Home to a lovely temple
Nong Bua is a charming little village set among rice-fields on the banks of the Nan River and home to one of Nan province’s most interesting wats. The quaint village is known as an enclave of Tai Lue culture and a small museum and a classic-style Tai Lue house are open to the public. An enterprising initiative sees bicycles available to pedal around a village handicraft route, where you can visit other traditional buildings as well as seeing some cottage industries in action. It is still very much a living, not model, village though, and while an increasingly popular stop-off for local visitors it’s not over the top. We think it makes for a excellent visit.
The main feature of Nong Bua is still very much the fantastic, eponymously named wat, which though tiny is superb both inside and out. It dates to 1862 and the Rama V period. Wat Nong Bua’s main worshipping hall is built with a plaster-covered brick base and lower walls, while upper sections and the multi-tiered roof are in decorated teak.
The interior represents classic Tai Lue temple architecture and walls display intricate murals. Though in a similar style they are thought to pre-date the famous murals of Nan’s Wat Phumin and after recent restoration are in pretty good condition, with subject matter focused on both scenes of local life and religious topics. Temple grounds — though again modest — are delightful. Don’t miss the huge ficus tree in front of the main entrance, which is an entire eco-system in its own right.
When we visited, some of the old boys from the village in their indigo farm clothes were playing traditional instruments under the tree. Round at the rear of the small temple is a Tai Lue-style house opened up as a small museum. Admission is free and a small souvenir stall out front is, at present, the only one in town. A more unusual purchase than the Nong Bua T-shirts is kai yee, packets of weed, or algae, from the Nan River dried and toasted Luang Prabang-style with salt and onions. In front of the temple, across the car-park, you can also see a long boat as used in the annual Nan boat races.
A new and excellent initiative is to provide bicycles for tourists to ride for a tour of the village. These are found outside a building to the right of the main temple hall and when we visited were by deposit and donation only. You can then pedal around the compact village where you’ll see both further traditional houses plus some local handicrafts such as weaving or algae drying. Activities vary so you’ll just have to see what’s underway when you visit but the friendly villagers make this a fun little trip. To the west of the village, a kilometre or so across the rice fields, a very unusual chedi is under construction on a low wooded hill-top. It’s a weird looking space-age stupa resembling to us a rocket silo but when finished ought to be worth a look. Views should be good too!
Towards the south end of the village by the riverbank is the very good King Po Restaurant which makes a great lunch stop. King po means bo (or bodhi) tree branches and indeed it’s easily spotted by the huge bodhi tree outside another small wat on the opposite side of the road.
The village is located just off Route 101, so it’s a short detour if you’re travelling between Nan and Pua and if you included the Riverside Art Gallery and scenic Tham Pha Tub Forest Park, both of which are located along the same highway, it would make for a full but interesting day out from Nan for those with their own transport.
If you’re travelling under your own steam then you will need to turn off Route 101 in Tha Wang Pa district. If you’re arriving from the south, turn left opposite the hospital while if you’re coming from the north, take the first right after the village market. Both are signposted for Nong Bua and both will take you down to a bridge over the Nan River. Across the bridge you’ll hit a T-junction where a left turn will take you down to Nong Bua village. It’s around three kilometres in all. By public transport any bus on Route 101 can drop you in Tha Wang Pa — the market is the best bet — from where you can grab a motorbike taxi for around 60 baht. For the energetic it’s not a bad walk. Ban Nong Bua is around 40 kilometres north of Nan and some 15 kilometres southwest of Pua.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.