Nan in Northern Thailand has gained fame in the last five years among Thai travellers. Many Thais just go to the relatively quaint, relaxed city attracted mostly by some of Thailand’s most exquisite temples and also a pristine nature.
Nan has also seen its popularity increasing with the opening of an international border checkpoint with Laos. The highway to Laos has been modernised and is part of the Greater Mekong Subregion transit roads, linking Northern Thailand not only to Lao PDR but also to the Northern part of Vietnam up to Dien Bien Phu and Sapa.
Strategies to position Nan for tourists on their way to Luang Prabang are now being developed by the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office based in Bangkok.
Nan remains however relatively unknown to foreign travellers. Data from the Department of Tourism points to 17,800 foreign visitors in 2015, a number up by 12.2%. However, it represents little compared to the number of domestic visitors. Last year, some 715,000 Thai travellers visited Nan province, most of them being attracted by two main attractions: Doi Pukha National Park, a natural sanctuary with mountains culminating at 2,000 m and famed in spring time for the Chompoo Phu Kha, a unique tree to the park which gets covered by blossoming pink flowers.
The other attraction of Nan is the incredible Wat Phumin temple built in a cruciform shape in the middle of the old town. Originally constructed in 1596, the temple is particularly famed for its murals, among the most exquisite in Northern Thailand. A work of Thai Lue ethnic artists, the frescoes have been renovated in the 19th century and added with new scenes of Nan locals daily life. Among them, the most famous motive is the whispering, a noble man -some says that he might be the portrait of Nan King Chao Ananta Vora Ritthi Det- showing intimacy with a noble lady.
The delicate painting has turned into Nan symbol and appears today on any products sold in Nan, from tee-shirts to traditional lamps, from snacks to painting reproduction. North of Nan, in NongBua Village, another temple is also covered by colourful murals providing precious details about life in the area some hundred years ago.
Is it the influence of Nan murals? For a city of such a small size (25,000 within its historical boundaries and 60,000 when including surrounding villages attached to Nan municipality-, there is surprisingly some 10 art galleries present, including the very impressive Nan Riverside Art Gallery which exhibits local talents. “We are very much inspired by our peaceful life, surrounded by a prolific nature. Nan artists have consequently developed a very unique art style”, says Jeep Sitthituch, a local Nan artist.
There is a Nan art festival organised every year by all the local artists with performances, concerts and a giant open air art gallery organised along Nan river. But once more, the event has so far gained only fame regionally and maybe among a few Bangkok residents. “We do not benefit from the clear support of the municipality for this art event. More could certainly be done to enhance Nan reputation as a centre for arts”, adds Jeep Sitthituch.
Last year, the Tourism Authority of Thailand in coordination with Thailand Minister of Sports and Tourism named Nan a hidden jewel of Thailand. Brochures were printed and distributed emphasizing Nan’s attractions. It might not have been sufficient to attract more foreign travellers. Creating a circuit of Nan artists, supporting the art community by organising events at local restaurants and hotels would probably make the destination a “must-visit” place for any tourists with a keen interest for culture. Nan mural’s of the “Whispering” should more than ever be used in international campaigns to express strongly Nan’s charms…