Nan has a fine assortment of beautiful temples.
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Located 2 kilometers past the bridge that spans the Nan river, heading southeast out of town. It is the most sacred wat in Nan Province, and dates from 1355. It was built during the reign of Pray Kan Muang. It is set in a square, walled enclosure on top of a hill with a view of Nan and the valley. The Thai Lue influenced bot features a triple-tiered roof with carved wooden eaves and dragon reliefs over the doors. A gilded Lanna-style chedi sits on a large square base next to the bot, its sides 22.5m long; the entire stupa is 55.5m high.
Located on Pha Kong road, central Nan city, rated as the second-most important temple in the city. The main wihan, constructed in 1458, has a huge seated Buddha image and faint murals. Also in the wihan, is a set of Lanna-period scrolls inscribed (in Lanna script) not only with the usual Buddhist scriptures but also with the history, law and astrology of the time. A thammdat (a dhamma seat used by monks when teaching) sits to one side. The magnificent chedi behind the wihan dates to the 14th century, probably around the same time the temple was founded. It features 24 elephant supports similar to those seen in Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai. Next to the stupa is a small, insignificant bot from the same era.
Near the Nan National Museum, in Phumin Village, it features beautifully carved wooden doors which face four directions. The city of Nan’s most famous wat is renowned for its cruciform ubosoth (or bot) which was constructed in 1596 and restored during the reign of Chao Ananta Vora Ritthi Det (1867-1875).
It is the only temple which was built as if it were on the back of two immense snakes (or Nagas). Each of the four entrances is preceded by a small corridor topped by a finely decorated point shaped structure (underlining the royal origin of the temple) and is equipped with smoothly carved doors; with Chinese demon guards in the East, flowers in the North and forest life motives in the Lanna style in the West and South. The wat’s interior is impressive. It is also a good example of Thai Lue architecture. Well preserved murals of great value illustrating the Khattana Kumara Jataka on the Northern wall and the Nimi Jatakas on the Western wall as well as scenes of the local life of the time when they were painted by Thai Lue artists during the restoration of the temple at the end of the 19th century. Europeans can even be noticed: a reference to the arrival of the French to whom the East of the Nan valley area was yielded in 1893.
This small wat diagonally opposite Wat Phra That Chang Kham is composed of a distinctive Lanna/Lan Xang-style chedi with four Buddha niches, a wooden hàw trai – now used as a kùti (monk cell) – and a noteworthy bot with a Luang Prabang-style carved wooden veranda. A carved wooden ceiling and a huge Naga altar can be found inside. Stylistic cues suggest this may be one of the city’s oldest wats though the temple’s founding date is unknown.
Wat Hua Khuang is known as “The Monastery North of the Plaza”. Like other wats in the Nan area (such as Wat Ton Laeng) the main building functions as both a viharn and an ubosot. Its most attractive feature is the front gable with a richly carved eyebrow-shaped pelmet that hangs in front of the portico. The decoration is largely unpainted, allowing the quality of the carving to speak for itself. Also of note is a small chedi behind the viharn-ubosot and the wooden ho trai (library) now used as a kuti (monk’s quarters).
Located in Tambon Nai Wiang, main feature is a 4.11m bronze Buddha image. Supposedly established in 1456, the Wat Suan Tan (Palm Grove Monastery; Suan Tan road) is composed of an interesting chedi of the 15th century (40 m high) which combines Hindu/Khmer style motives (chedi in the form of a prang) and, surmounting it, an obviously Sukhothai style motive in the shape of a lotus bud, modified in its current form in 1914. The heavily restored wihan contains the Phra Chao Thong Thipun, out of early Sukhothai-style bronze, seated Buddha in the pose of Bhumisparsa mudra. It measures 4.10 meters and could have been ordered by the Chiangmai sovereign Tilokaraj following his conquest of Nan in 1449.
Wat Suan Tan means “The Monastery of the Sugar Palm Grove”. It is notable for the 14th century Sukhothai-style chedi that stands behind the more recent viharn.
This temple and Buddha image is sited at the top of Khao Noi Hill, overlooking the city of Nan two kilometers west of the town. The hill is 800 feet high. The temple buildings are recent, and from the top of the hill, easily accessed by a road, one can see the entire town of Nan.
This temple is located close to the Wat Phumin on the same side of the Th Suriyaphong, further west. Its ubosoth’s exterior is embellished with elegant bas-relief stucco while its interior is adorned with mural paintings depicting Nan people’s way of life, painted by present-day local artists. The Holy City Pillar is enshrined in the four-sided Thai styled pavilion in front of the ubosoth. This pillar is 3 meters high, stands on a carved gilded wooden base and is topped with a four-faced Brahma, representing the four virtues on Buddhism. It is an ancient Thai totem that is still very significant. The city pillars were probably erected as a ritual centre for agrarian fertility rites in ancient Thai towns and kingdoms, in the heart of the old cities and just next to the seat of power of a king or a chief.
On the grounds of Wat Phaya Wat is a notable chedi constructed in the Mon style. It is nearly identical in appearance to the Chedi Mahapol at Wat Ku Kut in Lamphun, and is stylistically similar to Wat Chedi Liam in Chiang Mai and Wat Haripunchai in Lamphun. Like other replicas, it was constructed in long after the Mon occupation—in this case during the 17th or 18th centuries.
Located in the Th. Phaya Phu, west from the Main Police Station, this wat was built during the reign of Pra Chao Phukheng and is about six centuries old. There is a big chedi behind the vihara whare are enshrined two ancient Buddha images. The vihara’s door are carved with image of mythical giant guards.
Wat Phra That Beng Sakat may have been founded as early as 1283, but the current viharn is of more recent vintage. Its chief attraction is the brilliantly decorated arch above the main doorway, at the center of which is an image of the god rahu. In Hindu mythology, Rahu is the god responsible for causing solar eclipses. Here, Rahu can be seen holding the sun in his hands and is in the process of pushing the orb into his wide mouth.
Wat Nong Bua, the “Lotus Pond Monastery”, stands about 40 kilometers north of Nan. It was constructed in 1862 by the Tai Lue people, who figure prominently in the history of the Nan valley region from the 19th century onward. The Wat is famous for its mural paintings, which are similar in style to those of Wat Phumin in downtown Nan. It is possible that the same artists may have worked on both projects.
The village surrounding Nong Bua is inhabited by Tai Lue people who emigrated from the Sipsongpanna region of southern Yunnan in 1836 (pinyin: Xishuangbanna). Numerous Tai Lue came to inhabit the Nan valley after Kawila, a local ruler in the late 18th century, raided southern Yunnan areas to repopulate the eastern regions of Lanna Tai. Today, the village continues to retain much of its traditional culture, including distinctive Tai Lue textiles which are produced at a local cooperative.
Wat Ton Laeng is a Tai Lue wat about 60 kilometers north of Nan. It is unusual in that the roof is hipped on all four sides, creating an almost pyramidal form. The gable, which is correspondingly smaller than those in most wats, is brightly decorated in typical Tai Lue fashion.
Wat Nong Daeng is a Tai Lue style wat about 70 kilometers north of Nan. It was originally established in 1787, but has been moved several times since then. The present viharn was constructed in 1878. The original clay floor was replaced with terracotta tiles in 1949, and the walls of brick and clay were replaced with solid plastered walls in the 1995 restoration.