By Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul
The good people of Lampang are tired of travellers whizzing across their province on the way to Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Nakhon Elsewhere. They’ve got plenty of interesting things to see and do and would really like to share them with outsiders if they can just get them to stop for a day or overnight or longer.
So, in order to get off the list of 16 northern “secondary cities” that tourists ignore, the province and its capital of the same name are promoting “Lampang … Plai Thang Fun” (Dream Destination).
“Lampang is a destination for dream hunters,” says Songpol Sawasditham, its governor since 2017. He’s keen to chime in with the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s campaign somewhat clumsily translated as “Over the Dream of Million Inspirations”, which focuses on the North.
“The idea is to make Lampang a destination rather than a secondary city,” Songpol says, “but it goes deeper, making Lampang a destination for every dream, appealing to travellers from every walk of life and every category.
“It’s a place not only for those interested in the slower life, but also for those who like taking pictures and sharing them on social media. It’s a great place for adventurers seeking to discover new places, such as Baan Paa Miang, for example. And we want people to see Lampang as a romantic small town with activities such as ‘Fun Tam Roy Phaphayon’.”
Here he’s referring to a tour of the locations selected as settings for a string of films, including the 2015 Hollywood feature “No Escape”, shot in part at the airport, and the Thai TV series “Rak Nakara”, shot at the Burmese-style Wat Sri Rong Muang.
“We’re always ready to accommodate senior citizens and retirees, whether just for sightseeing or to hold their group meetings,” Songpol says. “We’re very proud of places like the Kew Fin and Chae Son hotsprings.
“For art lovers there is the Lampang Arts Centre and lots of street art to enjoy, and more at Baan Paa Miang.
“Our goal in promoting tourism isn’t just helping to stimulate the national economy but also to spread prosperity locally and thus reduce inequality, so the focus is on secondary tourism and community tourism.”
One eye-popping attraction is the charmingly named Hug You, which really ought to be called Hug Ewe because it’s a sheep farm where you can cuddle a Lampang lamb.
Cameras are essential because of the photogenic Harvest Moon Farm & Café, Rai Sub Muen San with its windmill landmark and lots of gaily painted signage, as well as a beautiful vineyard and strawberry fields. And don’t knock the resident livestock’s wool coats. As standup comedian Udom “Note” Taepanich once sarcastically remarked, “Lampang nao mak!” It can indeed get very cold.
For more adventurous tourism, Songpol recommends Baan Paa Miang in Muang Pan district, home to the hot springs and waterfalls of Chae Son National Park.
You can haul around a tent or you can arrange to stay with a family in the village of Mae Chaem. It’s a winding road up the mountain to the homestay-friendly “agrotourism” community. You move in with the clan in a house alongside a stream, sample some khai paam, which is an omelette cooked in a banana-leaf krathong, and plan your excursions off into the wild.
There’s a learning centre focused on community health where they show you how miang leaves are used to make tea and stuff pillows for the head and neck.
Next door the householders are advertising foodstuffs like nam phrik phao (chilli paste) made from mushrooms, though you have to order in advance. A stroll around the village takes you to Wat Paa Miang, then Baan Paa Miang School, whose walls are decorated with paintings of cats, chickens and cows. And finally you reach the Paa Miang Coffee and settle in for a lovely iced lemonade with wild honey and a spectacular view of a temple in the valley.
Early-morning risers are rewarded with a gorgeous sunrise at Kew Fin, a lookout 1,517 metres above sea level.
Governor Songpol isn’t done pitching attractions yet.
“Another outstanding event is the Dok Siew Festival in Baan Paa Miang every February and March, and you must see the love bridge that the street-art team from Silpakorn University painted with a dok siew pattern,” he says.
He’s got another promotional campaign underway, “Nakhon Hathasil Thin Utsahakram Sangsan” (Craftsmanship City, Creative Industries) that centres on Baan Luk Tai, a community skilled engravers, and the Dhanabadee Ceramic Museum.
The word “luk” in the village’s name refers to a turbine-driven bailer locally invented to draw water from a stream to irrigate crops. As if that weren’t enough, the residents are so talented at carving that they’re nationally famous. They can whip a chunk of mai chamcha (raintree wood) into a nifty pestle and mortar or, if it’s a big enough block, a life-size elephant and rhinoceros like the ones the kids can clamber on.
For now most of the carvings are sent to the Baan Tawai Handcraft Village in Chiang Mai to hawk to tourists, but that trade is expected to shift back to the source soon.
Songpol, who had success boosting tourism in Songkhla while he was governor there, says Lampang gets 900,000 a year now and he wants that number up to two million within two years.
Lampang is also renowned for its ceramics, including the ubiquitous and ultra-handy “chicken bowl”, and the Dhanabadee Museum traces that history. You can examine two ancient kilns, visit a showroom of impressive modern designs, and see “the world’s thinnest chicken bowl”, another one smaller than a grain of rice and another coated in gold, plus a ceramic flute that was made for National Artist Thanis Sriklindee.
The horse-drawn carriages that never fail to delight visitors to urban Lampang are well worth a try. They ply the well-treed old part of town, cross the Tha Ma-O community and stop by at the wonderful colonialera home of master tradesman Louis Leonowens, son of Anna, tutor to the children of King Rama IV.
Dropped off amid a jangle of street-art colour on the Wang River, you can meander along Thanon Talad Gao, a walking street each evening, to the Ratsadaphisek Bridge and past venerable Burmese-style houses.
Kad Kong Ta sells a huge variety of goods and foods including khai namrae Chae Son, a spicy salad with eggs hardboiled in a hot spring.
Stay just a little longer
Bangkok residents still not convinced about the appeal of Lampang should visit the Lampang Open House Fair at CentralWorld from February 19-21.
It will have glimpses of all the top sights and samples of all the main cultural and gastronomic highlights.