Buddhist Temples of Lampang

History of Lampang

Lampang is a major city about 90 km south of Chiang Mai. At the location of Lampang a settlement called Wiang Khelang was founded in about the ninth century during the time of Queen Chamathewi. Therefore the city predates Chiang Mai. Little is known about the early history of Lampang. Over time the city became known as Nakhon, Lakhon and, finally, Lampang. It was an independent kingdom until King Mengrai conquered it. King Mengrai, the founder of Chiang Mai, and his successors laid the foundation of Lan Na between 1296 and 1355, the comprised Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lamphun and Lampang.

The Golden Age of the Lanna Kingdom

Historians consider the period from 1355 until 1558 kind of the Golden Age of the Lanna kingdom. Temples such as Wat Suandok, Wat Yet Yod and Wat Chedi Luang date back to that period. The Lanna kings conquered Nan and Phrae but were also waging war on Sukhotai, Ayuthaya. They conquered faraway places such as Chiang Rung (currently Jinghong in Yunnan province, China) and Muang Yong and other towns in Shan State (now in Myanmar). During this time, Khelang (Lampang) was part of the Lanna Kingdom.

Golden stupa with many chedis
Wat Suan Dok chedi and cemetery

The Burmese occupation

Continuous warfare had weakened Lanna. In 1558 Burmese armies conquered Chiang Mai which was the beginning of the Burmese occupation. This period lasted from 1558 until 1774. Not much is known about this period. At times the Lanna Kingdom was semi-autonomous. During periods the ruler was Burmese, sometimes the ruler was a descendant of the Mengrai dynasty. In 1614 Lampang declared independence. It was a fluid period with many revolts against the Burmese occupation.

The Revival of the Lanna Kingdom

In 1774 a local noble called Kawila succeeded in driving the Burmese out of Chiang Mai with the help of Taksin, king of a Siamese kingdom based in Thonburi. Kawila became the first king of the Chet Ton dynasty and started the revival of the Lanna Kingdom. Lanna was by now a vassal of Siam. The kingdom was in ruins. Kawila’s rebuilding policy is usually translated as “Put vegetables into baskets, put people into towns.”

Wat Lampang Luang

Wat Prathat Lampang Luang is one of the most highly revered temples in Thailand, about 20 km north of Lampang. The chedi contains a relic of the Buddha who visit the site about 2500 years ago. Wat Prathat Lampang Luang is a wiang, a fortified settlement on a small hill. Its walls are imposing. The temple dates back to the 13th century. It is a great example of Lanna style temple architecture. It is the must-see temple that features in our two-day Classic Lampang Railway Journey.

Wat Lampang Luang front with blue sky Chiang Mai private tours
Wat Lampang Luang front

Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao

This temple is the most revered of all temples of Lampang. It is not far from the Wang River.  Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao dates back to the 14th or the 15th century. This temple housed the Emerald Buddha statue for 34 years in the 15th century. This highly revered statue was discovered in Chiang Rai and then moved to Lampang. It is now in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok.

Shan style temple
Wat Phrakaew Don Tao

Wat Pong Sanuk

This temple is not far from the Wang River. Wealthy Burmese residents constructed this temple in 1886 in Shan and Burmese style. At that time the temple was called Wat Pong Sanuk Tai. The Wihan of this temple has a unique cruciform shape. Just recently this Wihan has been restored as it was in terrible shape. The restoration started in 2004 and completed in 2008. It was a joint effort by the local community, experts from Chiang Mai University, sponsors and UNESCO. The project received the Award of Merit, a UNESCO award for cultural heritage conservation.

Chedi of Wat Pong Sanuk Lampang
Wat Pong Sanuk Lampang

Trekking in Doi Khun Tan National Park

Doi Khun Tan National Park is about halfway between Chiang Mai and Lampang. It is one of Thailand’s oldest national parks and the only one that has a railway running through it. The highest mountain is Doi Khun Tan at 1373 meters. The park offers great hiking and many stories. The park offers good accommodation, and there are also old missionary bungalows. Doi Khuntan offers some fantastic views.

View from Doi Khuntan National Park activities in Lampang
Doi Khuntan National Park view. Picture by Frans Betgem

Make a horsecart ride in Lampang

Lampang is the city of horse carts. It is the only city in Thailand that still has a significant number of horse carts. They were introduced more than 100 years ago when the city had a sizeable amount of Burmese and Shan Inhabitants. So one of the things to do in Lampang is to take a ride in a horse cart. It is good fun.

horse carts lined up

Make a train ride to Lampang

If you have the time, this is one of the great activities in Lampang. Take the slow day train which passes through Doi Khuntan National Park. The railway was constructed about 100 years ago and hasn’t changed much. The train will not run faster than 50kms per hour at any time. You will have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and the small historical stations along the way. Highly recommended.

Chompoo Railway bridge during Doi Khuntan National Park Tours
Doi Khuntan National Park famous "White Bridge"

The Rachadapisek Bridge

The Rachadapisek Bridge is an iconic bridge that spans the Wang River. An American missionary teacher saved the bridge from destruction in World War Two. You can read the story here. It is a narrow bridge. After dark, this bridge is beautifully illuminated.

White bridge with people selling
Rachadapisek Bridge in the evening

Hospital at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center

The Thai Elephant Conservation Center is located about 20 km north of Lampang. It is the only government-run elephant camp in Thailand. The camp itself offers an elephant show and allows elephant riding, both in which we are not very interested. We recommend visiting the hospital, which is part of the Center but has a separate entrance. The hospital offers free healthcare to all elephants. There is a nursery with mothers and their babies as well.

Three elephants close up
Three elephants of Elephant Valley

The “Louis House”

There are more teak wooden houses in Lampang than in any other city in northern Thailand. The city was a major centre of the teak industry from the 1880s until 1941. Many of these houses were constructed in this period. A good example is the former office of the Louis T.Leonowens Company, one of the British logging companies, but there are many others. At the time of writing, you can visit this house. There is no entrance fee. The house is empty but might be transformed into a museum in the future. Let’s hope so.

Old wooden house
Louis T.Leonowens House

Lampang Railway Station

The Lampang Railway Station is one of the most beautiful railway stations in Thailand. The railway from Bangkok reached the city in 1916. The train ride from Chiang Mai to Lampang is a very scenic one. Take the day train so you can enjoy the ride that takes you through Khuntan Tunnel and Khuntan National Park. It is a third-class train without airconditioning that allows you to feel the wind and experience the old train stations and the scenery.

Classic old railway station

Lampang Walking Streets

Just like many cities and towns nowadays, Lampang also has “walking streets”, early evening street markets that have local products for sale. There is one on Friday at Wang Nua street and one on Saturday and Sunday at Kad Kong Ta. Products for sale include souvenirs, handicrafts, delicacies and local food. Most of these street markets also offer foot massage and local music. Highly recommended. The Lampang Walking Streets are amazing. These markets usually start at around sunset and last until about 2200.

Two men with traditional guitars
Lampang musicians

The Dhanabee Ceramic Museum

This museum is well worth a visit. It tells the story of the history of the Dhanabee Ceramic company and its trademark the “Chicken Bowl”. It is an educational and fun museum. They organise workshops and have some cute souvenirs for sale.

Workers making ceramics at Dhanabee Ceramic Museum in Lampang
Dhanabee Ceramic Museum in Lampang