:: NAN

A quiet and tranquil province, Nan nestles in a verdant valley in northern Thailand. About 668 kilometres from Bangkok, it covers an area of 11,472 square kilometres. The people of Nan descend from the Lan Changs (Laotians). Their forebears moved to settle around present-day Pua district which is rich in rock salt deposits, about 700 years ago, at the time when Sukhothai was in the transition period of becoming the kingdom of the Thais.

They subsequently moved south to the fertile Nan River basin, which is much more extensive. Nan's history is deeply involved with its neighbours, in particular Sukhothai, which played an important role in both political and religious terms before Nan became a part of Lanna, Burma and Thailand in that order. Today Nan is still the home of numerous Thai Lue and other hilltribes who retain highly interesting customs and traditions.

:: Attractions

The most important sight in town is Wat Phumin , one of the most beautiful temples in northern Thailand. Built in 1596, it was restored once in the mid-19th century and again in 1991. The temple is notable for its cross-shaped design, elaborate ceiling, carved doors and pillars, and the 4 identical gilded Sukhothai central Buddha images sitting back-to-back facing all 4 directions. But the highlights are the murals with 3 main themes: the life of Buddha, the jataka tale, and scenes depicting everyday life in Nan. Scenes depicting French troops indicate it dates back to mid-1890s.

North of the temple is the Nan National Museum , housed in an impressive former royal palace dating from 1903. The ground floor is dedicated to the ethnic groups (hilltribes) in Nan, and the second floor displays a collection of artifacts relating to the province's history and rare Lanna and Laotian Buddha images. Many of the exhibits have English labels posted.

Nearby, Wat Phra That Chang Kham contains a 14th century chedi resting on sculpted elephant heads.  Attractive woodcarvings are featured on the facade of the bot and wiharn , which are protected by formidable mythical singhs (lions).

In the northwestern part of town, Wat Suan Tan features a 40-m chedi capped with a white prang (a rounded, Khmer-style tower), which is rarely seen in northern Thailand. Within the wiharn is the bronze Buddha image of Phra Chao Thong Thip, commissioned by the King of Chiang Mai after he conquered Nan in 1449.

Slightly outside of town is the square compound of the venerable Phra That Chae Haeng, built around 1355. It was moved to its present location 13 years later, though it was originally located at the center of the old town. Set on a hilltop overlooking the Nan Valley, the gilded, 55-m chedi and huge nagas (serpents) flanking the balustrade can be seen from far away. Though the chedi is Lanna-styled, the multi-layered roof of the wiharn is Laotian-style. The motif of naga, the great serpent, is repeated in the plaster designs over the chapel's doorways and on parts of the roof, and is considered to be the best artistic representative of its kind in local architectural styles.

To the north of Nan is Tham Pha Tup Forest Reserve , a limestone cave complex set in a forested area. The 17 plus caves have impressive stalactites and stalagmites, with half of them accessible by marked trails.

South of Nan is another natural Wonder, the Sao Din (Earth Pillars). Erosion created the sculpted clay columns protruding from depressions in the ground, creating an eerie appearance, whose shapes and forms can be interpreted as wildly as the imagination determines.

The picturesque village of Nong Bua is situated on a flat, fertile plain beside the Nan River. Characterized by traditional teak houses on stilts and neat vegetable gardens, it is one of a number of villages in Nan inhabited by the Thai Lue, an ethnic minority related to the Tai people of southern China, who began settlements in the area in 1836. The distinctive, multi-colored traditional Thai Lue fabrics are produced on hand-operated looms, present in nearly every household, for domestic use and for sale. The village is also the site of a two-day festival held every 3 years (1999, 2002, etc) to pay homage to their ancestors.

Built in 1862, Wat Nong Bua is a typical Thai Lue temple featuring a two-tiered Lanna-style roof and a carved wooden arcade. The murals are believed to be the work of the same artists who painted Wat Phumin, featuring an interesting depiction of 19th century life and scenes from the jataka tales.

Because Doi Phu Kha National Park is one of the most recently created parks in Thailand, it is still relatively free of development. Previously, the area was inhabited by hilltribes and suffered Communist infiltration. The park features beautiful scenery with caves and waterfalls, forest walking paths, opportunities for bird-watching, hilltribe villages, particularly those of the Mien and Hmongs, in the surrounding area.