Lampang History and Travel Guide
- Lampang is the second city of the Khon Muang, being, after Chiang Mai, the largest, richest and most populous city of the north. Isolated from Lamphun and Chiang Mai to the west by the Doi Khun Tan mountains, from Phayao to the east by the massive bulk of Doi Bussaracum, and from Phrae to the south-east by the Doi Khun Kiat range, the valley of Lampang is broad and fertile.
- As a consequence, Lampang valley, city and people has developed a distinctive style and culture of its own; still muang, to be sure, but the regional accent is different to that of Chiang Mai, the people do not decorate their houses with the distinctive crossed galae used so widely in the northern capital, and Burmese cultural influence was strong much more recently than in Chiang Mai.
- In times past the difficult, densely forested mountains surrounding Lampang made the principality difficult to reach. A journey from Chiang Mai to Lampang could take several days on foot and elephant back, though now a broad concrete superhighway, soon to be all dual carriageway, has cut the time it takes to travel between the two cities to about one and a half hours.
- Lampang, like the capitals of so many of the northern principalities, is an ancient town older, for example, than Ayutthaya and even Chiang Mai, though little enough evidence of that past survives. Legend recounts that a son of Queen Chamadevi of Lamphun founded the city in the 9th century AD; as such it was a Mon tributary statelet. As far as we know, Lampang itself was at that time called Klang Nakhon, or “Central City”, and it had four fortified dependencies, one of which Phra That Lampang Luang survives to the present day.
- Lampang became part of the Lan Na Kingdom after its conquest by Phaya Mangrai in around 1286, though in reality the difficult terrain between Chiang Mai and Lampang permitted the rulers of the latter principality a considerable degree of autonomy in local matters. Nevertheless, both during the La Na period and subsequently, under Burmese hegemony, the two cities shared similar and related fates.
- Today the oldest part of Lampang, where the most interesting historical monuments are to be seen, lies to the north of the River Wang, whilst the modern commercial town is to be found on the south bank. For this reason the old part of the city is known locally as Wiang Neua, or the “Northern Town”. Here the visitor will find Wat Phra Kaeo Don Tao, the most important temple in the city, supposedly founded by the first ruler of Lampang. The central chedi, which is around 50 metres high, is believed to enshrine a hair of the Buddha. For some years this eminent temple housed the famous Emerald Buddha, palladium of the Thai Kingdom, long since moved to Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok. Of particular interest is a Burmese-style mondop, or square-shaped relic chamber, which was built in 1909 by Burmese artisans in typical Mandalay style. Links with nearby Burma were in fact particularly strong in the late 19th century, as Lampang was then a major logging centre, and Burmese often, in fact, Shan migrants flooded into the city to partake of the wealth teak created. At least a dozen Buddhist temples were sponsored and largely constructed by these relatively wealthy migrants, and their legacy lives on today both in the unusual, distinctively Burmese temple architecture, and in the temples themselves at least four local wats continue to have Burmese abbots.