Although situated almost directly between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Lampang is—unfortunately—often bypassed by travellers
Located on the banks of the Wang river, Lampang was once an important city in the former Lanna kingdom. It still serves as a major transportation hub in Northern Thailand—easily accessible by bus, train, and even airplane—but for tourists it is often overshadowed by neighbouring Chiang Mai (located about 100km northwest). However this is changing, as more and more savvy travellers are adding Lampang to their itineraries.
The relics of Lampang’s former glory, marked by several stunning Lanna-style and Burmese temples, as well as exquisite teak mansions, can be found all over the town. The past is also brought back to life with the numerous horse-drawn carriages—a former mode of local transport—which nowadays are used to provide tourists a fun way to explore this laid-back locale.
A nice way to get to know this relaxed retreat, and dive into the city’s colourful history, is to walk along the riverside, which is lined with old homes, temples, and shophouses featuring a mix of Thai, English, Chinese, and Burmese architectural styles. If you visit on a weekend don’t miss the weekly Kad Kong Ta street market on Talad Kao Road— Saturdays and Sundays, from 5pm to 9pm—where visitors can browse through an array of local handicrafts, and sample lots of delicious food at the same time.
The city’s main attraction is Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, a Lanna-style temple set on a small hill about 20km from town, which dates back to 1486. Other notable sights include Wat Phra Kaeo Don Tao, which is said to once have housed the Emerald Buddha, Wat Chedi Sao Lang, which features an array of twenty pagodas, and the Burmese temple Wat Sri Chum. To get a hint of Lampang’s rich logging past stop by Ban Sao Nak, an impressive teakwood house which is comprised of over 100 wooden posts.
The area along the river is also home to a number of dining spots, such as the Riverside Restaurant and Bar, which offers both Thai and International cuisine. If you want a taste of authentic Northern Thai cuisine, head to local favourite Kong Kin Baan Hao—just a short walk north of the river—or try the more centrally located restaurant Aroy One Baht for cheap, and tasty Thai food.
Thanks to large deposits of kaolin, Lampang has, over the past decades, also made a well-deserved reputation for itself in the ceramic industry. If you want to learn more about this region’s pottery production, a good place to visit is the Dhanabadee Ceramic Museum. Here visitors can join a guided tour and learn about the manufacturing process and the history of the famous ‘chicken bowls’.
Lampang the town is the capital of Lampang the province, and the province is home to several national parks, including Doi Luang National Park where the multiple-level Wang Kaeo waterfall is a major attraction. Nature lovers and trekkers should also check out Chae Son National Park, which boasts natural hot springs, caves and more waterfalls. Another of the province’s treasures are the mineral hot springs known as Bo Nam Rae Bo Nam Ron. The temperatures here reach up to 70°C, making it possible to actually boil an egg in the water.
When staying in Lampang, you can choose from numerous guesthouses and hotels. If you want to set up camp close to the river, opt for the Riverside Guesthouse, a Thai styled compound of wooden houses. Alternatively, head to Pin Hotel Lampang if you’d rather stay “downtown”, or Wienglakor Hotel for more of an up-scale option.
It’s no secret that elephants are a big hit with tourists visiting Thailand, and at the Thailand Elephant Conservation Center visitors can learn about these thick-skinned, gentle giants, watch demonstrations, and even go on elephant rides. However, despite the caring treatment these elephants receive, the idea of these noble beasts being forced to take tourists on jungle jaunts is almost universally frowned upon. Much more recommended is a trip to the Lampang Elephant Hospital, located next door. Don’t expect to see any rehearsed performances here, but feel free to wander around the treatment areas where thousands of sick and injured pachyderms have been treated since the hospital opened in 1994.