A busy market town and transport hub, Pua might not at first glance seem a tempting tourist destination in its own right but it does make for a very convenient base for exploring the northern Nan region thanks to its central location, good range of accommodation and food and handy transport links.
Geographically, it’s smack bang in the centre of the province’s north, with Doi Phuka and Bo Kluea directly east; Chaloem Prakhiat and the border crossing at Huay Kon to the north, Route 1082 taking you over the mountains west to Phayao and an interesting 50 kilometre or so drive south to Nan passing Nong Bua with its ancient temple and picturesque Tham Pha Tup Forest Park. A day drive from Nan stopping at points of interest on Route 101, an overnight in Pua and a return via the waterfalls of Santisuk district makes for a great two-day trip. Or, equally, Pua is a convenient stop on our suggested three-day Nan motorbike loop. The beauty is, with aforementioned good transport links, most of these neighbouring sites are straightforward by public transport too.
Pua is actually older than Nan city, with Tai Lue migrants from the north founding their original settlement here, though no remains that we could locate exist today. The small but busy town is set in a wide, fertile valley affording splendid views east towards the hills of Doi Phuka. Hardly picturesque, the town is popular with Thai visitors, although foreign ones are rare, and as we mentioned it does have the best tourist infrastructure in the area.
Pua today is basically a glorified road junction where Route 1081, arriving from Santisuk and the south, plus Route 1256 from Bor Klua and Doi Phuka further west, hit Route 101 – it's Nan province’s principal north–south axis. The latter highway links Thung Chang and all points north to the provincial capital in the south. At Pua this runs northeast-southwest with Route 1081 forming a 90-degree angle in the centre of town. Route 1256 bifurcates from the Santisuk road just past the market, a short distance from the main T-junction. The three T-junction routes are busy, four-lane highways lined with shops, minimarts, banks and cafes, while Route 1256 heads more scenically across the valley towards the high distant hills.
It’s not always been like this – Pua has existed for several hundred years – and a quieter and cuter old town lies in what would be north Pua, a block behind the main artery. For the old town, take the road opposite Route 1081 at the main junction, walk down 100 metres or so and the first left turn forms the old town’s main street. This is noted on several maps as the old Route 1080 though confusingly some maps also name the westbound section of 101 as 1080.
The relatively large hospital and police stations (small Pua does serve a wide area) are south and most of the banks are grouped just northeast of the junction opposite the market area. The large market, under reconstruction in late 2015 when we visited, is at the junction of Routes 101 and 1080 adjacent to the incongruous Tesco superstore. The old town also has a bank, convenience store and post office and you’ll find most of the town’s wats down this way.
On the south side of Route 101, just before the Chomphu Phuka Resort, is a great little tourist information centre. The enthusiastic staff translated the printed out Pua map for us (in Thai only), called every hotel in town to check availability, advised us on where to eat and then repaired our motorbike. Just behind the office is a small lake, which functions as the town park with a waterside promenade and seats and even a free outdoor gym.
Outside of town Route 1081 heads south, passing a series of waterfalls before reaching Santisuk around 30 clicks off; Route 1256 takes you up the mountain to Doi Phuka National Park before leading you down the other side to Bo Kluea, (around 60 kilometres) while Route 101 leads north to Chiang Klang, Thung Chang and eventually the border at Chaloem Prakhiat or south to Nong Bua and Nan city, around 50 kilometres distant.
By Mark Ord