Nan, Thailand: Remote Mountains & Indigenous Communities

Lunch on the Nan River, Northern Thailand

Updated September 4th, 2018.

Nan, located in the most eastern part of Northern Thailand in the valley of its namesake river, is a charming little town with a unique historical centre.

Surrounded by the spectacular misty mountains of Doi Phu Kha National Park bordering Laos, Nan is a place where you will find many old temples and teak wooden houses, where foreigner tourists are rare and people still enjoy the traditional slow lifestyle of the Northern Thai people.

The town is the capital of the province of the same name, home to hill-tribe villages in the high mountains, abundant waterfalls and no less than seven national parks!

The gateway to DoiPhukKha National Park, Nan Province.
The gateway to Doi Phu Kha National Park, Nan Province.

Forty years ago, Nan was considered a wild part of Northern Thailand, at times off-limit for travelling because of its location amidst the battle zone of the Thai army and its Communist party. Nowadays, Nan is becoming more famous amongst intrepid backpackers; it’s ancient temples in Tai Lue style with beautiful murals, green mountains and indigenous communities are starting to attract Thai and foreign tourists alike.

Fortunately, it seems that the local government has learned from the over-development occurring in other tourist destinations in Thailand, and Nan (for now) retains its identity as a lovely, quiet town with slow-life charm.

Ban Pak Nai Fisherman Village, Nan
Ban Pak Nai Fisherman Village, Nan.

Where To Stay in Nan

Nan has multiple choices of accommodation, ranging from simple guesthouses and homestays to comfortable hotels and resorts. It’s also possible to camp in the national parks.

Some of the best options are…

Yindee Travellers Lodge is a spotlessly clean, modern hostel near the centre of Nan Town. Their comfy dorm beds have curtains for extra privacy and start at $10 USD. Private rooms start at $20.

Bunrapee House is outside the town centre and is, therefore, a little bit quieter. A perfectly spacious private room is excellent value at just $13 USD. The owner, Nok, bends over backwards to accommodate his guests. Highly recommended!

ฺBan Roojai is very new, offering immaculate rooms with a mixture of brushed-concrete and bare-brick style. Rooms here start at $24 USD.

Click here to check out more options in Nan Province!

Things To Do in Nan Province

Visit Nan Morning Market

To catch it, you will have to wake up early (5 am to 6 am), but if you like markets, then this is the place to go in Nan! You will see many people coming down from the mountains to sell a variety of home-grown vegetables. 

Nan Morning Market
Wake up early to visit Nan’s morning market.

Explore the Historical Centre of Nan

Discover Nan via bicycle, samlor or electric trolley. Within the historical centre, you will find old teak wooden houses, small shops and centuries-old temples – most notably the Wat Phumin with its Tai Lue murals. 

Ride the famous Bo Klua loop

For motorbike lovers, this a stunning route to explore in the mountains of Doi Phu Kha. The roads are manageable with hardly any traffic!

A mountain village of Nan Province.
A mountain village of Nan Province.

Visit the National Parks

Nan province is home to seven national parks – Doi Phu Kha National Park being the most famous. Visiting these parks is a great way to explore the real jungle-clad mountains of Thailand, full of waterfalls, trails for hiking and stunning viewpoints. You can also stay overnight at the National Parks. 

Camping is available at Nan's seven National Parks.
Camping is available at Nan’s seven National Parks.

Give Alms to the Monks

Nan is still a traditional place where you will see many monks in the early morning (5 am to 6 am), making their rounds to receive food from the local people. This provides a great photo opportunity (please be respectful if you are a photographer), or you can join in and offer food. Ask your hotel for more information.

Visit the Ancient Salt Pits in Bo Klua

Bo Klua is a small village in the mountains of Doi Phu Kha, where you can find salt pits still in use for extraction as in the old days. Besides the Ancient Salt Pits, Bo Klua is a lovely little village in a stunningly beautiful area surrounded by high mountains and lush jungle.

Traditional Salt Pits at Bo Klua

Traditional Salt Pits at Bo Klua.

Watch the sunrise from Wat Khao Noi

This temple is located two kilometres out of town on a hill overlooking Nan. Clear skies bring breathtaking sunrise views over the town and its surrounding area!

Sunrise from Wat Khao Noi, Nan.
Sunrise from Wat Khao Noi, Nan.

Getting to Nan Province

Nan is motorbike heaven, and a great way of getting there is by motorcycle from Loei, Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. The easiest and most comfortable option is to fly to Nan Airport with Air Asia or Nok Air. Alternatively, you could take the bus from any major city in Thailand to Nan.

The roads of Nan Province are a dream for motorbikers!
The roads of Nan Province are a dream for motorbikers!

Where to go next?

  • North to Chiang Rai via Route 1148 passing Tham Sakoen National Park and Phu Lankha, on your way to Phu Chi Fa and the Golden Triangle.
  • West to Chiang Rai via Route 1024 and Route 120, passing Phayao along the beautiful Kwan Phayao.
  • South to Phitsanulok via Route 101 and Route 12, passing Phrae, Den Chai and Uttaradit.
  • Northeast to Luang Prabang in Laos, passing Hongsa and Xaraboury.
  • Southeast to Loei, along the Thai-Lao border.

About the writer: 

This guide was written by huge ‘Nan fan’, Ivo, who been exploring Southeast Asia since 1985. After years working in the travel and hospitality industry in Thailand, he now dedicates his time to what he loves most – travelling independently through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia by motorbike. Ivo is the founder and editor of the travel blog, The Little Elephant in Thailand (www.Traveling2Thailand.com) and Traveling 2 Nan – Thailand (www.Traveling2NanTailand.com), both born out of the sheer love of travel!

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