Though an average sized provincial town, Nan has a well above-average selection of restaurants and while you may not be doing a lot of late night partying or bar hopping, there is plenty of great grub to be had from early morning to the early hours, with an excellent selection of downtown coffee shops and bakeries to fill in any gaps in-between.
The place to be for breakfast is the centrally located and hugely popular Sweety 9 on the corner of Sumondhewaraj and Mahawong Roads, just a short hop from most of our in-town accommodation suggestions. You may lose some of your adventurous traveller cred by shouting out, ”...meet you at Sweety’s for brekkie’ but their cheap range of filling local breakfasts and decent coffee takes some beating. Try the Nan special to start the day: fried rice with side servings of crispy pork skin, local sausage and pickled veg for 69 baht (including coffee) and if that’s a bit too local for that time of the morning they do offer various egg dishes served with wholemeal bread.
For more Western-orientated options you can head round the corner to Hot Bread on Suriyaphong Road, who also knock up, as the name suggests, house-made wholemeal loaves to accompany a wide range of Western and local morning fare to suit most tastes and budgets. Aside from breakfasts they have an eclectic menu including Thai and European faves plus even a few Indian options as well as juices and good coffee. Though we tried their full English with Cumberland sausages their Indian dishes get good reviews too. Note that though they do claim to be open daily we found their hours somewhat erratic. Good English is spoken, with local info and a useful book exchange offered too. Incidentally, next door to Hot Bread and run by the same people is a justifiably popular khao soi cafe; it's 30 baht a bowl for north Thailand’s signature noodle soup.
Another bustling coffee shop popular for breakfast is Coffee Sound opposite the morning market, though with plenty of smoothies, juices and ice cream on the menu and a choice of outdoor terrace or air-con interior it’s also a good spot to cool down late morning or afternoon. Needless to say the busy morning market opposite or the afternoon market just around the corner are also very good sources of local snacks, drinks and coffees, and do have a few sit-down noodle and rice stands.
Another excellent breakfast option, though they’re open all day for lunch, early evening beer and snacks and coffee in between, is the garden cafe De Zeven, belonging to and directly opposite Nan Guesthouse. Sandwiches and pancakes go for 60 to 80 baht plus Thai standards go for 50 baht or so a dish. Last but not least is Nan Coffee, close to the Kasikorn bank on the central stretch of Sumondhewaraj, which aside having a good brew offers various breakfasts, juices and toasted sandwiches.
With so many fine breakfast options you may not be too hungry around lunchtime so pop into I-Kay, Lanna Cafe or one of the other downtown coffee shop bakeries for an afternoon slice of cheesecake and hang on for late afternoon when the riverside eateries set their tables up along the Nan River promenade. Take a right immediately before the bridge at the end of Mahawong Road, follow the riverbank for a short distance and you’ll see outdoor restaurants setting up. With a cold beer, plate of Nan-style sausage and the sun setting over the Nan River there’s no finer place to be in town at the end of the day. Two or three eating spots here have tables and chairs set up in an open paved area right by the river, with differing coloured table cloths indicating which belongs to which. We doubt there’s much difference so just plonk yourself down where there’s the best view. Staff are friendly, speak a smattering of English and offer English -language menus. Food is Thai and north Thai, with dishes copious, inexpensive and very tasty. A large beer and large plate of spicy Nan sausage come in at under 200 baht while most main courses are around 80 to 100 baht, or up to 150 baht for whole fish dishes.
Other good evening options include the locally famous Poom 3 Restaurant on unpronounceable Anantaworarittidet Road (trying saying that after a couple of Changs), though since it’s immediately next door to Sukkasem Hotel it isn’t hard to find. As you’ll realise from the posters and photos lining the walls, Poom 3 has a celebrity chef – or what passes for one in little Nan. If we understood correctly chef Uthai – he does speak English – won a prestigious national award for his chicken massaman curry. Another of his specialities, or signature dish if you prefer, is his fruity duck curry but since prices are inexpensive you could try both and still get away with 120 or so baht per head for two people. There’s an extensive menu – translated into English – including all the Thai and north Thai classics. Uthai draws in local crowds and domestic tourists and Poom’s a popular spot. Food’s great – servings generous and cheap and the chef’s entertaining, though service when we visited was pretty hopeless. It's worth noting that they stay open until 02:00 -- it's about the only spot around for a late night curry and beer.
Just off Anantaworarittidet, at the start of Phakong Road, a small night market sets up early evening with several more evening noodle and snack stalls down the former street.
Outside of hotel or guesthouse cafes, you’re a bit limited for Western food, though if you do need a fix you could try U Dee Kin Dee next door to Coffee Sound by the market, which has a range of fusion dishes plus pasta and steaks at reasonable prices served in an air-con interior.
With a decided lack of overseas visitors there’s no Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai bar scene and if you’re looking for more of a pub style venue rather than a beer in your guesthouse garden or riverbank cafe you’ll have to head out of the centre a bit. Though the far bank of the Nan is conspicuously dark once night falls there is one spot -- more or less opposite the aforementioned riverside eateries -- reached by crossing the bridge and making your way along the riverbank until you get to a well-lit garden bar/restaurant. It seemed popular with locals and the garden setting is pleasant though it is set back from the river, is a bit fiddly to get to and didn’t really float our boat so we confess to forgetting to grab its details, but we reckon it’ll be open late afternoon until late evening and is the only lit up spot at present on the opposite bank.
Otherwise closest to the centre perhaps is a small string of Thai-style pubs and bars on Soi Kad Nan, a small lane off Mahayong Road around a kilometre up from Anantaworarittidet. It's the usual Thai bar scene for Nan’s young groovers with loud music and spicy Thai pub grub. They are open from early evening to 00:30 when Nan’s finest are liable to turn up just to check.
Also be warned that some of the downtown's great coffee shops open well into the evening and some even serve beer.
Sweety 9: 494-6 Sumondhewaraj Rd, corner of Mahawong Rd; T: (087) 090 2298; open daily 07:00-17:00.
Hot Bread: Suriyaphong Rd; T: (089) 635 9375; open daily 07:00-16:00.
Coffee Sound: Kha Luang Rd, corner of Anantaworarittidet, opposite the morning market; open daily 08:00-20:00
De Zeven: Off Mahaprom Rd opposite Nan Guesthouse; T: (081) 288 8484; open daily 08:00-20:00.
I-Kay: Phakong Rd, north of Wat Hua Khuang: T: (089) 122 0446; open daily 11:00-22:00.
Lanna Cafe: Phakong Rd, north of Wat Hua Khuang; T: (080) 134 7105; open Mon-Sat 09:00-22:00.
Nan Coffee: Sumondhewaraj Rd, close to Phuka Nanfa Hotel;T: (081) 531 2038; open daily 07:30-20:00.
Riverbank cafes: Riverside promenade, right (south) of Pakneua Bridge; open daily 17:00-late.
Poom 3: Anantaworarittidet Rd, next door to Sukkasem Hotel; T: (088) 268 4495; open daily 17:30-02:00.
U Dee Kin Dee: Kha Luang Rd, corner of Anantaworarittidet Rd; open daily 09:00-21:00.