Lampang, the Horse Carriage City and the Forgotten City of the North

By : Chang Noi
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Most of the travelers to Thailand visit the North of Thailand and specifically places like Chiang Mai, Pai, Mae Hong Song, Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle. But a small place in between there is mostly skipped, a very nice laidback Thai town called Lampang, on the banks of the Mea Nam Wang. Originally known as the city with the sign of the white chicken, but nowadays known for its horse carriage. Lampang is about 2-hours south of Chiang Mai (97km only) and you will pass it if you take the train to or from Chiang Mai. It's a small town and it is without the internationally famous attractions like other places. It is near the National Elephants Institute (or Thai elephant conservation center) that is located about 28km outside the city on the way to Chiang Mai. Here it is where sick and injured elephants from all over Thailand are being taken care of in a kind of hospital. There is also an elephant training camp where you can enjoy the daily life and work of the Asian Elephants.

In the province of Lampang there live about 800,000 people and the area is famous for its wood for furniture and its white clay for pottery. In the province are three water reservoirs (at Mea Chang, Kiow Lom Dam and Chae Hom Dam) with one big electric power plant. There are five national parks, on the way to Chiang Rai you will pass Chea Son and Doi (=mountain) Luang National Park. On the way to Chiang Mai you will pass Doi Khun Tan National Park that is also crossed by the railway to Chiang Mai. Going to Phitsanulok you will pass Wiang Ko Sai and Doi Chong National park. The city Lampang itself is divided into two parts; the new part of town on the east banks of Mea Nam Wang with Big-C, Lotus and luxury hotels like the Lampang Wiengthong, and on the other side of the river is the old layback part of town just like all of Thailand must have been like a long time ago with many small streets with wooden houses.

The inner city

The first time I went to Lampang, in 1998, I arrived by train and took a Songtheauw to T&T Guesthouse in the old part of town. But the driver could not find T&T and we made a sight seeing tour of the city (by the way, T&T Guesthouse has now moved to a place along the river at the other side). In the end he brought us to one of the few falang (foreigner) living in Lampang at that time and she recommended a Guesthouse called "The Riverside". This became my place of returning home overthe many years to come and a place to forget the busy life of Bangkok. Lorenzo and her Thai husband manage it and they are still doing a great job. Nowadays there are more guesthouses, like Tip-In on Thanon Talad Kao. On this road, where also is the Riverside Guesthouse, are many old Chinese houses, one of them could be one of the oldest remaining stone houses in Thailand. This area is also called Talad Chin (Chinese Market).

In the old days there were no roads to connect all the villages in the north. Because of that all the mountain people used horses for transport, like they still do in Burma. Now there are roads and the horses disappeared from the daily street life. Nowadays Lampang is famous for being the only city in Thailand where the horse carriage is still being used, but for tourists only. Not only foreign tourists, but also many of the Thai tourists like to make a ride in the horse carriage in Lampang; just like me that first evening in Lampang. Lampang became so famous for this that the city sign of the White Chicken has been un-officially replaced by a horse with his carriage. I arranged myself to be dropped of at The Riverside Restaurant (yes also co-managed by Lorenzo) where you can have a great Thai meal, or even a western meal of a delicious tenderloin steak. It's not cheap, but it is very good and a cozy atmosphere with a live band.

The countryside

The next day I made a trip to what would become one of my most favorite temples in Thailand, the Wat Phrathat Lampang Luang. This is one of the most beautiful Lanna style temples I have ever seen. Not because of its beauty but because of its original surroundings; with its beautiful Burmese-style wall surrounding the main chedis, and its front gate with 45 steps stair to enter the complex. Inside there is sand on the floor, not stones like in the richer temples, and the main chapel still has the original wooden panels with paintings about the life of the Lord Buddha. The temple is situated about 18km south of the city on the way to Tak. Be aware that the chedi on the left behind should not be entered by ladies.

Outside the city there are some other things to visit, like the Mae Tam Queen Pottery Project (about 25km south on route 1274), or Ban Luk Woodcraft Village (about 25km south-east on route 1036). Or the 3000-5000 year old pre-historical paintings near the Chaopho Pratuphu Shrine (about 50km north-east at route 1), and the Pha Thai cave National Park with stalagmites and stalactites (same area). Did you visit the Doi Suthep temple in Chiang Mai and climb up the stairs to the temple? Well, the last time that I was in Lampang I visited a chedi of which I forgot the name, but what I remember is that I started to walk up the stairs thinking, "It cannot be so much" and after about 200 stairs I saw that the stairs ended on a plateau that continued after 20m walking, and after about 250 steps more to a plateau. I looked up the next stairs and still could not see the chedi, but I thought, "Well after 450 steps I'm not going to stop now" and I continued for what would be another 390 steps up hill. So after about 840 steps I arrived at a totally deserted and abandoned chedi. From the top there was a beautiful view over the valley of Lampang city.

Lampang is easily accessible by bus from Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Bangkok or even Pattaya. Or even by air at the local airport of Lampang, and of course by train from Chiang Mai or Bangkok.

Take the night train from Bangkok and you will arrive very early in the morning and just skip the busy tourist town of Chiang Mai.

-Chang Noi-

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December 28, 2006, 02:59

I love these travel articles.
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