Northern star rising

Northern star rising

A new tourism campaign highlights an often-overlooked province as a destination meeting all tourist demands

Riding on a horse-drawn carriage around the downtown of Lampang province is like travelling back in time. Nonetheless, this "town of horse-drawn carriages" is famous not only for the old-style travel mode, temples and bowls with chicken motifs. It has just begun to promote its community tourism, artistic, romantic and challenging destinations and street festivals under the new campaign "Lampang: Dream Destination".

"Lampang has high potential in terms of culture, tradition and eco-tourism, but is visited by not many tourists -- only about 900,000 a year. It may lack public relations and marketing. People just pass by Lampang when travelling north. The Tourism Authority of Thailand has positioned Lampang as a time capsule, although the town is not just limited to slow life and temples. So we came up with the one-year campaign 'Lampang: Dream Destination'," Lampang governor Songpol Sawastham remarked.

According to the governor, the campaign will transform Lampang from a transit point to a destination for all types of tourists, including those who like to take and share pictures, adventure seekers, romantic people, movie fans, shoppers, temple-goers, art lovers, the elderly who like to travel and use social media, and those who like to travel and learn new things.

From Ban Pa Miang in Muang Pan district, it takes less than a 30 minutes' drive up the mountain for tourists to get to Kiu Fin, a peak of the Phi Pan Nam Mountain Range, where visitors can see the sunrise and sea of mist. The panoramic views of both Chiang Mai and Lampang, and a faraway glimpse of Chiang Rai, can also be enjoyed from 1,517m above sea level.

The Louis House is the former residence of British businessman Louis T. Leonowens and office of the Louis T. Leonowens Company, which did teak logging and was an agent for imported whiskey, Champagne, cement, typewriters, engineering products and more. The house is not far from the Wang River and the Rassadaphisek Bridge. Louis (1856-1919) was the son of Anna Leonowens, a British teacher of King Rama IV's children. He spoke Thai fluently and lived his life in a Thai way.

Nature lovers should not miss Kiu Fin, the top of the mountain, where the stunning views of sunrise over the sea of mist can be enjoyed. The mountain can be accessed from both Chiang Mai's Mae On district and Lampang's Muang Pan district. Also in Muang Pan is Ban Pa Miang, a small community which has long grown Assam tea and produced miang (fermented tea leaves) for traditional chewing. The village offers million-dollar mountain views as well as homestay accommodation for tourists.

Movie fans can follow characters of the popular drama series Rak Nakhara, which was filmed at a few local temples, such as Wat Si Rong Muang and Wat Sutthawat. Meanwhile, bookworms may want to visit Kiu Lom Dam, where fun stories about work at the dam were told by novelist Mananya in the popular novel Chao Khuen (Dam People).

Health-concerned tourists can soak themselves in warm spring water at the Chae Son National Park in Muang Pan. Another popular activity there is boiling eggs in hot spring water. Not far away is Chae Son Grass Farm, where tourists can sip freshly brewed jar-roasted coffee.

Art lovers can enjoy street art and sculptures, such as along the Wang River near Rassadaphisek Bridge, the cultural street and even at Ban Pa Miang. Among the interesting street-art pieces are a sculpture called Mr Chicken and paintings of the town's symbols, including elephants, horses and chickens. Another must-see is the chicken-bowl making at Dhanabadee Ceramic Museum in Muang district.

Ban Pa Miang is located in tambon Chae Son, Muang Pan, about 90km north of Muang Lampang. It was named after the miang grown by most families there. Visitors can visit tea (miang) and Arabica coffee plantations and see local villagers collecting miang leaves, tying and steaming the leaves in an old style from May until December. Each villager can collect between 10 and 30kg of miang leaves per day. Each small pack of steamed miang leaves is sold for 20 baht. Tourists can observe coffee collection from November until January. Popular souvenirs from Ban Pa Miang are miang tea, miang soap, miang-leaf pillows and coffee beans. From February until mid-March, the village will be seen standing in a white valley filled with blooming dok sieo (orchid tree flowers).

Located in tambon Wang Phrao, Ko Kha district, Hug You Farm is a popular phototaking spot for tourists. Visitors enjoy selfies with, and the feeding of, sheep and several other kinds of animals. Entry to the farm and caf? is free, but entry to the sheep farm costs 40 baht for adults and 20 baht for children per head. Souvenirs include the farm's sheep milk, sheep embryo cosmetics and sheep wool scarves and shawls and Dhanabadee Ceramic Museum's beautiful ceramics. Visit hugyousheepfarm.com.

"Lampang is a town of arts and crafts, especially for ceramics and wood carving. Local people make wooden toys for worldwide export. Tourists can visit Ban Luk, which we want to open as a centre of wooden products like Ban Thawai in Chiang Mai. Chicken bowls from Lampang are very famous," the governor said.

The province is also outstanding for growing temperate crops and flowers, such as strawberries, avocado and persimmon. A community called Muang Tan is a source of vegetables sold to royal projects and one of the country's biggest sukiyaki restaurant chains. Tourists can enjoy selfies at Hug You sheep farm as well as vineyards and strawberry farms in tambon Chae Hom.

The governor and his team are confident in their mission to make tourism in Lampang grow sustainably while conserving its local cultural uniqueness, citing their experiences and success in promoting tourism in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Krabi and Songkhla when he was a governor there.

According to him, his team can adjust strategies and marketing to meet tourists' needs. The province will increase social media check-in spots, train more tour guides and tourism personnel, create events and promote two-in-one tour (travel and food) packages. It will highlight Ban Pa Miang and Chae Son by improving roads and services.

It hopes for more tourists from South Asia, including India. Currently, more Chinese tourists visit Lampang to see street art while European tourists appreciate the local way of life.

"We set a goal to attract 2 million tourists per year within two years," the governor said. "We plan for the Dok Sieo Ban [Blooming Orchid Tree Flowers] Festival at Ban Pa Miang and festivals at Kiu Lom Dam and Doi Fa Ngam."

To know Lampang better, all are invited to the Lampang Street Festival on the banks of the Wang River in Muang Lampang on Saturday and Sunday, and the Lampang Open House fair at CentralWorld, Bangkok, from Feb 19-21. This is when the tourism, artistic, gastronomic, agricultural and health aspects of the northern province will be unveiled.

Ban Luk, or Ban Luk Tai, is a small village in Mae Tha district, about 25km or 30 minutes' drive from Muang Lampang. It was named after luk, a local type of turbines for taking water from the Chaeng stream to the villagers on higher grounds. For five decades, the village has been known for woodcarving, especially sculptures of elephants and other kinds of animals, as well as kitchen tools like mortars. The first batch of craftsmen was taught by Moon Chandee, who was from Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district and married a local woman. The commonly used wood for crafts there is Acacia, or chamcha, which is grown in the village. A new occupation there is gift-basket-making from a kind of local plant. In the morning, visitors can take a boat ride on the Chaeng stream to see lotus flowers and water birds. A 30-minute boat ride costs 250 baht per trip per boat and can accommodate up to eight people. Tourists can stay overnight at homestay houses; try local food such as kaeng khae, sa yuak kluay (banana flesh salad) and nam chang curry; and watch local dances. Call Kamnan Narong Wongkantha at 092-789-5294.

Wat Si Rong Muang is situated in tambon Sop Tui, Muang Lampang. This Burmese-style temple was constructed in 1904 by a Burmese timber merchant. The main architecture is the wooden prayer hall (vihara) with a multi-tiered roof. The temple is decorated with finely carved wooden panels and gilded motifs. It is one of the local temples that served as a setting for the TV series Rak Nakhara.

If tourists have only one day in Lampang, they can experience the local way of life and try local food at Kad Kao Jao (Old Morning Market) in downtown, take a horse-drawn carriage ride from its station to see the river street art near Rassadaphisek Bridge, visit Louis T. Leonowens' Heritage House and see numerous old wooden houses in the former forest industry community Tha Ma O. A 15-minute ride costs 200 baht per trip and a 30-minute ride around downtown costs 300 baht per trip.

Those wishing to stay overnight in Ban Pa Miang can stay in any of the village's 11 homestay houses. The prices per person per night are 300 baht (not inclusive of food) and 450 baht (inclusive of two meals). Guests can choose three of the following dishes -- spicy miang-leaf salad, kaeng khae kai (chicken and mixed vegetable curry), chayote soup, chayote stir-fried in oyster sauce, chicken curry, khai pam (eggs cooked with herbs), nam prik ong (pork and tomato chilli paste) and nam prik noom (green chilli paste). They can also hire a local band to perform traditional music at dinner.

TRAVEL INFO

  • Located about 600km north of Bangkok, Lampang is accessible by car, bus, train and plane. To travel in downtown Lampang, take songthaew buses, which cost 10-20 baht per head per trip on a sharing basis. To get to Ban Luk, Ban Pa Miang and faraway destinations, a van with a driver can be hired from local tour agents.
  • Contact Ban Pa Miang Homestay Group at 063-124-1850 or 082-172-4661.
  • Contact the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Contact Centre at 1672.

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