Where were we? We weren’t sure, but something about a waterfall.
“The sign says the temple is this way,” shouted my Japanese friend pointing up a paved, steep winding road.
“Let’s go then,” was my response as I twisted the throttle and tapped the motorbike into gear.
We pulled ourselves to the top, but no peaked roof peaked through the trees, no paths lead to a temple entrance. We continued down the road and found ourselves looping right back to the entrance.
So we changed our objective.
“The sign says the market is this way,” my Japanese friend once more pointed the way.
“The sign says the waterfall is down that way.”
“The woman said we should go that way to find the waterfall.”
Before we knew it the road had faded into a dirt track.
“The waterfall is just ahead!”
We puttered and skidded up the road a bit further.
“Mmm, maybe they haven’t built it yet?” I uttered even as I mentally chuckled at the idea of someone building a waterfall in a forest.
In the end this trip’s destinations didn’t bear fruit, but the journey kept dropping opportunities at our feet instead.
Welcome to Nan a secret place in Northern Thailand where the Thais vacation when the beaches and islands are overrun with foreign tourists.
Nan Quick Tips
1) Know a bit of Thai (but you can probably squeeze by on English)
2) Rent a scooter (250 baht per 24 hours) because they are the cheapest, easiest way to get around
3) Visit the Nan Museum. Nan is an ancient hub where many cultures merged and clashed to become Thailand today
4) The area is known for its textile industry! Find a scarf or intricate vest for a souvenir or maybe some high-grade fabric
5) Try the northern food
6) I don’t suggest third class on the train from Bangkok to Nan unless you are willing to pull an all-nighter
7) Bring water on your excursions because it’s hot in February
8) The bus station is pretty far from everything so if you book ahead your guesthouse might pick you up!
9) Go during the boat festival if you want a festival (I wasn’t there for it but it sounds like a blast!)
I think, out of all my Thai trips, this one had the most profound effect on my overall perspective of the country. It was a completely different area compared to the islands and metropolitan beast that is Bangkok.
Two friends, a full-time student from China and a full-time student from Japan, and I had embarked on the trip.
During the late hours of an obscure evening we’d found ourselves waiting for the train. At 197 baht each we’d signed up for 3rd class seats. We were nervous, but excited. It would be an overnight trip in upright seats.
The result was a fitful sleep stabbed by cricked necks and protesting backs but the leftover money would be a boon as we travelled from the last train station in Den Chai to Nan.
We had to shift from the train to a songthaew to a van before we finally arrived. I don’t remember much from the drive because I was asleep, but from the snippets I do remember it was a very green, mountainous region.
The first thing we had to tackle when we arrived in the town was a place to stay the next few days. As you may recall from my stint in a massage room on Koh Lanta I’m not very good at planning ahead. We thought we’d be fine because there was no foreign holiday going on. We forgot about local holidays. Ethnocentric thinkiinngggg!
We’d stumbled upon the playground for Thai tourists. Cruising through town there were crowds passing with characteristic tourist expressions and customary apparel but not a European or American face to be seen.
Thank goodness my Japanese friend was breaching level Fluent Thai. He directed our meandering to a home-stay guesthouse, called Baan Issara, with a 300-baht-per-night cost for each of us.
Phone # 089-7001814/ 086-3928801
line ID: baanissara
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (I suggest asking a Thai friend to help you contact them)
I had only “sawadee ka” (hello), “nung”-“sip” (one-ten) and “kobkoon ka” (thank you) in my vocabulary and my Chinese friend had mastered a few phrases and questions—but the couple running the guesthouse were the sweetest people.
At one point they asked me, (as translated by my friend) “would you like a separate room? We have some more room if you’d like your own space.”
I stared for a second trying to figure out why they were asking that question.
Then it hit me. My friends were men.
Chuckling a bit I asked my friend to tell them I’d be fine, I’m comfortable with my friends and would be sleeping on the floor (the room had a double bed and a mattress on the ground).
I’d never been asked that question before. I was pretty amused the rest of the trip.
The next day we figured out that we’d need some form of transportation to get around the sprawling town.
“Who can drive a scooter?” my friend asked and we all raised our hands. We settled on two scooters (250 baht for 24 hours).
My Japanese friend took our Chinese friend as a passenger and I had my scooter to myself. I was still a bit nervous from the residual memories of the small accident at Koh Lanta but it bled away as the countryside unfolded before me.
The first day with the bikes we visited the temple featured in our online exploration of the town.
The second day we got completely lost in the sense that we never found anything we set out to find.
It was a mesmerizing day. We passed through the lives of so many people. Admired the yards of dozens of homes and the labour of multiple generations.
To top off the day we visited a market featuring everything from the fabulous to the bizarre as the sunlight fizzled away.
With an open air, communal area designated for eating available we strode through the market collecting goodies to try then settled in to gobble them down.
I found the vest featured in my post about souvenirs (1000 baht) here and mustered up the courage to buy this innocent looking treat.
Yes it does have a texture like crispy hair when you eat it, but it is super delicious!
I certainly got my fill here in Nan with culture, spirituality, fresh air, nature, agriculture and northern food. Batteries recharged!