Radom In-Saeng is driving his boat in Wa River where he was trained and where he trains local youth for the provincial boat racing tournament. He says the river is wide, and the racing boats are very fast. They can travel 750m in less than two minutes. Peerawat Jariyasombat

While mass tourism is overwhelming the highlighted attractions in Nan, small communities hidden on the back roads allow visitors to know the peaceful face of the province.

In the heart of Nan, the famous Wat Phumin is busy with tourists who come for the traditional murals and Naga sculptures. Nan’s main attractions are always packed with visitors. However, in other districts, life remains peaceful and rich with local arts and ceremonies.

“Local crafts are part of our life. As usual, the temple remains the centre of learning about the local lifestyle,” says the native guide Sabaithip Insai as she proudly presents her home town. “It is big fun to visit places that make the crafts.”

We are in Tambon Muang Tud, a small community in Phu Phiang district, on the eastern side of Nan River. The quiet communities are lined with small villages and plantations. With her assistance, I roam the leafy back roads and slowly explore the rural communities.

Sabaithip guides me to a house called Ban Khom Kham. Bamboo structures of paper lanterns are piled up on the table as we arrive. Yes, it is the place where Nan-style paper lanterns are made. Such handicraft courses are available for those who want to get a glimpse of Nan’s handicrafts.

Sabaithip Insai, a local guide, is walking through the entrance of Wat Bun Yuen’s pavilion. Built in 1786, the royal temple of Viang Sa district houses a principal Buddha statue built in 1900. The pavilion’s doors are made of finely carved wood. The carving process took three years to complete. Peerawat Jariyasombat

“These lanterns will be offered to the monks before making a sermon or for house decoration. Any house with lantern decorations will be considered as a house of wealth,” the house owner Thiranan Doydee explains.

I slowly apply glue on the bamboo frame, and carefully put white paper on it, which is then beautified with gold patterns on the edge. When completed, I offer the lantern to monks to be part of the sacred rites, a favourite pastime for Nan Buddhists.

At Wat Si Boon Ruang, a group of visitors gather around a table. They carefully add vivid colours on the miniature Naga heads. Nan is famed for its race boats, of which the heads are carved in the shapes of Naga. In evenings late in the rainy season, during September and October, you will see racing boats tirelessly travelling up and down Nan River.

“Boat racing is part of life. It is our spirit. Every community contributes to the racing tournament. While strong young men are recruited as paddlers for the racing boats, all families provide them meals and drinks during the training. We are part of the annual tournament.”

Muang Tud has a number of shady lanes, interrupted with scenic ponds that are old courses of Nan River. The peaceful atmosphere makes it a very nice place to escape from the city. However, if you find Muang Tud is not peaceful enough, Wiang Sa may suit your soul.

Muang Tud is pretty quiet, but Wiang Sa is completely quiet. Situated some 20km from Nan’s Muang district, Wiang Sa is a small town set among vast plantations and rural villages. What really attracted me to Wiang Sa is the Wa River.

The Wa River is fierce. Adventurous rafters love to challenge its hundreds of rapids that range from easy routes to a small waterfall. Rafters spend a few days going through the 80km-long whitewater rafting route that cuts through lush forests.

Radom In-Saeng waves to a fishermen when he leisurely rides his long-tailed boat in the Wa River. Before joining Nan River in Wiang Sa, the Wa River is wider and its fierce stream becomes kind and calm when it runs through the rice paddies and corn fields.

“The sunset view here is stunning. Yesterday, I cruised through here and was soaked up by the great scenery,” he says, his voice mirroring the utmost pleasure. “During the cool season, we cruise upstream to set a fishing camp under the starry sky. This river was my playground during my childhood. I played here, enjoying life with my friends.”

I agree with him. Except for its touristy places, Nan is a nice destination. Visit the very local places and you will get a glimpse of the local spirit as well.

Painting the miniature Nan race boat’s head is good fun. After finishing the painting, clients can keep them as souvenirs. Nan people believe that the Naga protects their town, temples, as well as rivers. So, they put the Naga everywhere including on boats. Peerawat Jariyasombat

Thiranan Doydee is demonstrating how to make paper lanterns in the Nan style. The lantern is a traditional decorative item of the province. It is also used in the Buddhist ceremony as well. Tourists can attend the paper lantern-making course at 400 baht per person.

People at Ban Nam Muab, Wiang Sa, are decorating a rice grain pagoda for the parade for the Kathin ceremony. The countryside of Nan offers opportunities to try homestays, taste local cuisine, collect mushrooms, trek or explore caves. Peerawat Jariyasombat

At Wat Si Bun Ruang, Kamnan Lam Moolah writes my name in the Lanna alphabet on a small piece of paper. He puts it on a wax sheet and asks me to roll it to make a candle. This is a kind of fortune telling. If the lit candle has a good flame, it means the candle owner will have good fortune. If not, you are about to face some obstacles. Peerawat Jariyasombat

Wiang Sa District Office is an elegant wooden building. On the upper floor is an exhibition of the royal visit by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, local tools and local racing boats. Peerawat Jariyasombat

Khao Lam is a local specialty of Nan. Sticky rice, beans and coconut milk are poured into the bamboo trunks before being cooked on an open fire. It is priced 15-20 baht each. Tourists can learn how to cook Khao Lam in Ban Nam Muab, Wiang Sa.

News Reporter

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