Nan, A sleepy pocket of beauty in the North East of Thailand but with a lack lustre town
Checking into our hotel in Nan after a long sweaty drive from Chiang Rai, we were excited to see what this lesser known town had to offer. We had heard of Nan (pronounced Naan) many times and it was recommended to us on our round the world trip by a seasoned traveler all those 8 years ago, now after over 2 years of living in Thailand we had finally made it to the area.
The beautiful driving scenes around Nan Province
After unloading the car and piling into our rooms to freshen up at Nan Noble Guesthouse we headed into Nan town in search of dinner. With the light fading fast, the town had become bathed in dark shadows. We drove towards the center of town where we imagined we would find a selection of restaurants, to be met by lots of closed shutters and a sporadic assortment of street food vendors mainly full of dried fish and jack fruits. The time was fairly early still, around 6.45pm so we continued to drive blindly around the darkened streets and ended up in a bustling Thai restaurant opposite the airport.
Runway Restaurant, taken the next day
With our limited Thai language skills we managed to order three plates of Pad Thai Moo along with iced coffees and we left feeling satisfied but a little unsure with our first impressions of Nan Town. We drove back to our hotel garden resort in the rain, the sky flashing orange with streaks of lightening from the storm which had fast approached, hopeful that tomorrow would prove to be a more fruitful search, exploring Nan town in the light of day.
Unsuspectingly, we had rocked up in town on the same two days that 50% of the businesses had decided to close, after chatting to one Khao Soi eatery owner, where we had lunch, we discovered that it was a special day on the Buddhism calendar, although according to this one lady, no one had shut their businesses because of this reason, but to us, the town showed otherwise. Be it for Buddha’s birthday/enlightment celebrations or for their own vacations and the start of the low season, Nan had closed down significantly leaving us with very few places to enjoy.
The Khao Soi place we ended up in for lunch
Walking past restaurants and cafes we would have normally liked to frequent, we were left wondering what it would have been like had we seen the town in full swing. The town itself is set out in a confusing way. There is no real center point from what we could work out and it covered a much larger area than we had originally thought. There are rustic wooden houses all through the town, which could have made for a pleasant traditional feel, which is what we were expecting Nan to be like. Yet these heritage style buildings are dotted along character less streets which takes away the appeal of being in this rural north eastern town. Driving through Nan province on the way in was rural and off the beaten track, yet the town itself felt urbanized and concrete.
Nan town is a rather unassuming, and blameless town, there were plenty of basic Thai style restaurants, cafes and little ‘pop up’ shops all around as well as the usual splattering of 7-11’s and a Tesco lotus. Yet we failed to fall for the town of Nan. I don’t know if it was because of some bad timing on our part or if we had just built up an expectation of Nan that it just didn’t live up to our imagination, but we left rather disappointed.
Monks in a Nan temple
Having said that, the drive to and from Nan from Chiang Rai along Highway 1148 was one of the nicest roads we have driven and we would return to Nan province for that journey alone. There is so much more to see in the province of Nan than what we had a chance to see on our brief 2 nights stay there.
Stunning Views around Nan
Some of the scenery in the surrounding areas was so magical it didn’t even look real, as if someone had painted elaborate water colour artworks onto our car windows. It was breathtaking and it made for a very scenic 4 hour journey from our starting point of Phu Chi Fah, 2 hours from Chiang Rai.
There are a handful of waterfalls and national parks in the area and it is a good place to rent your own transport and explore at your own pace. There is an art gallery on the outskirts of town, about a 15 minute drive from the main cluster of urban streets that we didn’t visit, but drove by on the way in.
Stopped to take photos many times during the drive to Nan
Our hotel, Nan Noble Guesthouse was very nice with an onsite swimming pool complete with mini waterfall feature and a decent buffet breakfast provided, which turned out to be one of the highlights to visiting Nan. So we started off each day in Nan positively.
Nan Noble Guest House
We thought Nan should have ticked all the boxes for us as an ideal destination. It is rural, yet established and it has a river running adjacent to town. So we assumed that life would be centered around the waters edge, but Nan lacked in this department, in fact when we arrived we drove around the town for well over an hour, and didn’t stumble across the water at all. If we didn’t know that Nan had a river running along side it from google we would have left and not even realized it was even there.
Parked up by the Nan River
Nan is a good town for temple lovers, there are many temple buildings to see both in and around the town.
One of the more popular temples is Wat Phumin, with intricate and ancient murals adorning the interior walls. It also has a rather strange dark room full of bloodied tortured sculptures that is worth taking a look it whilst roaming the grounds.
The Weird Torture Room
Nan is also home to a national museum and Nan Noble House, one of the last remaining teak houses belonging to nobility and is open daily for visitors wanting a explore a little piece of Lanna history.
So in summary, would we return to Nan Town? Yes… But mainly for the beautiful province it resides in rather than the town itself. Everywhere deserves a second chance and we are certain that we will be exploring more of Nan in the future. 🙂
Things to Do in Nan Town Map
View Things to do in Nan Town Thailand in a larger map
Pet Friendly Hotel in Nan:
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