’s past and culture at the Nan National Museum, where you can see exhibits of royal regalia, weapons, religious artifacts, and ethnic costumes. You can also admire nearby temples’ stunning architecture and art, such as Wat Phumin, famous for its murals depicting scenes of local life and legends.
While hiking outside of the well-maintained national park areas has been strictly shortened, and many hill tribe communities have been moved to lowland areas, visitors can still explore the old town’s markets, great wats, and coffee shops by bicycle and explore the national parks and beautiful hills by renting a motorbike.
Travel to Nan to see how it is blessed with a stunning natural environment with plenty of outdoor activities and adventure opportunities. This northern Province in Thailand is diverse and beautiful flora and fauna.
It has forests with teak and bamboo, wetlands with lotuses and water lilies, and grasslands with shrubs. It has many mammals, including elephants and tigers; fish, such as giant barbs and stingrays; and reptiles, such as flying snakes (golden tree snake) and crocodiles. Many national parks, such as Doi Phu Kha, Khun Nan, and Si Nan, protect their natural resources and biodiversity.
The town itself is pretty easy to navigate, and most places are within a comfortable stroll of each, including hotels and other accommodations, while also enjoying the city market between Sumon Thewarat Street and the river.
But mostly, head out of town to explore the surrounding areas and stop by the tourist information center on Phakong Road for pamphlets and maps provided in English.
And by combining the two, you should be able to devise several well-planned routes both in and around town. As exciting as that already is, let’s delve even deeper into some of Nan’s top attractions, food and drink offerings, and tips for making the of out of your visit.
If you are looking for natural attractions, grand historical encounters, and cultural experiences, then Nan Province is a must-visit destination in Thailand. Explore the old temples, admire the beautiful murals, and enjoy the exciting activities. Here are just a few of the abundant highlights you need to see:
In the untouched expanse of Nan Province, nestled within the verdant wilderness of Sri Nan National Park, lies a sanctuary for all wayfarers and wanderers: Doi Samer Dao. It presents a spectacle of nature’s grandeur that leaves one entranced, be they drawn to the wilds or the calm of nature’s solace. It’s a tableau of earth and sky, particularly at dawn or dusk, where the heavens are brushed with a palette of fiery red and molten gold, whilst a sea of mist dances over the treetops, conjuring a scene of such ethereal beauty that it borders on the fantastical.
By daylight, Doi Samer Dao unveils its lush, labyrinthine nature trails, meandering through a forest laden with whispering pines, where one can cross paths with the manifold wildlife that call this haven home. For those souls with an undying ember of adventure, the mountain peak calls. It demands an ascent of determination and sweat, yet rewards the victors with a spectacle that dwarfs all toil and strife. And when the sun surrenders to the night, Doi Samer Dao reveals its final gift. The celestial canvas, unperturbed by the garish glare of civilization, unveils the Milky Way in all its stellar splendor. On a moonless night, one can witness the celestial river adorning the firmament, a sight that humbles and inspires.
The guardians of the national park, in their grand generosity, offer the humble abode of tents and the comfort of sleeping bags to their esteemed guests. For a mere sum of 350 THB, travelers can secure for themselves a shelter beneath the whispering pines. Moreover, sustenance need not be a concern for the park is home to several improvised eateries, cooking up wholesome meals to satiate the appetite stirred by mountain air.
In these quaint establishments, one can dine and breakfast for an amount as modest as 50 to 60 THB. Thus, the park ensures that not only are your adventurous spirits catered to, but your creature comforts are not forsaken. You shall find here, amid the wilds, the familiar warmth of a meal shared and a night spent under the watchful gaze of the starlit sky.
This charming Old Town preserves the rich history and culture of the Thai Lue people, who migrated from southern China centuries ago. Nan’s Old Town offers many attractions for tourists and locals alike, such as temples, museums, art galleries, cafes, and markets. You can also enjoy the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains and forests, which are home to several Nan national parks.
One of the highlights of Nan’s Old Town is Wat Phumin, located in the heart of the town. Wat Phumin is an iconic temple boasting some of Thailand’s most beautiful and well-preserved murals.
The temple’s murals depict scenes of the everyday life of the Thai Lue people in Nan, including a famous painting of a man flirting with a local woman, which is believed to be a portrait of one of the artists. The temple’s impressive architecture and cultural significance make it a must-visit attraction.
Wat Phra That Chae Haeng is another stunning temple and attraction in the heart of Nan’s old town. The temple has a golden chedi that houses a sacred relic of the Buddha. It also has a beautiful view of the Nan River and the surrounding mountains. Wat Phra That Chae Haeng is a great place to experience the spirituality and beauty of Thailand. You will be amazed by its architecture, art, and atmosphere.
Finally, complete your day with a stroll along Kuang Mueng Nan Walking Street, a vibrant night market located in front of Wat Phumin. The market offers a variety of local and traditional food stalls, selling an array of local specialties to try, and shops selling local crafts and souvenirs. It’s a great place to submerge yourself in local culture and enjoy a spot of people-watching.
This gallery was founded by Khun Winai Prabripoo, a famous Nan native artist who wanted to share his passion for art with the people and youth of Nan province. Nan Riverside Art Gallery is a place where you can appreciate the beauty of art and culture in a peaceful and scenic setting.
The gallery displays paintings by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and other artists, as well as mural paintings from Nan temples. You can also admire sculptures, music, and photos in the outdoor area. The gallery is located about 20 minutes drive north of Nan’s Old town, along the Nan river. It is open every day except Wednesday, from 9 am to 5 pm.
Also known as the Elephant Temple, Wat Phrathat Chang Kham Worawihan is one of the oldest temples in Nan. The temple features a stunning gold pagoda built on top of 24 elephant statues, and its ordination hall showcases the Lanna-Thai Lue hybrid architectural style. The temple also houses the most extensive Buddhist scripture library in Thailand.
Another attraction of this temple is the standing Buddha image which is believed to be over 600 years old. The image is made of bronze and has a height of 3.65 meters (11.9 ft). It is meticulously one of the most beautiful and graceful Buddha images in Nan province.
The image is located in a narrow building next to the ordination hall, displaying ancient paintings and artifacts. Visitors can admire the serene expression and elegant posture of the Buddha, as well as the intricate details of its robe and crown.
Additionally, Wat Phra That Chae Haeng, only a 7-minute drive away, is another stunning temple you must visit in the Province. The temple has a golden chedi that houses a sacred relic of the Buddha. It also has a beautiful view of the Nan River and the surrounding mountains. Wat Phra That Chae Haeng is a great place to experience spirituality and beauty, and you’ll definitely be amazed by its architecture, art, and atmosphere.
This museum is located in the former palace of Nan’s last two feudal lords, showcasing this ancient kingdom’s rich heritage and art. You will be amazed by the exquisite collection of Buddha images, ceramics, textiles, weapons, musical instruments, and royal regalia that reflect the glory and diversity of Nan.
You will also learn about the fascinating history and culture of the people who lived in this region from prehistoric times to the present day. The museum is a treasure trove of information and beauty that will enrich your understanding and appreciation of Nan.
If you have more time to explore the area, then Bo Kluea District is worth the visit. The district is known for its scenic view of Doi Phu Kha Mountain and ancient salt wells, a popular spot for adventure activities such as hiking and camping. But there is much more that this district can offer.
One of the highlights of Bo Kluea District is Doi Phu Kha National Park, which is the largest national park in Northern Thailand. The park is famous for its viewpoints along the main road, cool weather, campsites at higher elevations, many trails, and some impressive caves. The park is also home to rare plants and animals, such as the chomphu phu kha tree with pink flowers, the beautiful nuthatch bird, and the Laotian bearded snake.
Speaking of ancient salt wells, you may want to visit the Bo Kluea Rock Salt Well, which is a geologically rare attraction that has been mined for centuries. The saltwater is hauled out of wells and then boiled in large vats to produce the salt, and you can see the traditional salt-making process and buy salt products from the local stalls, such as foot spas, face scrubs, and soaps. You can also enjoy the natural surroundings of the village and the river that flows through it.
Finally, the Sapan Village and its iconic waterfall (also in the Bo Kluea District) are famous for their woven textiles made by local women using natural dyes and traditional techniques. Making a stop here is well worth the trip, where you can see the weaving process, buy some beautiful fabrics, and learn about the culture and history of the village.
Another nearby destination worth exploring is Pua District, famous for its orchards, coffee plantations, and handicrafts. The district offers a unique opportunity to experience the local way of life and submerge yourself in the Province’s rich culture.
Pua District is not only a scenic destination but also a cultural one. You can admire the beautiful Lanna-style temples, such as Wat Phuket and Wat Rong Ngae, and learn about the history and backgrounds of the Tai Lue people who live in the area.
You can also enjoy local delicacies, such as Kalamae (caramelized sticky rice with coconut milk), and shop for bamboo, cotton, and silk handicrafts. Pua District is a place where you can experience the authentic charm of Nan province.
This Province’s destination offers a unique blend of history, culture, and adventure and offers top attractions that will honestly give you a blast and a taste of Thai tradition, leaving you with memoirs that will last a lifetime.
Unbelievable food is easy to find throughout Thailand, including in the north! If you want to experience the tasty flavors of Northern Thai cuisine, try out some street food, or sample the local beverages, you just can’t go wrong in the Province of Nan. Here are some of the unsurpassed eateries in the area that you won’t want to miss:
For over three decades, Khao Soi Ton Nam (Google Map), a charming eatery, has been nestled near the revered Ming Mueang Temple in Nan city. Nestled within a small, two-story wooden house, it offers a cozy ambiance with just six tables, accommodating no more than twenty-five patrons at a time. It exudes an inviting, homey feel that touches every corner, weaving a story of warmth and friendliness.
The name Khao Soi Ton Nam carries an interesting backstory shared by Uncle Deng and Aunt Kai, the cheerful hosts of the eatery. Ton Nam, translating to source of the Nan river, paints a vivid image of the life-giving river that has been the heart of Nan city. Once a crucial vein in the northern region, it later converges with the Ping River, culminating into the mighty Chao Phraya River. Thus, the eatery’s name holds a profound connection to its roots, rich with meaning and evoking a sense of deep respect for its cultural heritage.
As the restaurant’s name suggests, the star of their culinary repertoire is Khao Soi. Patrons can choose from three delicious options – tender chicken for 35 baht, juicy beef for 50 baht, or a hearty mix of both for 60 baht. Each serving is garnished with tangy pickled cabbage, piquant red onions, and a slice of fresh lime. Their unique curry soup, characterized by its clarity and delicate balance of coconut milk, offers a harmoniously smooth and medium taste, providing an authentic, delightful culinary experience.
If you have a sweet tooth, Pa Nim (Google Map) is your place to go. This dessert place is one of the most popular restaurants in the region, offering various hot and cold sweet treats.
You can enjoy a variety of desserts, such as rice flour balls in coconut cream called bua loi kai wan, coconut and taro with sweet sticky rice, finely-crushed ice with different toppings, ice cream with sarim noodles (a traditional Thai sweet), smoothies made from fresh fruits, and ice cream made from coconut milk.
In the heart of Nan city, one name that stands out is Huen Chao Nang (Google Map), a riverside restaurant on the banks of the Nan river. The establishment is renowned for its ambiance and the flavorful dishes it offers. It presents a wide array of Thai dishes for patrons to savor, including salads made with cabbage head, Tom Yum Pla Kang (a delicious fish soup), Huen Chao Nang’s fried fish, and many more.
In truth, a dish doesn’t necessarily have to be loaded with seasonings or premium ingredients to be delectable. It often comes down to the cook’s skill and the taste they bring to the dish. If you’re keen to relish delicious meals from the expert hands in Huen Chao Nang’s kitchen, you should come and experience it for yourself. Enjoy a relaxing meal, and on some cool evenings, you might even catch the sight of children practicing their rowing skills — a genuinely delightful view to behold.
No matter where you go in Nan, you will find some delicious food and drinks. These top eateries and flavors are just the tip of the iceberg, so explore and discover your favorites!
The best time to visit Nan is during the cool and dry season, which falls between November and February. The temperature during this season is pleasant, with steady temperatures of around 68°F (20°C) during the day and can drop to approximately 53,6°F (12°C) at night, making it an excellent time to explore the town and temples comfortably.
As with most places around Thailand, packing suitable clothing and equipment will help make the most of your visit to this Province.
By packing the right gear and planning your visit during the optimal season, you can make the most of your journey to northern Thailand and have an unforgettable experience!
1. Visit Wat Phumin (Google Map), Nan’s most famous Buddhist temple.
2. Head to Nan National Museum (Google Map) to learn about the region’s history.
3. Check out Wat Phra That Chang Kham (Google Map), a 14th-century temple.
4. Visit Wat Sri Panton (Google Map) to see its beautiful golden chapel.
5. Visit Wat Ming Muang (Google Map) to admire its stunning architecture.
6. Visit Wat Phra That Khao Noi (Google Map) for panoramic views of Nan city.
7. Visit the Nan Noble House (Google Map) to appreciate the traditional architecture.
8. Explore the art scene at the Nan Riverside Art Gallery (Google Map).
9. Admire the beautiful mural paintings at Wat Nong Bua (Google Map).
1. Take a bike ride through the charming Nan Old City (Google Map).
2. Take a leisurely stroll along the Nan River.
3. Enjoy a picnic at Tham Pha Tup Forest Park (Google Map).
4. Raft down the river on bamboo rafts with Hardpakhon Bamboo River Rafting (Google Map)
5. Explore Pua District (Google Map) and its scenic landscapes.
6. Take a scenic drive along the Bo Kluea Road (Google Map) for breathtaking mountain views.
7. Check out the salt wells in Bo Kluea (Google Map) and eat salted eggs.
8. Go bird watching at Doi Phu Kha National Park (Google Map).
9. Visit the Doi Phu Kha Viewpoint (Google Map).
10. Go hiking in the lush Khun Nan National Park (Google Map).
11. Refresh after a tiring ride at Sapan Waterfall (Google Map).
12. Lastly, visit Sao Din Na Noi (Google Map) for its unique earthen formations.
13. Spend a day at Sri Nan National Park, and make sure to check out Doi Samer Dao (Google Map).
1. Wander through the Nan Morning Market (Google Map) and try some local food.
2. Experience the unique flavors of Northern Thai cuisine at the Khao Soi Ton Nam (Google Map)
3. Try authentic Thai sweets at Pa Nim Dessert (Google Map).
4. Experience the culinary delights of Nan at Huen Chao Nang (Google Map), a riverside restaurant known for its atmosphere and exceptional Thai cuisine.
5. Buy gifts and souvenirs made of handmade textiles in Sapan Village.
Without a doubt, Nan offers visitors a unique and authentic Thai experience. With its blend of Burmese and Lanna-style temples, the Thai Lue’s unique traditions, and fragments of its ancient past, the Province is a living museum waiting to be explored. Don’t miss out on this Northern Thai home to many undiscovered natural wonders, from pristine waterfalls to lush forests, that will leave visitors in awe.
Don’t miss out on the Wat Phumin, Nan National Museum, and Wat Phra That Khao Noi for some cultural and historical experience. For nature lovers, Nan’s national parks like Doi Phu Kha and Si Nan are wonderful options.
Are there any public transportation options? A: There are local taxis, known as songthaews, and motorbike taxis for short distances. For exploring the countryside, consider renting a motorbike or bicycle.
Check local listings, but the Nan Boat Race and the Hmong New Year are two major annual events that bring lots of color and excitement to the region.
You should try Khao Soi, a curry noodle soup, and Sai Ua, a spicy sausage. Kanom Jeen Nam Ngiao is a local noodle dish worth a try too!
Traditional hand-woven fabrics and silverware from Nan are beautiful. Handcrafted souvenirs and local organic tea also make great gifts.
The best time to visit Nan is during the cool season from November to February. The weather is very pleasant for exploring the outdoors.
Wat Phumin is in the heart of Nan City and can be reached by local transportation. Remember to dress respectfully as it’s a place of worship.
Nan offers excellent hiking in its national parks. Biking tours are also popular around the city and countryside.
There are a variety of guesthouses and homestays in Nan that can give you a taste of local life. They range from city locations to more rural settings.
Remember to wai (a Thai greeting), remove your shoes before entering a home or temple, and dress modestly, especially at religious sites.
The Nan National Museum is a must-visit for history buffs. Also, the ancient temples like Wat Phra That Chang Kham and Wat Phra That Chae Haeng are rich in history.
Nan Morning Market and Nan Night Food Market are great places to taste local delicacies and observe daily life.
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If you prefer to travel by car, be sure to read our guide on how to save up to 50% on rental car expenses in Chiang Mai.
For an extensive compilation of our travel advice, explore our Northern Thailand Routes and Travel Notes section.
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