Wat Phumin

Nan’s Wat Phumin has an unusual cruciform ubosot, built in 1596.

Ubosot at Wat Phumin, Nan

Inside there are four Buddha figures in bhūmisparśa mudrā. This posture reflects the moments after the Lord Buddha achieved enlightenment when he was challeged by Māra (the leader of a horde of demons) to prove that he had indeed achieved enlightenment and found a way to end all suffering. The Lord Buddha touched the earth, proclaiming that the earth was his witness.

Buddha figures at Wat Phumin, Nan

The inner walls of the temple are covered with vibrant murals painted by Thai Lü (an ethnic group, originally from Yunan in China) artists in the 19th century. They’re a wonderful reflection on life in those days.

Murals at Wat Phumin, Nan

Murals at Wat Phumin, Nan

Murals at Wat Phumin, Nan

Nearby there’s a strange domed building.

Building at Wat Phumin, Nan

I was a little surprised by what I found inside.

Hell at Wat Phumin, Nan

Hell on earth.

Wat Phra That Chang Kham

Nearby is Wat Phra That Chang Kham. (“Phra That” indicates that the temple houses a relic of the Lord Buddha.) It’s unknown when this temple was founded, but the vihara was rebuilt in 1458 CE. The gilded chedi dates from the 14th century.

Chedi at Wat Phra That Chang Kham, Nan

And has elephant supporters.

Elephant supporters at What Phra That Chang Kham, Nan

Inside the temple there’s a massive figure of the Lord Buddha.

Buddha figure at Wat Phra That Chang Kham, Nan

The walls have some faded murals. It’s said that the abbot ordered the murals to be whitewashed over because they were distracting the congregation from his sermons. Now they’re slowly being restored.

There were many novices hanging around in its grounds, some sweeping the paths, some buying shaved ice desserts, some just talking. Here are two playing a board game.

Novices playing a board game at Wat Phra That Chang Kham, Nan

Wat Suam Tam

This temple, dating from 1456, has an interesting 40 m high chedi dating from the 1600s. It’s clearly influenced by Khmer architecture, though also has strong Sukhothai influences.

Chedi at Wat Suam Tam, Nan

The vihara is absolutely ravishing in red and gold.

Vihara at Wat Suan Tan, Nan

Wat Hua Khuang

This minor temple has a beautiful wooden mondop (library), though it’s now used as a kuti (monk’s residence).

Mondop (library) at Wat Hua Khuan, Nan

Wat Phra That Chae Haeng

A couple of kilometres outside town is Nan’s most sacred temple, Wat Phra That Chae Haeng. The walk there’s pleasant enough, on a road through rice fields that gradually rises as it approaches the temple, which is situated atop a small hill.

Originally this wasn’t a temple, but was rather a chedi built in 1355 to house sacred Buddha relics.
Chedi at Wat Phra That Chae Haeng, Nan

The interior of the newer temple is, however, most impressive.

Interior of Wat Phra That Chae Haeng, Nan


Each city in Thailand has a guardian spirit which lives in a pillar known as the “lak meuang”. Somewhat surprisingly, this isn’t an ancient tradition. The first lak meuang was erected by King Rama I in 1782 when he moved the Thai capital from Thonburi across the river to Bangkok. The shrine built to house Bangkok’s lak meuang was in fact the first building erected in the new capital.

Nan’s lak meuang is an impressive affair, decorated with gold leaf and topped with the four faces of the Hindu creator deity, Brahma (known in Thailand as Phra Phrom).

Nan's lak meuang

It’s housed in a fancy silvery-white pavilion.

Nan's lak meuang pavilion

And is guarded by scary demons emerging from the mouths of nagas.

Guardian of Nan's lak meuang


One of my dark secrets is that I’m a closet Leonard Cohen fan. His witty, literate songs such as Hallelujah, I’m Your Man, Everybody Knows (“Shining artefact of the past” has to be one of my favourite lines ever) and Suzanne appeal greatly to me. Surely he must be one of Canada’s greatest exports ever.

Tonight I was reminded of another of his songs. As I looked up I saw tens of thousands of small birds perched on the overhead wires – small swifts, evenly spaced.

Birds on wires in Nan

During the day to find evidence of these birds one can look down and see the trails of bird lime.

     “Like a bird on the wire,
     Like a drunk in a midnight choir
     I have tried in my way to be free.”

Funny how he forgot to write about the poo.



As the aeroplane descended I could see the river snaking its way along the valley floor. To either side there were ox bow lakes. Seven of them I counted, but there could have been more. The houses of the small town of Nan clustered either side of the river.

For centuries Nan was an independent kingdom, isolated by the mountain ranges which surround it. Short stretches of the brick walls built to defend it still stand. Its isolation still gives it its own special character. McDonald’s and Pizza Hut haven’t made it here yet. Around town there are posters announcing stag beetle fights. And a few households still put out jars of drinking water for passers-by.

Water jars in Nan

Nan lies about 670 km north of Bangkok, close to the border with Laos, and is small, with a population about 20,000.

At the bus station the woman selling tickets had a small plastic bag full of cicadas. A short bamboo tube, too small for the cicadas to crawl through, was secured to the neck of the bag by a rubber band. A small crowd had gathered to admire her tasty snack.

The town looks much like any other town: ugly rows of concrete buildings, a tangle of wires overhead. However, there are a few large teak houses in the centre of town, and a number of shady gardens with moss growing over the walls.

The major attraction of the town, however, is its charming temples. I didn’t see another Westerner in my three days in here. I doubt, however, Nan will remain off the tourist trail for much longer.