Couchfish Day 29: Nan rocks

Couchfish Day 29: Nan rocks


Close readers will have noticed I’ve spent more time in Nan than any other province so far on this trip. Why? Because Nan rocks. Not only is the countryside beautiful, but the people are super friendly and the food is great. I’ll be touching on all three of these in today’s final post on the province.

My first stop is Nan’s central market for breakfast. I ride up planning just to grab a quick plate of something local before riding south, but the market is going off.

Just another morning market. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Thumping music, enhanced by an appallingly loud sound system, echoes down the street. Just inside, behind an onion stall, a dance stage supports five women in not–temple–appropriate clothing. They’re dancing well out of sync—stop to wave at me—and the music is terrible (to my ears, at least). The racket is so loud you could slice it, the market sellers though seem oblivious. It is surreal. It is also 6:00 am.

Standing there gobsmacked, an older man sidles up beside me and puts his arm through mine. I pull back—it is a bit early for dancing—but he wants me to join him and his mates. There are six of them—and I’m the youngest by at least two decades. As I sit, they raise their short Leo–filled glasses and toast me: “Chokdee!” (Cheers).

Morning beers are not my thing, but the drinking food laid out on the lino–topped table is. Mains include en kai thawt (deep-fried chicken tendons), naem sii khrong muu (sour fried short pork ribs) and sai krawk isaan (pork and rice sausages). On the side are a bunch of dipping sauces, peanuts and rot duan (fried bamboo grubs). I love rot duan.

By the way, if you are looking for an excellent compendium on Thai drinking food, see Andy Ricker and JJ Goode’s Pok Pok The Drinking Food of Thailand.

What I came for, but ended up with morning beer snacks. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Going by their droopy, watering eyes and camaraderie, the session has been going on for some time. Two plastic crates full of empty longneck beer bottles nestle beside the table. The floor is littered with cigarette butts, gold–tops, peanuts and screwed up tissues. Thanks to a combination of the music, that they’re plastered, and that my Thai isn’t great, the conversation is beyond random. We do establish that Nan is great and that I should spend all morning with them drinking.

An hour or so later than planned, I make my way out of the market and back onto the bike. It is about 50 kilometres—roughly a one and a half hour ride one way—south to Sao Din.

Tatooine welfie.

As with the City of Ghosts in Phrae that I wrote about a few days ago, Sao Din is a product of nature’s will. Unlike Phae Mueang Phi however, Sao Din feels abandoned—there is a carpark, but that is about it. The lack of attention makes it more atmospheric. Think a weird moonscape of dirt towers that wouldn’t be out of place on Tatooine. There are plenty of valleys to explore and at one stage I stumble upon a group of locals hanging out. Photo time.

About half way back to Nan, I’m feeling the effects of my deep-fried meat and salt breakfast. The local market at Wiang Sa comes to the rescue. Kai thawt (deep-fried crispy chicken) seems like the perfect antidote.

Diet starts tomorrow. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Almost back to Nan, I stop by two hilltop temples on the south side of town. First is Wat Phra That Chae Haeng, with a 55-metre tall, gold–clad chedi that dates back to 1353. The original town of Nan once clustered around the base of this hilltop temple. 

Over to the southwest lies Wat Phra That Khao Noi. The hill here is a bit more elevated and has a nine-metre tall walking Buddha statue overlooking the town. It seems like the perfect place to see out the fading late afternoon light.

Enjoying the view from Wat Phra That Khao Noi. Photo: Mark Ord.

From here it is back into town. I swing by Fhu Travel, hoping to say hi! to the team, but they’ve closed for the day. A trek with Mr Fhu in the early 90s to visit the nomadic Mlabri people was my first ever experience of Nan. Memories of that trip—my God that jeep—are one of the many reasons I love the province so much.

I’ll be sad to leave tomorrow, but in the same breath am looking forward to a new country—Laos!

The Couchfish podcast. Following a day by day itinerary through Southeast Asia—for all those people stranded on their couch.