Welcome to our second feature in the Thailand Unveiled series! Today we’re moving on from our first visit to Phrae to the neighbouring northern province of Nan, some 550 km north of Bangkok and 190 km southeast of Chang Mai, tucked up against the Laos border. Check it out on Google Maps and watch our itinerary on YouTube here from the two days we spend there guided by the Tourism Authority Of Thailand!
Now, the more sharp-eyed of you Dear Readers may be thinking “hmmm, that video was posted nearly two weeks ago, and the Phrae post four days before that … not being very productively professional in 2020, are we now?” Well, therein lies a cautionary tale for all of you thinking that you’re going to make a social media splash with your Instagram account — keep reading for the sorry details of our ongoing misfortune!
So, as you might recall from the Phrae article, we’d decided to post to Instagram from every new place we visited during the tour, and those would be automatically copied to our Twitter and then Facebook. Great plan, right? Well, no. By the third day, we’d noticed that we were only getting a handful of likes, our engagement had fallen off a very sharp cliff indeed. So we took a look at the feed, and wait what, there’s the picture, but where’s our clever taglines and hashtags? So we tried to edit and add them after the fact, and got a “BLOCKED!” message instead. Huh.
Turns out that you can’t post too quick, or you can’t use too many hashtags, or something that nobody really knows because Instagram won’t tell you. So we tried everything we could think of — and the upshot is, here we are two-plus weeks later and Instagram will fitfully allow us new posts, but won’t allow editing, commenting, or even liking existing posts, and we have no idea whatsoever how long that might take to solve itself. So, if you have great plans to document your wonderful trips as they’re happening on Instagram …
… learn from our mistakes and go straight to Plan B! Which, in this case, is annotating the visits in our video for you:
Nan Noble House
As the name suggests, our first stop was the home of one of the ancrestal Nan noble families which is now a museum with guided tours by student volunteers plus demonstrations of traditional spinning and weaving crafts to produce the Lanna textiles which are a point of pride in the region. You then see a shot of us farang trying our best to learn how to fold leaves to make holders for popped rice, flowers, candles, and incense which make up our offerings at the next stop —
This is the most famous temple in Nan for its oilpainted murals of daily life covering the inside; there’s a short clip along one wall here, but you definitely need to head there yourself to check it out!
Nan National Museum
The Nan National Museum is housed in the residence of the last Lord of Nan before it was fully integrated into Siam in 1932; it has a variety of interesting exhibits, and the centerpiece is this fine fellow, a Garuda bird holding aloft the 18kg “Black Elephant Tusk” which was the historical symbol of Nan sovereignity.
Wat Ming Muang
This temple houses the Nan City Pillar, and is also notable for the blinding white color of its construction along with the lacy filigrees and quirky statues.
Wat Sri Panton
This was a particularly interesting contrast — from the whitest wat you’ve ever seen, to the goldenest wat you’ve ever seen! Also the safest from evil spirits, as the twin nagas guarding the entrance each have seven (7!) heads, which we hadn’t seen before. There’s also a store of longboats on the temple grounds, you can see a clip of one of the more colorfully carved dragon prows there.
Wat Phra That Khao Noi
The iconic image of the province of Nan is this 9 metre standing Buddha overlooking the city of Nan from the highest hill on its outskirts. We arrived at sunset when the sun goes down behind; it’s even more beautiful at sunrise time, we hear, so definitely make that the early morning stop for your Nan visit!
Nantrungjai Boutique Hotel
We were put up our first night in Nan at the Nantrungjai Boutique Hotel — absolutely beautiful and not five minutes from Nan airport, definitely recommend this for your first choice 4-star stay in Nan.
Nan Night Market
Kuang Mueng Nan Walking Street is the town square right in front of Wat Phumin we visited earlier in the day, and we came back in the evening to roam the night market for street food and souvenirs — night markets are the place not to miss in pretty much every Thai town, and this is the one to make sure you’re in Nan on the weekend to visit.
Nan Morning Market
What to do after the night market? Why, get up for the Nan morning market, of course! This bright and early (well, actually not so bright, as we got there pre-dawn) event is notable for the processions of alming monks you see in the video there, so if you’re in need of making some merit and aren’t we all, this is the place to go about that.
Nan Riverside Arts Space (Nan Riverside Art Gallery)
Now this is one of the more eclectic art museums you’ll visit anywhere — it’s 20 minutes out of Nan in the middle of nowhere and the private home of the province’s renowned modern artist Winai Prabripoo whom you can find displayed in Bangkok’s Museum of Contemporary Art, along with constantly renewed exhibits of other local and national artists, a Nan historical gallery, and sculpted landscape right down to the painted trees you see here. If you’re at all into art, this isn’t just a hidden gem, it’s a hidden crown jewel as even Thai royal princess art is on exhibit here!
Lunch — Rommai by Yokkrok Restaurant
We entered the Pua district for lunch, and this was our first stop — looks like it’s brand new and not on Trip Advisor yet, but it was delicious even by the remarkably high standards of this trip, check it out if you can find it!
Cocoa Valley Resort
Now this, this is a boutique hotel that is a must for all you chocolate lovers — the Cocoa Valley Resort is not just a place to stay, it’s a place to stay on a working cocoa farm that has workshops that take you all the way from harvesting cocoa pods off the trees to creating your own nut-studded chocolate bars you can see frozen and ready to eat in the video there. We just dropped in for the afternoon workshop … but next time we visit Nan with the wife, we’re quite sure this is where we’ll be staying, as if there’s anywhere else at all you can stay on a working chocolate farm, we don’t know where it is!
Doi Silver Museum & Factory
Speaking of places our significant other would love visiting, our next stop was the Doi Silver Factory and attached museum; apparently Pua district silverware is well known in the custom silverware world, and if you want a tour of it being made and then pick yourself up some hancrafted silver souvenirs — and who doesn’t? — this would be the place to visit!
Dinner — Baan Huanam Mushroom Farm
What can you follow up a stay at a boutique hotel cocoa farm with? Well, how about a stay at a boutique hotel mushroom farm? Really wondered where we were going on the way here as it’s quite a bit out in the woods (“You almost need orienteering skills to reach this restaurant” was a TripAdvisor review comment we had a chuckle at) but for the mushroom lovers among you, this is the place to go for mushroom pizza, mushroom soup, and mushroom cuisine of every sort — and you definitely can’t beat the view over the rice fields to the mountains in the distance. It’s mostly visited for the food and the view, but there’s a small hotel too if you want to spend a night out in rural Nan.
Hug Pua Hotel
Our night, however, was spent at the Hug Pua Hotel in Nan, where we were fascinated by its sign here — a beetle is a little of an odd thing to advertise your hotel with, wouldn’t most people think? Even more interestingly, that is not the first statue of a beetle we’d noticed that day. Turns out, this is the Kwang or Hercules beetle (Xylotrupes gideon) which is known as the “Fighting Mountain Beetle” due to its extreme assertiveness, shall we say, and has been adopted as the symbol of Pua and they even have a festival for it every year.
Coffee — Ban Tai Lue Cafe
First thing the next morning, our pick for the finest coffee in Pua is Ban Tai Lue Cafe — the local coffee is delicious, you can buy the beans to take home with you, and it’s situated in the middle of flower fields with bamboo walkways over them to shaded platforms where you can see us interrupting the locals enjoying their morning coffee in the video there; definitely a great place to stop for a coffee break.
Lunch — Voila Nirvanan Restaurant
Our final stop before heading back to Bangkok from Nan (NNT) airport — not NAN as you might expect, that’s Nadi International Airport in Fiji, careful when you make your flight bookings! — was Voila Nirvanan restaurant in Nan close by the airport, which specializes in French inspired cuisine. And whilst we tend towards Thai food that’s so Thai as to be near-unrecognizable to a Western palate, as you can see in the shot there the fusion dishes they serve here are indeed airily delicious and just the thing for farang wanting a taste of home.
And that, Dear Readers, concludes our visit to Phrae and Nan! Thanks again to #TATNews for inviting us, it was a wonderful trip indeed — and as you saw, this is a very different side of Thailand indeed from the renowned beaches and resorts, just chock full of local culture and hidden gems that almost no foreigners ever visit, so when you’re ready to take that step up from being a tourist to becoming a traveler, why these are wonderful places to start!