Dates: April 7 - April 10
Phrae and Nan are remote, rural provinces in Northeastern Thailand. There are significant populations of ethnic minorities in the area, notably the Thai Lü, ancestors of immigrants from Xishuangbanna, in southwestern China. Both regions are a little off the beaten track and I didn’t see a single other tourist the entire time I travelled in this part of the country—probably also due to the fact that it was off-season.
The town of Phrae sits on the banks of the Mae Nam Yom River. Its tourist attractions are chiefly remnants of its past: A collection of teakwood antique mansions spared from the eponymous province’s lucrative teakwood trade, which benefited its people greatly prior to the nationwide ban on logging. And of course, like any destination in Thailand, there are ample wats to visit. Particularly noteworthy is Wat Luang, which was built shortly after the founding of the city in the 9th century.
After Phrae, I headed by bus farther north to Nan province and its eponymous capital city, which served as the seat for the Kingdom of Nan until Burmese conquerers took control of the kingdom in the 16th century. The local dynasty again took control in 1786 and Nan was governed as a semi-autonomous region until 1931, when Nan agreed to submit itself to the auspices of Bangkok. My plan for Nan was to use it as a jumping off point for exploring the nature in the surrounding area. However, it was so hot when I arrived that I was under-motivated to do much hiking. So I rented a bicycle and explored Nan’s temples, interspersed with visits to the town’s air conditioned cafes. Nan is home to one of the Thailands most famous temples, Wat Phumin, which is known for its 19th century murals by a Thai Lü artist named Thit Buaphan. One section of the mural, in which a mustached Buaphan depicted himself flirting with a smily women, is so famous in Thailand that one can purchase phone cases and t-shirts bearing the image. After spending the day exploring Nan, I came upon a local hangout spot on the banks of the Nan River, where I got experience how young Thais enjoy their Saturday evenings when a group invited me to join them for a drink. Although they spoke very little English, I somehow managed to hang out with them for upwards of three hours, sipping on soda water and whiskey cocktails.
The following day, I took a bus to Pua, a small town near the Doi Phu Kha National Park, 75 km north of Nan. Since it was too hot to do any hiking, I rented a scooter an explored the surrounding countryside, stopping at a waterfall and Nong Bua, a village known for its historic temple featuring Jakata murals, which are thought to have been executed by Thit Buaphan, who did the murals in the aforementioned Way Phumin. Nong Bua is also regarded for its local textiles in the Thai Lü tradition. Weaving houses are open and visitors can observe townswomen as they operate traditional pedal-powered looms.