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Awakening to Phrae & Nan

"The Way of Nature The Way of Culture" is the slogan of Nan province. A recent trip reminded us of the natural beauty throughout northern Thailand that attracts visitors to our part of the country. The Royal Thai Government's Public Relation Department, Region 3 Office organized the trip to several UNSEEN interesting places for visitors to get to know. The visits covered natural beauty of ecotourism, and man-made places in Phrae and Nan. Both Phrae and Nan are along the same route from Chiang Mai and not difficult to get to. A drive by car, or bus ride, directly to the most distant border of Nan is 6-7 hours.

Phrae was once the center of Thailand's timber industry. The city of Phrae is a 4-5 hour trip from Chiang Mai, and the province is home to the Mae Yom National Park , a huge natural reserve of forests, reservoirs and wild life. Part of Mae Yom National Park is Thailand's last remaining giant teak forest. This forest covers an area of 40,000 rai (i.e. 61.5 square kilometers) and remains an incredible example of what most of northern Thailand was once like. People are very friendly and hospitable.

Phrae is one of the most ancient cities in Thailand, an old establishment having been founded in the same period as Sukhothai and Chiang Mai. The town was built over 800 year ago, allegedly by Thai Khern and Tai Lue people. It is laced with romance and enchants visitors with the famous love legends called "Phra Lor" and "Phu Chana Sibtid". The former name was Wiang Gosai which means Silk Cloth.

Local museum is near the town on Phrae-Soong Men road, in the same area as Baan Fai restaurant. This museum is a replica of the typical house existing about 100 years ago.

The province of Phrae offers visitors some unusual sights. Pae Muang Phee in a folk tale describes a woman who entered the magic forest looking for mushrooms. To her amazement, she found gemstones scattered throughout the forest. She gathered the gemstones in her basket and took leave of the forest. The forest spirits would not let her return to the village. The trees moved around to make her confused and prevented her from finding the path out of the forest. And then to further repel other humans, the red land grew up in to steep sided harsh canyons. Sensing the great displeasure of the spirits, she left the basket of gems and gladly returned to town with her life and sanity.

Phrae is a place of mystery. We visited the ticklish tree at a temple in the city. The tree was tied with a monk's robe to protect it. When the trunk is tickled in the correct place, the branches and leaves shake as a reaction to being tickled.

The city of Nan is home to Wat Phumin once a royal temple constructed in 1596. The renowned murals were painted during the renovation in 1867 to l874. Mostly the paintings narrate the Jataka tales, or the ten previous lives of Lord Buddha. Throughout are also vivid recounts of the local way life and local costume of Nan people during the King V reign. Foreigners began to visit Nan during King Rama V's reign which was also a time of border dispute stirred up by France. Another fascinating temple is Wat Ming Muang, highly embellished with elegant stucco design in base relief. The colorful interior murals are painted by present-day local artists.

We visited Doi Phu Ka National Park named after Phu Ka, the king of former Nan State. The tallest peak in the park boundaries, Doi Phu Ka at 1980 meters above sea level. The national park covers 8 districts in Nan province, however the attractive area would be in a high range in districts of Pua, Bor Glua, and Mae Jarim. At the park headquarters at 900 meters above sea level, we enjoyed the brisk climate sitting in a sala at the edge of a cliff having hot tea and cakes.

Due to the heavy rains of the morning, our group could not continue the drive to the waterfall or to the cave. We traveled on to see the Ancient Palm which is an endangered species as the few remaining Ancient Palms thrive only on the soil created during the Jurassic era. The clusters of white and pink flowers bloom in November. The clusters are 30-45 cm in length. According to a posted sign, in 1999 the tree was 50 years old and stands at 1900 msl. Little remains after being struck by lightning in 2003.

We headed off to the salt mines of Bor Glua district in this Nan province. The small village sits right on the edge of a fast paced stream. It's not all work there in the salt mines. Each Khao Paansa holy day, the villagers do not work. Also the annual ceremony on March 6 and 7 is the time for villagers to pay respect to mother earth, the supplier of the salt.

We are most grateful to members of the royal family who take an interest in the development of remote areas of the country. The Princess Sirindhorn's Learning Center should provide much greater opportunities to professional teachers who choose to work in the provinces instead of working in Bangkok with more chance of advancement in their career. Over two years ago, on a visit to Nan, the Princess saw the need to develop quality education program for teachers in the area's government schools.

At the moment, a group of teachers meet every Saturday at the center to participate in video conferencing broadcasted by a university in Bangkok. This course will enable the teachers in Nan province to secure a Masters degree in education. The facilities being constructed include dormitories and learning centers to train students and adults. A scheme is in effect to guide tribal families on how to efficiently use appropriated land and how to grow particular agriculture products under the supervision of army administrators.

The visit to the border at Huay Gohn, Chalerm Prakiat district of Nan province at the border of Laos was an opportunity as anticipated. It was disappointing not to be able to buy silks and weaving from Laos. The officer at the border said during the cool season the market bustles with handmade goods from Laos for sale. However, during the rainy season, there aren't many goods from Laos as it is difficult for the Laotians to come to the border to trade. The Thai side of the market is modern with white, one story cement stores and orange tile roofs. Plenty of items are in stock for Laotians to buy to take back to Laos. There was a curious crowd around the vendor selling insect snack delicacies.

Later, tribute was made at a war memorial erected in memory of the dedicated soldiers who died fighting for the country. The site includes a hall with miniature replica battlefield of the incursions. Outside the hall, earthen bunkers remain to show the public how the Thai soldiers endured the harsh realities of war.

Returning to Nan city, we stopped off at the Nan Riverside Art Gallery currently the venue for Abstract Art and Semi-Abstract Art of the First Contemporary Art Exhibition until the end of November 2004. The buildings are very attractive combining teak and river polished stones. The revolving exhibition is on the main floor of the gallery while the second floor displays the private collection of Nan artist and gallery owner, Winai Prabripoo's. The gallery is only 20 kilometers on the Nan-Tha Wang Pha (district) Road.

These few days were filled with ancient sights amid beautiful nature. For the explorer and nature lover, these two provinces can be enthralling and well worth the time to investigate even more places.

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