Temple tour of Nan

The Nan Province
Only 25% of the land in the Nan province is arable, as most of the province is covered by heavily forested mountains : at 2000m Doi Phu Kha is the highest peak. The majority of the province’s inhabitants live in the Mae Nam Nan valley and are agriculturally employed, growing sticky rice, beans, corn, tobacco and vegetables in the fertile river plains. Nan is also famous for its Som Sii Thawng (golden skinned oranges)
Nan is a lot larger and more comercialised than i’d imagined. I’d wrongly assumed that Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai were the only places of significant size in northern Thailand and that everywhere else was a (relatively) sleepy little rural town.
I cannot quite believe that – bustling city as it is – Nan remains almost untouched by tourism. It reminded me of being in Tokyo when i tried to find somewhere to eat breakfast this morning : none of the few eateries i did encounter had English menus and none of the staff could speak English. I tried to use the Thai for the foods i know but that unfortunately received a “no have” response or no response at all! I was shown the food on offer in Mui Mui but there were dubious meat looking chunks floating around in all of the dishes and i didn’t want to risk accidently becoming a meat eater again!
Through some effective advertising around the city, i subsequently found Hot Bread, which is actually only a couple of minutes walk from Nan Guesthouse, where i’m staying. It’s only a small establishment, but it’s got lovely wicker tables and chairs in a semi-outdoor setting, and is decorated with plants, artwork and books. The menus are in English, the food is a mixture of Thai and continental, the staff are friendly, and you are serenaded to the sounds of traffic in one ear and Tracey Chapman in the other.
Fortuantely they hire bikes out too, which saved me having to go on another walking tour around Nan’s city streets. As Nan seems to have an abundance of temples i decided to take a tour of a selected few of them :
  • NEUNG : Wat Phra That Changkham Woraviharn. It’s main features are the sculpted upper halves of elephants adorning around the Chedi, a Sukhothai influence. Stones were found on the site with ancient Thai scripts written upon them, relating to the alliance between the kings of Nan and Sukhothai when Nan was still and independent state.
  • SAWNG : Wat Hua Kuang. Houses a group of religios buildings that reflect genuine Lanna style. The department of Fine Arts declared it a National Historic site on the 12/08/1980
  • SAAM : Wat Phumin. Nan’s most famous temple is celebrated for its cruciform bot that was constructed in 1596 and restored during the reign of Chao Anantovorapitthidet.
  • SII : Wat Phayawat. An ancient religious site, it has rectangular Chedi bases on which Buddha statues are placed around the Chedi structure.
  • HAA : Wat Phra That Kao Noi. This pagoda is situated on the top of Khao Noi Hill, Ban Khu Nai, 2 kms. west of the centre of Nan. The hill is 800 feet high and offers a great view of Nan and the surrounding valleys. There is also a large gold walking buddha image which overlooks the valley.
  • HOK : Wat Ming Muang. Also the site of the city pillar, Lak Muang. The inside of the temple is elaborately decorated with modern murals showing various aspects of Lanna life.
  • JET : Wat Sunatan. Enshrines a Buddha image known as Phra Chao Thong cast by a king of Chiang Mai in 1450. A grand celebration featuring a spectacular firework display takes place at this temple every year during the Songkran festival.
  • PAET : Wat Phra That Chae Hang. This is the most sacred wat in the Nan province. It features a 55 metre-high golden Chedi containing a holy Relic from Sukhothai.

Whilst wrestling with the lock on my bike up at Wat Phra That Chae Hang, I was approached by a Swedish lady called Marianne (Mia for short) who recognised me from the guesthouse. We chatted about sightseeing in the area and she mentioned that the landlady of our guesthouse, Lyette, has a good friend who is a tour guide and asked if i was interested in joining her on a trek with him. What perfect timing! I’d just about given up all hope of doing a trek here, as, for the second day in a row, F.U tours (the company recommended by Lonely Planet and the only tourand trekking agent i’ve seen in Nan) are sorry, they “no have people.”

After eating dinner at Hot Bread (where incidently they make the most gorgeous lemon juice drink), i returned to the guesthouse to have a chat with Mia and our guide-to-be, Tao. The 3 of us got on fantastically so i have good expectations about this trek. We start tomorrow at 9am, for our 3 day, 2 night trek into the very north eastern part of the Nan province.

Photo is of chedi at Wat Phayawat, Nan

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