Laid Back in Lampang

24 10 2008

Lampang, Thailand

There’s nothing more refreshing than landing in a city that has virtually no tourist attractions. Perhaps this is not a good policy to adopt when you’re traveling for a week or less because you may want something to do. However, when you’re life is travel, just like a good weekend off, a city devoid of action is sometimes what you need to regain your sanity. That was the goal when we pulled into Lampang. I felt like I had landed in a different country when I stepped down from the bus and didn’t run smack into 20 members of the local taxi mafia, all holding maps and yelling, “Where you go?” In fact, we were able to wander over to the information booth and ask for the best way to get to the city without once being accosted. I already felt more relaxed.

The Wang River, Lampang, Thailand

The Wang River, Lampang, Thailand

We caught one of the songtheaws to our hotel, The Riverside Guesthouse, rinsed off the travel grime and set out to explore. Our guidebook said that Lampang was like a mini-Chiang Mai, the second city of Thailand and popular farang destination. Since our whole goal in Thailand was to get to the fabled land of expatriots, I was looking forward to the small sampling of the bigger prize. Luckily Lampang did not disappoint. The Atsawin night market in the center of the city was by far the nicest we had been to. Neat rows were set up with booths selling hair accessories, mobile phones, clothing, and home décor, with the occasional drink or crepe stand. We found the fresh food pavilion with our noses. The scent of fresh produce mixes with heady chili peppers and wafts around the area. One corner is always set aside for the fresh seafood, which may not smell very nice, but we forced ourselves to walk through so that we could see the red crabs crawling over each other and the silvery fish swimming in their barrels. The Thai like their seafood fresh! We picked up a sweet banana crepe with condensed milk and a few sticks of grilled pork with sweet chili sauce as a small dinner.

On the Balcony at The Riverside Restaurant

On the Balcony at The Riverside Restaurant

The city itself was much more upmarket than the Thailand we had seen since Bangkok. There were many western-style shops like furniture stores, electronics shops, drug stores, cafes and restaurants. This was quite comforting. Often times, when you go into a clothing store or a mini-mart you will see kids running around or a couple of adults lounging on the floor in the back, watching TV. It seems strange at first and then it becomes quickly apparent that these people live here and that they have just created a storefront out of their living room (or a living room out of their storefront). Though this is normal for them, Gage and I often feel a little awkward and intrusive. It’s also a problem on a hot day when you want to get out, but there’s no where to go and sit for a while in the shade, or better yet, air conditioning. Well, we didn’t find air conditioning, but around the corner from our place we were able to sit down to a nice meal at the Riverside Restaurant where we noshed on our new favorite entree, Burmese curry, and even a dessert of cappuccino cake. If that didn’t make us feel western enough, the live band crooning American classic rock hits with perfect accuracy could help erase anyone’s homesickness. We also enjoyed the luxury of sitting down to freshly brewed spicy/sweet Thai iced teas at Grandma’s Cafe. Most of the Thai iced teas we find are mixed from a powder, so finding a place that does it with real tea is an exciting discovery.

Grandma's Cafe Thai Iced Tea!

Grandma's Cafe Thai Iced Tea!!!

Our favorite discovery in Lampang, and one that no one bothered to mention either in the guidebook or on any maps, was the weekend night market. One night while hunting for an open internet cafe we saw a few people streaming down a side street and decided to let curiosity get the better of us. Turning the corner was like stepping into a different city. The sleepy town of Lampang apparently shuts it’s doors on Saturday and Sunday night and congregates on Talat Jeen Street, which turns into a festival of food and shopping. Virtually every food stall was hocking their treats for about 10 baht a piece (about 30 cents) and Gage and I decided to go on a shopping spree. We tried salty, spicey fish balls on a stick, banana soda drinks served in a plastic bag, flaky pastries stuffed with holiday spiced meats, fluffy donut balls, juices made from flowers, and sweet hot chicken curries. I had trouble keeping track of Gage, who gazed at the amazing graphic t-shirts and designer postcards he found. Apparently Lampang has a pretty good graphic arts community. We even bought some postcards from a graphic design shop called Mars & Moon that participated in the weekend festivities.

Weekend Night Market, Lampang

Weekend Night Market, Lampang

We topped off our stay in Lampang with a visit to the National Elephant Institute. There are plenty of elephants around Thailand, and plenty of opportunities to see them all. This particular location is hard to get to and even harder to get back from (more about that later), so the crowds are smaller and one on one elephant time is a lot more possible. In fact, they walk those big suckers right up to the stands so that you can pet their muscular rough trunks. We watched as these small children were goaded by their parents into feeding or petting the elephants. These tiny little toddlers would just stare at the elephant’s giant head that dwarfed their entire bodies with a mixture of awe and horror in their little brown eyes. We were all treated to a show of elephant bathing complete with a water fight by some of the more playful elephants. Afterwards we watched a performance where the elephants stacked logs, played instruments, performed various tricks, and painted pictures of flowers and elephants. We enjoyed the show, but were a little distracted by the constant need to move seats due to fire ants or lack of shade.

When we asked a few people about getting out to the Elephant Institute, everyone assured us that it was pretty easy to reach. True to their word, we just went to the bus station, said the word Elephant, and were promptly put on a bus. The bus attendant even tapped us on the shoulder to tell us when to get off. What we failed to ask and everyone failed to mention was how exactly to get back to the city. There’s no actual bus stop for miles around and the Institute is on a hill, which means that every bus we had any hope of flagging down was barreling down the street at warp speed. We decided to split up, one of us standing in the median and the other on the curb in hopes that a bus at the top of the hill may see us. After about 20 minutes we were pretty sure that we would be sleeping with the elephants, but just then a car pulled up next to Gage and driver motioned him over. The guy said that he had seen us waiting and knew that it would be near impossible to catch a ride back to Lampang. His name was Nopadol and he had actually been a student at The School of Mines in Golden, CO! His English was great and we chatted about where he worked in Thailand and the cities he had visited in the US. Our savior dropped us off in town and we thanked him profusely for helping us get back. It’s people like him that make you want to stay in Thailand forever!

For more pictures from Lampang, click here.

Lampang Suggestions:
The Riverside Guesthouse is a wonderful place to stay. They have a beautiful little cafe and virtually every room has a balcony with lounge chairs. We paid 450 baht per night, but some of the other rooms are pretty pricey. Check out Travelfish.org for recommendations on where to stay.
– Pick up a map of Lampang at the information booth at the bus station. Despite our best efforts and soliciting the help of the locals, we were never able to find the tourist office. The map you’ll get is a bit out of date though, so ask your hotel manager where those little essentials like post office and internet cafe are located before heading out.
– Eat and drink at Grandma’s Cafe on Talad Gao Rd. Their Thai iced tea is obviously great and their food is delicious and cheap.
– If you’re feeling ill, the large drug store on the northeast corner of the clock tower circle has a huge selection and the owners speak great English.
– Internet cafes galore can be found on Sanambin Rd, across from the school. Unfortunately you’ll need to get there before school gets out unless you feel like contending with 14 year olds for a computer.

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2 responses

26 10 2008
Kathy

Gage and Jen – Just had to tell you that of all the extrodinairly fabulous photos you have posted, the one of the Wang River took my breath, and mind – away. Peaceful. Serene. Absoultely beautiful.

Love, K

18 04 2009
Robert Wilson

Hi- Wow, I’m glad you went to Lampang. It’s my second home after San Diego. I lived there for 3 years. I also met my wife and got married there. No, it’s not a toruist town, which is why I enjoyed living there. There actually are some interesting things to see there, but you have to look for them. If you ever go back, let me know and I can tell you about some hidden gems.

I loved that iced coffee house. It used to be a tiny shack with a shabby tin roof and a dirt floor, but when they built those new buildings they moved into their present location.

Oh, this is making me homesick for Lampang.

BTW, if you get sick it’s best to go to the hospital. I ask for an anti-malarial at the drug store you mentioned. I wasn’t sure what it was and when I asked my wife, whose a pharmicyst, she was really surprised. She said it hasn’t been effective for malaria for decades and not used anymore except for AIDS. The hospitials are much better

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