Wat Phumin, lying in the heart of Nan’s old town, is the best known and most prestigious of Nan’s ancient temples. According to chronicles it was founded in 1596 as a private temple of the former city state’s royal family though the splendid murals, its principal contemporary claim to fame, date from the mid-19th century and the reign of Rama V. We would say Phumin is Nan’s must-see temple. It’s located at a major crossroads, opposite the National Museum and across the road from the tourist centre; with the weekend night market/walking street setting up right in front of the wat, it’s difficult to miss.
The wat, though superficially Lanna-esque, is highly unusual, even unique, in that its main hall, set on a raised platform, is cruciform, with symmetrical porticos and naga steps on all four sides. Inside this hall you’ll find an unusual four-faced Buddha image corresponding to the four porticos and cardinal points, plus the murals that Wat Phumin is famed for. These are considered to be some of the best preserved examples of Lanna-style wall paintings and combine scenes from the Buddhist Jataka tales with depictions of everyday life in Nan. The murals, heavy on the indigo and crimson shades, have been partially restored but intelligently and subtly so, and the more heavily damaged panels have been left as they are rather than being repainted from scratch. It’s definitely worth going out of your way to see them.
The single building actually combines the functions of ubosot and wiharn (main worshipping and ordination halls), while the wat’s principal chedi is also contained within, around which the four-sided Buddha image is built. While the roof is Lanna style, the interior displays classic Tai Lue temple features such as lacquered teak pillars.
It’s an unusual layout and one that means that the rest of the temple grounds are rather devoid of the regular wat features. However another out of the ordinary construction is a dome shaped concrete building displaying gruesome scenes from hell where sinners are punished in the afterlife, as per Phayao’s Wat Sri Khom Kham and Wat Mae It in Chiang Dao. It’s rather gaudy, so a fun contrast with the more artistically accomplished old wall paintings.
To the north side of the temple grounds is Khuang Muang, an open plaza area originally built for ceremonial purposes — lying between the old royal residence and royal temple — but also as a market and meeting place for town residents. A smart move by Nan’s authorities now sees it used as a picnic area for the adjacent walking street food stalls with low tables and mats laid out where you can sit and consume your nibbles while watching the sun go down over the temple. Delightful!
Wat Phumin is found at the junction of Suriyapong and Phakong Roads in the centre of the old town. The tourist information centre plus plentiful coffee shops and a useful bicycle hire lie directly across Phakong Road and the National Museum is immediately north on Suriyapong. Wat Ming Muang is a short distance down the latter road and Wat Prathat Chang Kham and Wat Hua Kuang are just down Phakong to the north, so Phumin makes for a perfect starting or finishing point for a stroll around the old town’s sights. The weekend walking street market sets up along the east side of the temple so a late afternoon visit followed by local snacks is perfect.
How to get there
Wat Phumin is centrally located, just to the south of the Nan National Museum and opposite the tourist office.
By Mark Ord
Last updated on 27th January, 2016.