Muang Nan was an independent kingdom since the mid 14th century, in parallel with Luang Prabang, the capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom in what today is Laos. Later it was annexed by the Thai Lan Na Kingdom, conquered by the Burmese, abandoned and conquered once again by the Thais; finally, it was the last self administered area to be added to the Thai Kingdom in 1931.
Modern Nan is a pleasantly isolated backwaters location between Northern Thailand and Laos. It has several attractions ranging from natural views to unique Thai Buddhist temples, as well as a suitable tourism infrastructure.
It hosts an interesting temple, Wat Phra That Chang Kham, with a stupa held by sculpted elephants; the only one similar to it in Thailand is in Sukhothai, but there, it is inactive. The temple is conveniently placed close to the intersection of Mahaphrom Road (the Nan Guesthouse road) and Pha Kong Road, the latest is one of the most important north-south axis in town. In its kitty corner is Wat Phumin, which has a most unusual central cruciform structure hosting the bot and the viharn. The Nan River, east of the town, shapes the streets into an irregular grid where fast-food franchises are absent, although Seven Eleven already did its debut here.
In the Backpackers Universe, Nan owns its fame to the bus line traveling along the old route to Chiang Rai.
There are two ways to travel from Nan to Chiang Rai; the newer one passes through Phayao and has several buses during the day. The Nan Valley is surrounded by mountains and the new road uses a low pass to get from there to Phayao; then it continues through the northern plains to Chiang Rai. However, the older and famous way goes through roads 1080, 1148 and then 1021; it is a tortured and narrow way among the steep hills and the Nan River. Beautiful and slow. In the opposite direction, the bus speeds downwards and thus it offers a shorter opportunity to enjoy the views. There is only one bus per day, it leaves at 09:00 and arrives at 15:00; it costs 130B. The new and spacious bus terminal is conveniently located close to the center of town, and it has an unusual row of shops before the entrance that includes a comfortable restaurant. Many buses per day do the 117km to Phrae for 47B.
Nan Guesthouse, Thanon Mahaphom 57/16 is the perfect place for backpackers. Placed within a classical Thai woodhouse, it offers basic rooms with shared bathrooms for 100B per night. The place is adequately placed near Wat Chang Kham and Wat Phumin two of the main attractions in the town, and just a couple of blocks south from the modern center.
The Night Market is centrally located at the intersection of Thanon Phakwang with Thanon Anantaworarichides and it offers local adaptations to the usual Thai staples; notice the slightly different spicing of the food – despite being geographically in Northern Thailand, the food shows Isaan and Laotian influences.