By Shahida Sakeri on September 20, 2016
Once ruled by the Lanna kingdom from the 13th until 18th century, Northern Thailand has long been regarded as Thailand’s most interesting region. It continues to be rooted in Thai tradition yet economically up-to-date. Its provinces include Chiang Mai, Lampang, Lamphun, Uttaradit, Phrae, Nan, Phayao, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son; Gaya Travel team managed to visit the first three during the recent Thai Travel Mart Plus 2016 on early June 2016.
Northern Thailand is signified by Buddhist temples, hill tribes, verdant forests and emerging creative art scene that draw both local and international travellers to come and visit. The locals’ laid-back attitude constantly puts travellers at ease, beckoning them to slow down and stay longer than intended. The region’s peak period in receiving visitors is between December and January due to its cooler and drier weather since it is surrounded by the country’s tallest mountains. Follow us through these pages as we bring you to the charming attractions that can be found in Chiang Mai, Lampang and Lamphun.
From international destinations, visitors can fly directly to Chiang Mai on a number of domestic and international carriers. While these routes are subject to economic viability, it is usually possible to fly directly to Chiang Mai from Kuala Lumpur, Luang Prabang, Singapore, Vientiane and Yangon. From there, take a bus or songthaew (taxi truck) to get to Lampang and Lamphun. Please visit www.tourismthailand.org for more information to prep travellers upon visiting.
For a meaningful and memorable trip in Northern Thailand, be sure to embrace the local culture by having an immersive dining experience called ‘khantoke dinner’ that combines visual treat of the Thai hill tribe dances with an assortment of local culinary fare. Khantoke (pedestal tray used as a small dining table) refers to the concept that requires people to sit on the floor while dishes are being served, and often practiced during special celebrations such as weddings, festivals and housewarming. One good place to attend such dinner is at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Centre since the food is always good and live performances are staged by authentic hill tribe communities such as Lahu, Akha and Hmong. Interested travellers can book the khantoke dinner through their respective hotel’s front desk or a tour desk since they generally provide return transfers to the venue.
The remote and breathtaking Ban Mae Kampong is a go-to place for travellers in search of unique culture and tradition at 1,300 metres above sea level, with hundreds of nature trails draped over the hills wreathed in clouds. Majority of its people grow coffee under the Royal Project to avoid further deforestation, while some cultivate tea due to its suitable climate. Zipline tours are popular here, especially those provided by a company called the Flight of the Gibbon. However, should travellers prefer less arduous activities, they can consider participating in the do-it-yourself (DIY) session of making pillows stuffed with tea leaves, sip a cup of coffee at one of the lovely cafes, or just take a leisure stroll at their own pace around the village. Do take note, however, that the area is full of tamed dogs, thus cynophobics need to be cautious. Currently, there is no public transport to the village – interested visitors need to book a tour or find a chartered rót daang (truck taxi) to get there from Chiang Mai city.
Wat Phra That Lampang Luang
Founded in the 13th century, this fortified temple is one of the most highly revered temples in Thailand as it enshrines a strand of Buddha’s hair in its large bronzy chedi (stupa or pagoda). Although this chedi is not open to the public, visitors still get to admire the elaborate detailing of Lanna architecture as can be seen through various viharns (assembly halls) and ubosot (ordination hall) surrounding the chedi. One in particular is the remarkable Viharn Luang that boasts a traditional Lanna three-tiered roof supported by a large number of huge concrete pillars decorated with gold patterns on black lacquer. The worn-out walls, moreover, feature the tales about the previous lives of the Buddha.
Wat Pong Sanuk
This temple was built in 1886 by the wealthy Burmese immigrants employed in the teak industry back then, thus visitors can expect to witness a charming mixture of traditional Lanna and Burmese architecture as well as decorative motifs across the vicinity. On top of that, visitors will get to have a closer look at Buddhist-related materials like Pra Bod (canvas depicting Buddha’s past life tales), wooden Buddha images and traditional chests containing ancient hand written scrolls. In 2008, the Wat Pong Sanuk restoration project received the UNESCO’s Award of Merit for cultural heritage conservation.
According to legend, there was a lady named Mae Suchada who offered a monk a watermelon during a famine. As he cut the watermelon into half, they found a green gem stone which the monk in the end decided to carve into a Buddha image through the assistance of god Indra. This Buddha image eventually became a significant safeguard or source of protection to the people in Lampang. However, the local king at the time grew suspicious of the monk working so closely with Mae Suchada and suspected that the two of them were having an affair. He ordered them to be executed, but the monk managed to escape while Mae Suchada was not as lucky. Prior to her execution, Mae Suchada cursed the land and its inhabitants for generations. Travellers can learn more about the story, along with other significant events of Lampang, at the museum called Bhumi Lakhon that showcases historical and cultural documentations of the town. The museum opens only on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Dhanabadee Ceramic Museum
Said to be the pioneer of the ceramic industry in Lampang, Dhanabadee was established since 1954 by Mr. Chin Simyu who had discovered the kaolinite (china clay) deposits in the village of Pangka, Jae-Hom. They started with the emblematic ‘chicken bowls’ that later became a huge success as they were widely used across Thailand. Today, the second generation of Mr. Simyu’s family has put on a modern touch to the designs that garner various accolades from local and abroad. Their products are even exported to more than 67 countries. Travellers should visit the museum to learn about the entire process of ceramic-making. Be sure to stop by at the museum’s large souvenir shop that sells beautiful handmade ceramic wares at factory prices. Entrance fee is THB100 per person.
Pattamasaevi Learning Centre
Besides the rich histories of monarchs and Buddhism, Lampang is also known for its artistic communities specialising in a variety of fields such as crafts, performance art and paintings. Because of that, Pattamasaevi Learning Centre strives to preserve such skills for future generations through a series of exhibitions and classes. One particular class that travellers can participate is the DIY class in the making of tung, a local flag commonly used in Buddhist ceremonies that functions as a sacrifice or an offering to eliminate evil and bad luck that might occur from sin or deceiving spirit. Once travellers are done with the tung-making, they should pop upstairs to witness the impressive art collection by local artists.
More Activities in Lampang:
Visiting Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao
This Lanna-styled temple is considered special for the Thais because the Emerald Buddha (a sacred image of the Thai Kingdom) was kept here from 1434 to 1468.
Shopping at the Walking Street, Kat Kong Ta (Old Market)
Every weekend, this street is closed from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. to make way for the street market selling souvenirs, handicrafts, clothes, antiques and local food. Some well-preserved buildings bearing Chinese, European and Burmese styles along the road have also been tastefully renovated and converted into gift shops, cafes and guest houses.
Riding on a horse carriage around Lampang neighbourhood
People in Lampang still use horse-drawn carriages for daily transportation to get them from one place to another. So why not step aboard on this traditional vehicle too and meander in comfort through the quaint Lampang town. Fares start from THB200 to THB400 per ride.
Bo Sang Umbrella Village
Bo Sang is situated 20 minutes’ drive from Chiang Mai. It is a small neighbourhood where people are well-known for their expertise in making exquisite hand-painted umbrellas. Travellers should visit the handicraft centre and learn about the process of producing the said craft, beginning from the making of bamboo struts, which are then covered with mulberry paper, followed by putting the umbrellas out to dry, and finally hand-painting them meticulously. Travellers are welcome to get in touch with their creative side by joining the DIY class in painting their own parasols for a fee. Of course, a prior reservation is required. The in-house artists, moreover, accept orders to hand-paint travellers personal belongings such as phone cases, purses and jackets at additional rates. Travellers should consider visiting Bo Sang on the third weekend of January, when the town holds the annual Bo Sang Umbrella and San Kamphaeng Handicrafts Fair. Expect to see the display of colourful umbrellas, competitions and various activities organised for the festival’s attendees.
Wieng Yong’s Handicraft Centre
Bringing home souvenirs and stylish clothes from a trip is a great way to keep memories alive. So when being in Northern Thailand, do consider buying brocades known locally as pha mai yok dok for loved ones or oneself. These brocades are made of silk and cotton; the latter proves to be the more popular due to its cheaper price. If travellers were interested to see the whole process of brocade weaving, they can go to Wieng Yong’s Handicraft Centre, where women from the Yong ethnic group are more than happy to demonstrate their skill. Brocades sold here are also relatively cheaper.
Gaya Travel Magazine extends our heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to Tourism Authority of Thailand for making our trip to Northern Thailand a reality.