Lush and lavish in Lampang

From hot springs to beautiful forests and a national park, there is much to see in this northern province.

When talking about Lampang, images of vibrant ceramic arts, horse-drawn carriages and elephants come to mind. Though downtown Lampang and its surroundings have long been famous destinations, its Northern region remains off the beaten track and worthy of exploration.

Khamsing Kotchaiya, a certified guide of Tham Pha Thai National Park, in Lampang's Ngao district, leads me slowly up a steep hill. We rest under the shade of trees as a refreshing breeze gently cools us off.

"There is a folk tale about the Ngao, who made a bamboo raft and slid down the hill, expecting it to be a vehicle that made travelling easier," said Khamsing, who comes from another part of Lampang.

We are in Ngao district, on the way to explore the upper part of Lampang, which is rather quiet when compared to its south. The northern part of Lampang, covers the districts of Ngao, Chae Hom, Wang Nuea and Mueang Pan.

"What was the result? All died, of course. But do not ask any Ngao people about this, they will get angry."

Life here is probably so serene that the Ngao often look to try something exciting, I should think.

However, what I've heard is different as the locals have another tale about a governor who protected the town and defeated all its enemies. Lampang's ruler rewarded him with a silver halberd.  

Ngao is away from the tourist trail, though it is packed with stunning attractions. The cave of Tham Pha Thai is among the many.

Tham Pha Thai welcomes us with a big entrance that is around 30m wide, where a Buddha statue is situated. Two limestone columns stand elegantly from the floor to ceiling, reflecting the long life of the cave. Next to the statue is a royal monogram of King Rama VII, as well as other members of the royal family.

"The rock of Lampang Group is 230 million years old. This cave is around 9 million years old. Do not touch those stalagmites and flowstones. When touched, chemical effects stop them from growing," Khamsing tells me, while we pass the beautiful flowstones, which dazzle under the bright light from his torch. 

Through the trail, Khamsing shows me different chambers. However, what excites me is the adjacent cave "Tham Jone" or "Robbers Cave".  This cave's narrow entrance is well hidden behind a slope. But once you step in, you will find yourself in a big chamber with a natural vent, which can accommodate more than 100 people. The cave also comprises smaller chambers and a backdoor exit, in case of emergencies.

"According to the elders around here, robbers stayed here when they were on the run during the construction of Phaholyothin Road in the 30s."

Another amazing attraction in the national park is Lom Phu Khieo, a big natural pool hidden in a remote valley of Ngao. Surrounded by a towering cliff on one side and a steep slope on another, the green pool is mysterious with very still water. Slow movements of big fish and a slight breeze keep reminds us that it is real and not a computer graphic.

The locals consider it to be a sacred place. Though it is surrounded with big trees and a lot of leaves that fall into it daily, the water remains very clear, and is often used as holy water.

The northern part of Lampang is rich with lush forests that stretch to Phayao province. I drive through to Wang Nuea district and find myself travelling through picturesque rice paddies that extend to Chae Hom district. It is one of the most scenic drive routes in the province.

Chae Hom is pretty quiet. Most parts of this modest district comprise forests and rice paddies. Among the vast rice fields, there is a very outstanding towering mountain. On the mountain top, white pagodas and Thai style pavilions can be seen from a distance.

It is Wat Chalerm Phrakiat Phra Chom Klao Rachanusorn, where pilgrims struggle to climb and pay homage to the pagodas, which are built and scattered on peaks and cliffs, all the while witnessing a breathtaking view of the lush valley below.

After a long drive, I finally make my way through the peaceful lanes of Chae Hom to the Chae Son National Park in the adjacent Muang Pan district. I rest in the tranquil atmosphere of the landscaped park and hot springs.

If you find downtown Lampang too busy or too boring, try this route and you may see it is as impressive and peaceful.

Perched high on a mountain, Wat Chalerm Phrakiat Phra Chom Klao Rachanusorn, in Chae Hom district, offers an impressive panoramic view, though you have to ride a shuttle bus along a steep road to the foot of the mountain and climb iron stairs for another kilometre. From the temple, which was built to commemorate the 200th anniversary of King Rama IV, you get a bird's eyes view of the vast rice paddies of Chae Hom and Muang Pan districts.

After the end of a long drive, Chae Son National Park is a welcome rest stop. The park's main magnet is its hot springs, with an average temperature of 73°C. Do not forget to buy eggs to boil in the hot springs. There are private spa rooms where tourists can dip themselves into hot spring bathtubs. The park provides a number of guest houses and plenty of camping space.

Lom Phu Khieo is a mysterious crater like pool. It is good to get there at noon, when the sun shines over the pool and makes it glow a light green colour.

The outdoor Cinema Museum in Ngao district is an interesting place to visit. The museum features big collections of Thai films and posters, as well as cinema projectors from years gone by. The museum owner, Manit Worachat, a voice actor, sometimes shows how he works. The outdoor cinema was once popular entertainment. Now, it is very rare to find them, particularly in cities.

Travel Info

- Lampang is 600km north of Bangkok via highway 32 and 1.

- Call the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Chiang Mai office, which oversees Lampang, on 053-276-140—2.

- Tham Pha Thai National Park's head office is on Highway 1, or Phaholyothin Road at the 667km marker, 65km from Muang district in Lampang.

- Chae Son National Park is 38km from Lampang via highway 1252.

About the author

Writer: Peerawat Jariyasombat
Position: Travel Reporter