Fall In Love With Lampang
With more than 37 million tourists touching down on Thai soil in 2018, the outlook for the Kingdom’s tourism industry is rosy. While the majority of international travellers head to the idyllic beaches of southern Thailand, the northern landscape also attracts large numbers of visitors thanks to the stunning scenery, delicious food and genuine warm welcome afforded by the local community. This welcome is no more apparent than in the province of Lampang, a region blessed with wondrous natural beauty from mist-covered mountaintops to delightful hot springs and beautiful temples.
On a recent media trip to the province, Khun Songpon Savastham, Governor of Lampang Province, was on hand to share detailed information on some of the lesser-known attractions that are sure to create a great buzz for local and overseas visitors alike. Throughout its rich history, Lampang has welcomed people from all over the world with open arms and the gracious governor was eager to keep that spirit alive. Outlining his plans for the local tourism industry, Khun Songpon was keen to put his province front and centre with a raft of promotions taking place in downtown Lampang as well as in Bangkok (see below).
After his superb briefing, it was time to see just what Lampang had up its sleeve. However, having left the Thai capital early in the morning, the governor suggested that we all enjoy some local culinary delights first. Just outside the city is Hug You Sheep Farm, which apart from being a delightful mini-zoo also has a fantastic menu that features a wide range of traditional Thai dishes as well as succulent lamb specials and half a dozen flavoured sheep milk drinks. The array of dishes served in this quaint little restaurant typifies Thailand and the culinary delights that can be found just about anywhere.
Satiated by our midday lunch, we headed to Sri Rong Temple, a Thai temple built in 1905 by Burmese labourers who were employed by British loggers. The British Bombay Burma Company Limited was one of four overseas firms that received royal concessions to log giant teak trees over a century ago. For the Burmese loggers who went deep into the forest in search of their quarry, building a temple was the perfect way to seek forgiveness from Mother Nature for their destructive actions. It was believed that by making merit at the temple, the workers would be protected from harm and danger while working.
It took skilled Burmese carpenters more than seven years to complete Sri Rong Temple and today it stands out for its marvellous Burmese art, tiered roofs and nine spires, the latter representing the nine families who donated money for the construction. The main hall is beautifully decorated with coloured glass inlay adorning the teak columns, while the ceiling features carved imageries, intricate metalwork and coloured glass in ivy and floral designs. The centrepiece is a giant Buddha carved from ancient forest teak and considered the largest of its kind in the world.
Awestruck by the temple, we were ushered back to our vehicles for the long drive into the mountains where we would be spending the night at one of the many homestays in the village of Baan Pa Miang. Situated at just over 1,000 metres above sea-level at the top of Phee Pan Nam Mountain Range, the village is famous for its Arabica coffee plantations and Miang leaves, which are used to make an invigorating tea as well as being dried then stuffed into health-giving pillows. The simple Lanna lifestyle of the villagers is the perfect tonic for busy city folk and within minutes of arriving I could feel the tension and stress draining away.
Surrounded on all sides by huge trees and their extensive canopy, Baan Pa Miang has a small river flowing through the middle of it and is alive with birdcalls and the sound of nature. Filling my lungs with fresh mountain air, it was a little peculiar not to hear the sound of a motorized vehicle, nor for that matter the sound of a mobile device beeping. As we stood admiring the view, a local guide arrived and led us to our homestay for the night; a giant house with three private, en suite double bedrooms on the ground floor and four more double bedrooms on the first floor, also with en suite bathrooms.
As we were visiting in mid-December, the temperature at night dropped to a shivering, teeth-chattering 10 Celsius, practically freezing for Thailand and cold enough to warrant an extra blanket on the bed. A nighttime drink of hot Miang tea and everyone retired for the night as a 4am wake up call beckoned. Dragging myself from my warm cocoon, we were driven the short distance to Giew Fin mountaintop to wait for the coming sunrise. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was not on our side and clouds obscured the sunrise, but nevertheless the view over Lampang and as far as Chiang Mai some 100 kilometres away was truly breathtaking.
Just after 8am we arrived back at our homestay where a huge pot of boiling rice soup with pork and hard-boiled eggs was being served. Sitting on the balcony overlooking the river below, I felt a shiver down my spine as a cold breeze swept through, but in my heart I felt really at home. After a refreshing shower it was time to say ‘bon voyage’ to our hosts and journey down the mountain to our next destination. As our driver carefully steered a course along the narrow road, I could not help thinking that Lampang’s governor had been true to his word and that we’d seen a side of Lampang – Thailand for that matter – that most people fail to see.
Our next stop was Chaeson National Park where tourists are encouraged to boil eggs in the open hot springs and bathe away their aches and pains in private hot tubs. While the sprawling park is meticulously clean, the same cannot be said about the hot tubs, which left me disappointed. Having boiled and eaten our eggs, we lined up for the obligatory photo in front of the huge wooden sign before setting off for lunch at a local restaurant. During lunch, our guide informed us that we’d be visiting a local handicraft village called Baan Look, where huge chunks of wood are painstakingly carved into horses, elephants and a host of other items.
It was mesmerizing to watch skilled sculptors using the most basic tools to fashion unbelievably realistic animals and household products. An artist invited me to help chip a few chunks of wood off, but I politely declined; I did not want to ruin his masterpiece. From where these artists worked, we walked the short distance to a long wooden bridge spanning the river to where much of their raw material was sourced. On the other bank, more artisans were busy at work making wooden mortars, perfect for grinding peppercorns.
By the time we left Baan Look it was late afternoon and the sun was edging its way towards the horizon. The wonderful thing about touring Thailand is that you are never far away from a mealtime and now we were heading to Pang Luang Garden restaurant and a delicious ten-course feast. Dining al fresco is delightful and the cool season in Lampang is an excellent time to enjoy the outdoors, especially when you have great company and a cold beer or two.
The final leg of our journey after a busy day of sightseeing was a short drive to our accommodation for the night, the 100-room Wienglakor Hotel in downtown Lampang. There were a few diehard shoppers in our group that even after 15 hours on the road still wanted to go out and explore the local vicinity. For me, it was a hot bath followed by a long, deep sleep as we had another early morning call to explore the fresh market close to Lampang railway station. Rising promptly at 5am, I joined the group in the lobby for the short drive to the market. After paying respect and giving alms to a monk, I explored the alleyways of the market where exotic aromas filled the air and the chit-chat and laughter of vendors filled my ears.
Our final half-day in Lampang would include a short trip in a horse-drawn carriage, a visit to the former home of Louis Thomas Leonowens, the son of Anna Leonowens who taught English to the King of Siam’s children, a walk along the banks of the Wang River where street art adorns virtually every wall and a guided tour of the Dhanabadee Ceramic Museum.
Sunday morning in Lampang is probably the best time to take a horse-drawn carriage ride; in fact it is the only place in Thailand where such transport still exists. Our horse and driver took us to the dilapidated Louis House, which was surely once the star attraction in Lampang in the 19th century. Regrettably, the house was closed, but I am sure it would make a wonderful museum with such as rich history.
We were dropped at the Wang River and walked along the riverbank admiring the quirky street art and taking plenty of photos as well as the odd ‘selfie’ now and again. We were then whisked to our penultimate attraction, the Dhanabadee Ceramic Museum, famous for its soup bowls that sport an image of a black and red rooster. Opened in 1957 by Chinese immigrant Simyo ‘Apa E’ Saechin, the company’s soup bowl is instantly recognizable to virtually every man, woman and child in Thailand. The company has since expanded it product range into a wide variety of household items, many of which can be purchased at the museum.
With our flight back to Bangkok just a few hours away, it was of course time for lunch. This time our guide had chosen Mukda Kanom Jeen Lom Kao restaurant and it did not disappoint. Half a dozen amazing dishes served with thin rice noodles, roast chicken, satay, som tam and plain rice were eagerly gobbled up by 21 famished diners. The short drive to the airport might have brought the curtain down on our weekend in Lampang, but the memories will live on for many years to come.
The next time you travel to Thailand or if you’re looking for a weekend getaway, I can highly recommend Lampang and its surroundings. With both Nok Air and Bangkok Airways flying daily to this charming city, getting there has never been easier. If you want to try the slow route, trains leave Chiang Mai and Bangkok daily and stop at Lampang Railway Station.
Lampang Street Festival – 26-27 January 2019 on the banks of the Wang River, Lampang.
Lampang Open House – 19-21 February 2019, CentralWorld, Bangkok.