I never thought that one day I would be driving in Asia — and happily so. Who would’ve thought I’d be brave enough?! But Chiang Mai is not that scary when it comes to driving and all those years of honing my driving skills on the mean streets of western Sydney has really paid off. The standard of driving is, frankly, pretty bad over here, and road safety measures that are commonplace in Australia are still 20 years away — for example, people drink drive quite regularly, and using seatbelts and helmets are not as widespread as you’d hope. Otherwise though, it’s fine, and I’ve driven a couple of times around the city in the past month (we bought a car because Josh needed one to get to work). Long story short, I definitely felt confident enough to undertake a longer journey, which is why the other weekend I went on a road trip with two friends for an overnight stay in Lampang.
Lampang is about two hours south of Chiang Mai and is a small town that is popular with Thai tourists due to its historic European-style buildings associated with the 19th century teak trade.
We stayed at the Riverside Guesthouse, a wonderful wooden building that has been converted into a charming place to stay and it was extremely affordable for the three of us; all the great accommodation in this part of the world is so cheap, especially when you compare it to Bangkok or the heavily touristed islands of Thailand.
The Riverside is also the epicentre of tourism in the area…not that there is actually all that much to do as a tourist! But I was happy with the change of pace to relax (including a game of Scrabble after many months of deprivation), to check out the historic buildings, eat, visit temples and go on a horse-cart ride. And yes, the last activity is exactly as lame as it sounds!
Even though Lampang is known in Thailand as the ‘horse-cart city’, the horse-carts are for tourists only and have long fallen out of use with the advent of more efficient transportation.
We went to the Weekend Walking Street, which is a small-scale version of the famous Chiang Mai one on Sundays. It was very manageable and nice to walk along, though the quality of goods was not quite Chiang Mai-standard. However, I picked up some rather groovy mug and saucer sets for next to nothing. I later found out that they were made by a local factory for Ikea – but as there isn’t actually an Ikea in Thailand, these were factory seconds. Lampang is a big producer of ceramics and pottery, which is how Ikea comes into the picture as a contractor. However, it’s the rooster design on Lampang’s ceramics that’s well known rather than its Ikea connection. I’m not sure what the rooster is about exactly, except that you see images and statues of roosters everywhere.
After our pleasant short stay, we head off back home again, briefly stopping at the spirit house ‘graveyard’ on the highway back. This interesting article about the Thai Spirit House explains this ‘graveyard’ phenomenon, and also has broader information about spirit houses, which are a noticeable feature of every Thai home and business. It’s one of the first things I noticed when I arrived in Chiang Mai all those months ago.