When travel conversations centre in on the north of Thailand, cities like Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai invariably get the brunt of the attention. And sure enough, they both offer a plethora of cultural, culinary and shopping pursuits, not to mention stunning backdrops against misty mountains, mighty rivers and rolling hills.
But what of a place that has all of that yet without hordes of tourists?
Welcome to Lampang. Humans have settled in this part of Thailand for millennia and the area is rich in remnants from the many civilisations that have called it home. Mon, Lanna-era and Burmese-inspired temples are found on both banks of the river. Majestic teak mansions lining the old town, and the streets in the quiet residential area on the northern bank of the Wang River, stand in silent testimony to the city’s rich past as one of the centres of Thailand’s lucrative teak trade.
One of the city’s landmarks, and a good place to start exploring, is the Ratchadapisek Bridge which spans the Wang River from the eastern end of Thalad Kao Road. Its perfectly shaped white arches make for a striking sight. The bridge was allegedly the longest in the country when it was constructed in 1894 and has collapsed a number of times. Its current structure dates back to 1917. Both ends of the bridge display the Lampang provincial seal – a rooster, which is also found on the city’s famous and popular ceramic products that can be found all over Thailand.
Those looking to buy a souvenir or two should head to Thalad Kao Road, the main commercial street in Lampang, lined with small shops, restaurants and small hostels. One of the more interesting emporiums here is a spice shop more than 100 years old, selling products from both Thailand and China. The spices are kept in old wooden cabinets and weighed on old-fashioned scales. For something a little livelier, head to Wangnua Road on Friday afternoons for its quaint local market, where locals set up stalls selling home-cooked food, old-school cooking utensils, second-hand clothing, accessories and shoes – as well as vintage furniture plus just about everything in between.
The area around Ratchadapisek Bridge is also home to some of the best food in Lampang. Just off the bridge on the northern bank you will find Khao Soi Islam in a small alley where Khun Wittaya’s family has sold its popular noodles dishes since the 1970s. Served with either chicken or beef and a generous helping of both crispy and soft egg noodles, the succulent broth will make you ask for seconds. If you come before lunch, you might be lucky enough to sample the restaurant’s excellent chicken or beef satays as well.
On the other side of the bridge, Kanom Jeen Pa Boonsri serves another northern specialty: fermented rice noodles served with various curries and fresh bean sprouts, green beans and herbs. Make sure to try the kanom jeen nam ngiaw – noodles served with a rich tomato-based curry, pork meat and blood cakes.