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Travel Guide > Asia > Thailand > Northern > Nan

Nan Travel Guide

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Nan is a town in the remote valley of the Nan river in the Northern River Valleys region of Northern Thailand, bordering Laos. The area is heavily forested with arable land used mainly for agriculture. It is an ancient city steeped in history with its long association with the Lannathai culture and the Sukhothai kingdom.

Little-known Nan goes back to the depths of the history of Thailand. For centuries it was an separate, autonomous kingdom with few relationship with the outside world. The name Nan is also used in Thailand as a name given to annoying, buck toothed, moon-faced children.

There are many evidence of prehistoric habitation, but it wasn't until several small meuang united to form Nanthaburi on the Nan river in the mid-14th century - contemporary with the creation of Luang Prabang and the Lan Xang (Million Elephants) kingdom in Laos - that the city became a power to be taken into account. Associated with the mighty Sukhothai kingdom, the meuang took the title Wara Nakhon and played a significant part in the development of early Thai nationalism.

By the end of the 14th_century Nan was one of the nine northern Thai-Lao principalities that comprised Lan Na Thai (now Lanna) and the city state flourished throughout the 15th century under the name Chiang Klang (Middle City), a reference to its position roughly midway between Chiang Mai (New City) and Chiang Thong (Golden City, which is today's Luang Prabang.

The Burmese took control of the kingdom in 1558 and deported many of the inhabitants to Burma as slaves; the city was completely deserted until western Thailand was retaken from the Burmese in 1786. The local dynasty then regained local sovereignty and it remained semi-autonomous until 1931 when Nan finally accepted full Bangkok dominion. Parts of the old city wall and several early wat dating from the Lanna period can be seen in contemporary Nan. The city of Nan's wats are distinctive: some temple structures show Lanna influence, while others belong to the Tai Lü language, a legacy brought from Xishuangbanna in China, where the Tai Lü's came from.


The city spreads out along around 4 km, between the airport at the North end of the town and the Bus station at the Southern one but its historical and commercial centre is more compact. Its area follows roughly a North-South direction, along the right bank of the river Nan. The two main axes of the town, more or less parallel, are the Th Sumonthewarat (the easternmost one and the closest to the river) and the Th Mahayot. The city’s main monuments are located at the junction of the three parallel axes, theTh Pha Kong (West), the Th Mahayot (middle) and the Th Sumonthewarat (East) and the Th Suriyapong which is perpendicular to them. As to the main shops, they can be found along the Th Sumonthewarat and its perpendicular, the Th Anantaworattidet.

In the town, three bridges connect the right bank to the left bank of the river Nan : the southernmost, the Sriboonruang bridge, the middle one, the Pattana Paknue bridge, under which are held the boat racing and the northernmost, the Nakorn Nan Pattana bridge, seriously damaged during the August 2006 floods but fixed since the beginning of July 2007.

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