Nan is one of the most distinct provinces in Thailand. Surrounded by mountains, it has been isolated from the rest of the country for centuries allowing a unique culture and separate kingdom to develop distinct from the Lanna culture based in Chiang Mai. It wasn’t until 1933 when Nan finally integrated with the government in Bangkok to become apart of the country known today as Thailand.
Nan was the first stop along my motorcycle tour around Northern Thailand, and I had a wonderful time exploring this unique province. Nan is easily accessible from most of Thailand having its own airport and bus station that connects to all major cities in the north as well as Bangkok. Nan is an easy place to get to for a short weekend getaway.
Where To Stay
Accommodation in Nan is also inexpensive. I initially thought that because Nan was a smaller town, only higher end hotels would be available. But after searching around, I was surprised to find out that Nan has its own hostel – Nan Hostel. I stayed in Nan Hostel on my trip, and the lady that owns it was incredibly nice. She told me all about the different things to do in Nan and gave me a map which helped make my time there very memorable. They also serve free breakfast which can’t be beat. The hostel is in a great location right near the main bus station so it is very accessible.
Besides Nan Hostel, there are a plenty of other hotels in the area for all different price points, but as a budget traveler nothing beats Nan Hostel. If you’re looking for a hotel, check out Booking.com for options in the area.
What to Do in Nan
The best way to experience Nan is to spend Saturday night in the provincial capital to see the Saturday Night Market. This market really is one of the best representations of Northern Thai culture I’ve ever seen on display. They have all sorts of Northern foods, gifts, and even bands and dancers playing the traditional Northern Thai music. Nan’s Saturday Night Market is within walking distance from Nan Hostel.
Nan is known for being the only place in Thailand growing a distinct herb called “makhwaen” similar to Sichuan pepper. This herb is generally used to treat coughs and sore throats, but the people in Nan like to put it on fried chicken and pork. It gives these traditional Thai snacks a unique spicy flavor that cannot be found outside this province. I was able to find a couple of vendors selling fried pork or chicken with makhwaen in the market.
Before or after the market, make time to visit the Wat Phumin – home of the famous Thai murals seen on calendars and postcards throughout Northern Thailand. The temple is located right next to the market.
Besides this main temple, there are also many other famous temples around the city or just outside that the owner of Nan Hostel suggested I visit. Unfortunately I did not have the time this trip, but Nan Hostel will provide their guests with a map of the area explaining these various temples. The best way to explore them would be to rent out a motorcycle and visit them independently.
Exploring Nan Province
Nan Province isn’t just about the capital city. In fact, there are numerous interesting places to explore throughout the province. The best way to visit would be by renting out a car or motorcycle; however, a few places are accessible by public transportation.
Ban Bo Kluea was originally a salt mining village near the Laos border, but now it has become a bit of a tourist destination mostly for Thais. “Kluea” means salt in Thai so the town is aptly named. On the weekends along the river running through town there is often a local artisan market selling various Northern Thai goods. There are also many women walking around dressed in their traditional clothes that are definitly worth getting a picture with. The people of this village are Htin – a minority hill tribe in Thailand and Laos. These people have a distinct culture from the rest of Thailand.
Doi Phu Kha National Park is a great place to visit and cool off in the mountains in central Nan Province. I did not have time to stop and go into the park, but there are many different hikes available for visitors up to mountain peaks or to waterfalls. There are also bungalows available to rent for decent prices for single or small groups of people. One of the most interesting part of this mountainous area is all the different hill tribe people living there. There was a viewpoint along the road between Ban Bo Kluea and Doi Phu Kha that had a small parking lot and some hill tribe people selling food. I had a delicious snack – black rice with sweet taro wrapped in a banana leaf then cooked over an open fire. See the picture below. There are all sorts of delicious hill tribe treats being sold throughout this area so just dive right in and see what you like.
After Nan, I continued onto Phrae, Lampang, and finally reached this really trippy Temple in Phetchabun Province. This visit to Nan was one part of my Epic Northern Thailand Motorcycle Journey where I hit every province in the North.