Lampang – Overview
Lampang, also called NakhonLampang, is the third largest city in northern Thailand, and capital of Lampang Province and the Lampang district. Traditional names for Lampang include WiangLakon, and KhelangNakhon. The city is still growing rapidly as a center of trade and transport. It provides much of the historic interest of Lanna as well as Chiang Mai, but without the overt commercialization. Located in the heart of the North, Lampang is also a good base for excursions and trips in northern Thailand.
About 100 kilometers south of Chiang Mai, is the old town of Lampang, founded in the seventh century, allegedly by the son of Lamphun’s founder, Queen ChamaDevi. The city and its monuments have avoided many of the modernization that has left many of the North’s temples with little of their original decorations.
Like all former northern kingdoms of Lanna, Lampang was invaded by the Burmese for nearly 200 years. Much of this influence can still be seen in temples in the city.
Lampang, also called “Mueang rot ma” in Thai, which means “horse carriage town”, is considered by some Thais as the last paradise in Thailand. Although the city is well connected by railway and 4-lane highways to both Bangkok and Chiang Mai, tourists can still find the horse-drawn carriages as regular transportation. These, along with the relative lack of skyscrapers that have contaminated Chiang Mai, make Lampang an increasingly popular destination in the North. Some attribute the horse carriages to the Portuguese, via Macau, although a more likely origin is Burma – Lampang experienced an influx of immigrants from the British-controlled Burma. Horse carts are some of the most memorable symbols of Lampang, which is reflected in many traditional products.
Lampang has several institutions for higher learning, such as Yonok College, and a branch of Thammasat University.
Lampang province was inhabited as far back as the 7th century in the Dvaravati period.
Like Chiang Mai, Phrae, and other older northern cities, Lampang was built as a walled up rectangle along a river (in this case, Mae Wang). At the end of the 19 and early 20th century, Lampang, along with nearby Phrae was an important center for national and international teak trade. A large British-owned timber company brought Burmese supervisors familiar with teak industry in Burma to train Burmese and Thai loggers in the area. These well-paid advisors, along with independent Burmese teak merchants sponsored the construction of more than a dozen impressive temples in the city. Burmese and Shan craftsmen designed and built temples out of local materials, especially teak. Their legacy lives on in many of Lampang best maintained temples.
Many Thais visit Lampang to get a taste of a more sedate urban life. The main attractions for farang (western) travelers are the famous Thai Elephant Conservation Center, and Wat PhraThatLampang Luang, which for many is the most beautiful wooden temple in northern Thailand.
Lampang – Getting there
Lampang is a great place to spend a few days, and the temples are some of the most beautiful in Thailand.
Lampang is located approximately 600 km from Bangkok. The city is a major motorway junction, with a 4-lane divided highway link to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, as well as major highways to Phrae and eastern Lanna provinces. Lampang is an important stop for Chiang Mai-bound trains, about 10 hours from Bangkok. Lampang Airport is currently served by Bangkok Airways operating daily flights to Bangkok via Sukhothai.
Lampang can also be reached by scheduled bus from Chiang Mai, or by train from either Bangkok or Chiang Mai. Most tourists visit Lampang on a day trip from Chiang Mai. The trains which run between Chiang Mai and Lampang (2nd/3rd class) take two hours.
From Chiang Mai Arcade Terminal, buses leave for Lampang (regular/2nd class air-con/1st class/VIP) every half hour during the day, and also from a small bus station near the TAT office in the direction of Lamphun. There are scheduled buses to and from Bangkok (2nd class air-con/1st class/VIP. 2nd class takes approx. nine hours, while 1st class or higher takes approx. eight hours), they run from 7:30 AM to 9 PM.
Even Lampang has the usual array of tuk-tuks and samlors for transportation, the city also offers a unique approach: the city’s trademark, pony carts. While conventional transport will get you wherever you want for 5 or 10 Baht, the carriages are more expensive. They are normally used by tourists and charge around 120 baht for a trip.
Lampang – Weather
Lampang has a relatively dry climate compared to neighboring provinces. “Winter” starts from the last rains, typically November and lasts until March. Cold air masses from Siberia result, at times, in night temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius, even though it is quite rare. Winter is characterized by dry, sunny, and quite pleasant days, and cool, sometimes foggy, nights. In recent times, the blue winter sky is often marred by the practice of burning the fields after the harvest, as well as smog generated by Mae Mo cole-fired power plants.
Summer typically starts from March and lasts till June. The temperatures can rise to 40 degrees Celsius in April. Late afternoon thunderstorms and hailstorms are frequent.
The rainy season runs from June to November. Lampang receives less precipitation than neighboring provinces and rarely suffers from extensive flooding which has plagued Chiang Mai in recent years.
Lampang – Attractions
While Lampang is a major northern city well connected by road, rail, and air transport, it has been spared from mass tourism that has changed the character of nearby cities such as Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai. Tourists usually stop by to have lunch and visit the more famous attractions like Wat PhraThatLampang Luang, and the Thai Elephant Conservation Center and then move on to points further north, for example Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. The lesser-known tourist attractions in Lampang are mostly visited by locals. Among them, Wang Kaeo Waterfall, and the Chae Son National Park, a compact but charming park that combines a natural hot spring with a large waterfall.
Many temples in downtown Lampang were built in the Burmese style that was originally donated by tycoons of the late 19th century. Wat Si Bun Rueang, Wat Si Chum, and Wat Pa Fang is among the preserved examples. Nine of the 31 remaining Burmese-style temples in Thailand are located in Lampang. Traditional Lanna architecture can be found at Wat PhraThatLampang Luang. It is famous for its frescoes from the 19th century. Wat PhraKaeo Don Tao, on the west bank of the Wang River, is said to have housed the Emerald Buddha between 1436 and 1468th, and Wat PhraThatChedi Sao is famous for its array of twenty pagodas. Other famous temples include Wat PhraThatChom Ping, and Wat Lai Hin.
Wat Chedi Sao – Located about six kilometers north of the city, through ThPamaikhet. This temple is named after its whitewashed Lanna style. But the real treasure of the temple is a solid gold statue; the 15th century seated Buddha on display in a glass pavilion, built over a square pond. The statue is said to contain a piece of Buddha’s skull in his head, and an old Pali-inscribed golden palm leaf in his chest, while precious stones decorate the hairline and robe. A farmer is said to have found the statue beside the ruins of nearby Wat KhuKao in 1983. Monks at Wat Chedi Sao manufacture and sell herbal medicines, the popular yahmòrngsom wich is like tiger balm.
Wat PhraKaew Don Tao – From 1436 to 1468, this temple was among the four in northern Thailand that previously housed the Emerald Buddha (now in Bangkok’s Wat PhraKaew).
Next to the temple complex is the beautiful Wat Suchadaram, dated back to 1809 and named after Mae Suchada, the central woman of a local legend.
Baan Sao Nak – In the old WiangNeua (northern district) part of the city, Baan Sao Nak was built in 1895 in traditional Lanna style. A large teak house, supported by 116 square teak pillars, was once owned by a local Kunying (a title equivalent to ‘Lady’ in England), and now serves as a local museum. The whole house is decorated with Burmese and Thai antiques, but the structure itself and its well-tended garden are very gorgeous.
Wat Si Chum RongMeuang & Wat Si Chum – Wat Si RongMeuang on ThThakhraoNoi, and Wat Si Chum on ThThipawan were built in the late 19th century by Burmese craftsmen. The temple buildings are constructed in the Burmese ‘layers’ style, with tin roofs and gables of intricate woodcarvings.
Wat Pongsanuk Tai – Despite having lost much of its character in a recent renovation, Wat Pongsanuk Tai is still one of the few remaining local examples of original Lanna style temple architecture, which emphasized open-sided wooden buildings. To get an idea of how it was earlier, look at the carved wooden gate at the entrance to the north stairs.
There are a few informal museums in the temple area depicting local history, but with only little English translation.
Lampang – Shopping
Lampang is famous for its pottery, and there are reportedly more than 50 factories scattered around the province. There are a few places around town where you can buy pottery, but perhaps the best and largest place to buy ceramics is the huge market in ThungWian, on the way to Chiang Mai.
Walking Street – Perhaps wanting to emulate the success of Chiang Mai’s street markets, Lampang now has its own along the charming Th Talad Gao(also known as Kat Korng Ta). Dotted with old shophouses showcasing English, Chinese and Burmese architectural styles, the street is closed to traffic on Saturday and Sunday from 4 PM to 10 PM and fills up with souvenir, handicraft and food stalls. A similar Cultural Street is also held on Th Wang Nuea from 6 AM to 9 AM on Sunday and 6 PM to 9 PM on Friday.
Lampang – Restaurants
Pa Pawng – If you happen to be in town for a weekend, be sure to stop by the popular local hangout serving kanom jeen (fresh rice noodles topped with various curry dishes). This is not to be missed during your holiday in Thailand. Look for a series of bubbling curries in earthenware pots and order in a jiffy by simply pointing to what you think looks good. Auntie Pawng’s specialty is ka nom jeennámNgee o, a delicious northern-style broth made from pork and tomato.
Riverside Bar & Restaurant – This wooden hut that seems to be on the verge of crashing into Mae Wang River is very popular with visitors and expats. Live music, a full bar, and an expansive menu of local and Western dishes bring these crowds, and you will do well to plan your visit around those nights where they make homemade pizza (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday).
Aroy One Baht – Some nights it can seem like just about everybody in Lampang has gathered at this rambling wooden house, and understandably so: the food is tasty and embarrassingly cheap, the service lightning fast, and the setting in a wooden house-cum-balcony-cum-garden heaps of fun.
Grandma’s Café – Well worn teak chairs, tablecloths, and curtains suggest grandma’s influence, but we doubt she had any role in the minimalist sense of this trendy café. Either way, stop to get a decent java coffee and a menu of rice dishes that rarely exceeds 50baht.
Krua 312 – Set in a charming wood shop and surrounded by black and white photos of Lampang and the king, this small, simple restaurant serve foreign-friendly curries, noodles, and rice dishes.
KhunManee – Lampang is known for its addictive Kowđaan, deep-fried rice cakes sprinkled with palm sugar.
Pet Yang Hong Kong – This is the best place for roast duck with rice (or noodles). It is opposite the Kim Hotel, close to several other rice and noodle joints.
Lampang – Nearby
Located about 18 km from Lampang is one of the most exquisite temples in Thailand. The temple is built on a hilltop in beautiful surroundings in the middle of rice fields. It is believed to have been built around 650-700 AD at the time of Princess ChamaDevi as decoration of the temple dates back to said time. Bullet holes are still conspicuous, as the temple has served as a hiding place from attackers because of its high fortress-like walls. The northern and eastern parts have stairs going up with balustrades, and are adorned with a multi-headed Naga which reveals a Burmese connection. Two majestic lion statues stand at the foot of the stairs.
The star attraction in the temple is the 45-meter high chedi, with two shrines on the sides, and a beautiful wiharn (prayer hall) in front, decorated with carved flowers and leaves, containing two Buddha statues. The copper and bronze covered plates have lost their luster and are presented with a touch of green. The structure reveals typical Lanna architecture and design. The open hall has a central altar, a roof of glazed brick, and carved wood surrounding it. An eye-catching teak temple tucked in a corner, is Wat PhraThatLampang Luang’s sacred section with a small Buddha, reportedly, made from the same piece of jade as the Emerald Buddha. The walls are adorned with golden patterns, and the extensive use of gold and copper gives richness to this tourist attraction. A museum close by keeps many sacred artifacts and valuable objects. Wat PhrathatLampang Luang is one of the oldest surviving temples in Thailand.
The ground at this temple is still covered with sand, symbolizing the sea that surrounds Mount Meru, the central worlds mountain in Buddhist cosmology, represented by the chedi of the temple.
Wat PhraThatLampang Luang has the distinction of being one of the few unique temples where maintenance has not been completed. It maintains its originality with sand covered grounds. The biggest wiharn remains accessible from all sides, as it is open on all four sides.