Nan is a town in northern Thailand and is the capital of the province of Nan. It was fully autonomous for many centuries and was a part of the Lang Xang empire, also conquered by Burma in 1558. Nan only became a part of Thailand fully in 1931 and was a part of Laos for some of the 19th century.
The main things to do in Nan include:
- see the distinctively different local Wats and the remains of the town’s old walls
- go to the Nan National Museum – the palace of the last 2 feudal lords of Nan
- visit the local night market (Kad Nan) for local food and crafts
- see the King of Nan’s teak house built in 1866 – reconstructed 1941
- visit Wat Phumin built in 1596
- rent a motorbike and visit the local National Parks
- See the sunrise from a misty mountain top.
- Watch dragon boats race their way down the Nan river
- Brave the currents and white water raft the Wa river.
- Shop at the morning market and see the strange looking vegetables
- Chill out at the riverside art gallery.
- Bike around the rice fields and foothills that surround the town.
- Learn about the towns history at the local museum
What do you like best about Nan
The old wooden buildings, the stunning murals in Wat Pumin temple, the colourful ‘dragon’ boats on the river, and, most of all the peaceful atmosphere in both the town and the beautiful countryside that surrounds it.
It’s a quiet place but there’s a lot to see and do, both in and around the town.
Best Restaurants in Nan
There’s too many to mention. It’s hard to choose which ones to recommend. For western food try Hot Bread, Tony’s Place, Nan Steakhouse or the Dario Pizza restaurant.
Best local Thai food try Gormet (located right by the Nan river), Bor Nam, Poom 3 or ‘the glass house.’
You can get cheap but tasty traditional northern Thai food such as nam prik (northern Thai chilli paste), sai oowa (northern style spicy sausage) and gaeng haeng lai (northern style curry) and a nice atmosphere and friendly service try Zap II.
For dessert lovers, the most amazing ice cream in town comes from Bar Min Ice cream restaurant. Sweet red sticky rice, covered with traditional thai style coconut ice cream, and topped with hot chocolate sauce is just one of their specialities.
Thai teenagers love to visit milkshake bars. They’re usually stylishly designed and sell cheap shakes and snacks. There are a couple in town but the nicest by miles is ‘The Milk Club.’ Order a milkshake and toast topped with anything from chocolate and coconut, to chinese style pork. Once you’ve finished eating take a look at the coke memorobilia, the photos and paintings on the wall and the upstairs gallery.
Bakeries and Coffee Shops
The Best’ bakery sells the best western style cakes around. Their new York cheesecake and banoffee pie can’t be beat, it really lives up to its name as the best bakery in town.
In the last few years theres been an explosion of new coffee shops in town. Phu Payak and Phu Far (both selling locally grown Nan coffee) are the best. Muan Jai comes a close second.
If you’re on a budget or just out to try something different there are food stalls in the morning market. They sell everything and anything from pre-packed cartons of curry and rice to fresh fruit. Try ‘joke’ – a thai style congee and ‘cafee boran’ hot Laos style coffee for breakfast.
Later in the day there’s ‘to rung’ night market, a street where almost every stall sells food. Deep fried insects, curries, pat thai noodles, BBQ chicken, rice soups, japanese sushi and fresh fruit are all on sale here. Several stalls will cook food to order. Just tell the cook what you would like, or point at a dish you like the look of and, a couple of minutes later a nice steaming hot plate of it will appear in front of you.
Nan’s not known for its music scene. Traditional northern Thai music and northern dances can usally be seen and heard at the monthly street market. Some pubs and restraunts also have live music, the singers and bands usually play covers version of Thai rock songs.
From July onwards, the town starts to go boat crazy. Each evening, if you go down to the river you can hear teams of rowers counting from 1-8 as they practise their strokes. By the end of September the area by the river is turned into a giant market and the 1st of the province’s famous ‘Boat Racing Festival’s’ begins. Bus loads of locals from the surrounding villages arrive, along with amplifiers, bands, cheerleaders and iceboxes full of beer. After the boats have been blessed and put onto the water, the races begin. The villages take their boat very seriously. The river becomes a sea of colour and raucous cheering accompanies every race.
Nan also celebrates most of the other major Thai festivals and events. Songkran, Thai New Year, a 7 day water war is definitely worth seeing, as is Loi Kratong (the first full moon in November) when, just after sunset people float tiny candle-lit rafts on the river.
Art Galleries in Nan
The Nan Riverside Art Gallery is a large private art gallery. It is situated on the bank of the Nan River about 20km from Nan City. It functions as a centre of Nan province’s art and culture. The gallery was founded by Winai Prabripoo, a famous Thai artist and native of Nan, who loves art. A large hall on the first floor hosts large exhibition. It can support more than 80-100 artworks.
The Sudrit Arts Gallery is in Nan City and is primarily a small hotel but look as though they sell art on the side.
Best Nightlife in Nan
Nan’s not exactly the nightlife capital of Thailand. Dining by the river (recommended restaurants are the 2 opposite Phu Far coffee shop, gourmet or ‘the glass house’) is a nice way to spend a warm summer evening.
For live music (classic Thai rocks songs and a couple English cover versions) head to Weerachon pub, or one of the few nightclubs in town, the fifth or channel X.
2 or 3 days a month there’s a ‘walking’ street, an outdoor market selling clothes, souveniers and food. There’s usually a cultural show, where people dress in traditional costume and demonstate traditional dancing too.
Best Day Trip out of Nan
The surrounding mountains – any of them. Doi Sameur Dao or Doi Phu Kha for stunning views, Doi Phu Wae for a strenous hike or Doi Tiew for the chance to see how the Hmong people live.
In the rainy season, several tour companies organise 2-3 day white water rafting trips on the Wa river.
Something not many tourists would know about Nan
Take a trip to Haad Pa Kon village, order food, hire a rafthouse and spend a few hours drifting down the Nan river, swimming, fishing and staring at the scenery.