Airport Rating N/A
Reception of locals *****
The drive from Sukhothai to Lampang was a pleasant 3/4 hours. The roads weren't particularly bumpy and greenery of the central Thai countryside was slowly transformed into more mountainous terrain as we moved north.
Lampang is one of Thailand's relatively untouched cities. Locals refer to it as the 'last paradise' in their country. Tourism has brought a significant amount of benefits for the north of the country, but with tourist money has come new developments. The traditional cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai have been transformed into cities with skyscrapers, catering to the tourism industry. Lampang stands out in this development. The cityscape has remained broadly the same, and tourism is still in its infancy. Those tourists that do stay, tend only to stop off for a lunch break. I fell into a third category, staying slightly longer to explore the surrounding area.
The city is built in the valley of the Wang River and its northerly latitude gives it a relatively dry climate. The city has perpetually been in the shadow of its northern powerhouse rivals, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and has therefore escaped some of the changes and tourism. However, on the flip side, this isolation has also left it less developed.
Lampang's economy is focused on rice paddy farming, the cultivation of pineapples and sugarcane as well as logging. The name of the city means 'city of the horse carriage cart', and horse drawn carriages are the typical form of transportation.
The first stop I made was in the city's elephant conservation centre with some travelers I had met on the way north. They were an amazing group of people, and I still stay in touch with many of them today.
I like a good picture. My personal Instagram account is full of pictures that I am very proud to have taken. However, there is always a line. The safety and happiness of myself and others around is key. Sikhi teaches compassion and empathy, with selfishness and ego seen as evils. There is no way I would ever take a picture that would cause suffering to others. I see a lot of pictures with people sitting on elephants or lying with tigers. I'm sure this is an amazing experience. However, on my travels I was taught that these animals are drugged, beaten and emotionally broken until they become docile. Others are deprived of sleep.
I think its important to take into account cultural differences. What's acceptable in Thailand may not always be acceptable in the UK. I didn't want to take an anglocentric view point and act like 'my way' was better or gave me some moral high ground. However, I made a commitment to myself early on that I would avoid experiences where animals are harmed.
The Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital is one of the places in Thailand that actively takes care of its elephants. These are elephants that have been rescued from abusive owners/companies and are rehabilitated. I was told there are two elephant centres in Lampang, and this is the one that has a good ethical record.
You have the option to ride elephants while they take a bath, but again, the group I was with decided it wasn't the most ethical thing to do. However, if its something you are comfortable with, it looks fun and I'm told the elephants don't mind in this particular centre.
They take the elephants for a bath in a lake in the middle of the centre, if you don't want to ride them, you can still walk closely with them. Following this the elephants parade up a road leading to the entrance before they turn into their enclosures.
After leaving the elephant hospital, we headed into the countryside, not far from Lampang and we were welcomed by a rural family to stay at their house. The family put on quite a show, playing traditional Thai instruments and cooking an amazing dinner. After dinner we got some massages and headed outside to light a Chinese lantern. We then just lounged around, getting to know each other better and playing card games. One of the children at the house, a 7 year old boy had a little football so I spent a lot of time kicking the ball around with him.
That night I slept in a small shed, just outside the main living quarters. The shed was literally big enough for just my mattress, and the mosquito net was covered in holes at the side, while the top had hundreds of dead bugs on it. I decided to plaster on the mosquito repellent. As soon as I turned the lights off, the noises started. It was pitch black in the middle of the countryside with no outdoor lighting. I heard noises I have never heard before from grasshoppers, to dogs, to what I can only describe as a satan like deep bellow. Other than some devil like monster possibly loitering outside my shed, the other noises were oddly relaxing. It's one thing I never hear back in England, and is similar to what I heard in rural India, although here there seemed to be thousands of animals and insects, everywhere. It was genuinely one of my favourite nights of the whole trip.
Despite the cast of the Lion King doing their best to keep me awake, I actually had a really good nights sleep. I woke up the next day and took a bucket bath in freezing water, with large ants crawling on the walls of the open area. It was the quickest morning routine of my life. As I got ready I walked out and the young boy was waiting, football in hand, so I obliged with a round two. After about 20 minutes, it was time for him to do his homework and for me to take my leave.
I headed out and joined the others for an early morning cooking class. The ingredients were all sourced from surrounding farms and we spent an hour cooking a breakfast rice dish that is popular in Northern Thailand, although the name escapes me now. It was a spicy breakfast, a world away from Coco Pops.
The cooking class was fun, and these classes are available all over the country. I would definitely recommend attending at least one of these. The food is delicious, and most of these ingredients are available back home, should you get a craving for a genuine Thai meal.
The first Monk
Following this we headed out to a local temple, taking some offerings with us. After a short wait we were greeted by a Buddhist Monk who took a good look at all of us. Through a local interpreter he specifically asked about me, no doubt as I stood out just a little. I inquired what he asked and she said he wanted to know what religion I was as he had never come across this appearance before. I replied that I am a Sikh. He seemed satisfied with the response. We all went up, one by one, and he tied a little string around our hand for protection and luck. He was very friendly, welcoming and open.
During my time in Thailand, I ended up getting this same ritual from two different monks. Both were inquisitive about my background and both seemed happy with the response I had given. Whether they knew what a Sikh or not, I am unsure, but I do know the two faiths share a tremendous amount of similarities in their belief systems; especially around meditation, reincarnation and different energies.
Cycle through the countryside
After the temple we headed off to a local bike shop and rented some cycles for the day, and so began possibly my favourite day of all my trips in SE Asia. We began by riding through the village and then crossed into the surrounding countryside, The route we took was breathtakingly scenic, surrounded by lush greenery with mountains in the distance.
We stopped off at a small farmhouse that grew mushrooms. It was a small family business and all members of the family were involved in the enterprise. We were taken to a small place in their farm where the mushrooms are put into a small warm room to mature. The area was very hot, but it was cool seeing how the process worked, at least in northern Thailand. We actually stayed a fair amount of time as the farmer talked us through the process.
We rode for about half an hour, with a nice cool breeze a welcome element on a very hot day. We decided to go to the local village school and disembarked. As soon as we got off all the kids started shouting from the balconies. These were a rowdy group of kids. We went into one of the classrooms and taught English for a short while which was quite fun. What made the experience even better is that even though most of us (bar two) had English as a first language, our pronunciations were very different as there were Aussies and Kiwi's too.
The teacher suggested we all sing our national anthems. There were four of us from England and I watch England football matches so that was no problem for me. I ended the anthem with a little slide along the floor that got the kids laughing. The Japanese girl was on her own, but as soon as she opened her mouth, the rest of us were left jaw dropped. She had an absolutely stunning voice.
We then headed outside with the kids for their breaktime. They wanted to play the hokey cokey which seemed fine. But they didn't play it like we do. I should have known something was up when a lot of the boys ran over to me and another guy who was also quite well built. I didn't think anything of it until I realised the bigger you are, the further you can throw these kids. They literally wanted us to throw them whilst they fly kicked each other in the faces. Not one to disappoint, I picked up a few kids and threw them across the corridors like they were my own personal missiles. Pretty sure I had more fun than they did.
Following our school visit we headed out to a factory that processes some of the rice. They still have a manual mill that I got to have a go on. To say its hard work is an absolute understatement, so after a while I decided to keep myself occupied by chasing some of the chickens instead. I've worked in a farm back home, and catching chickens is a lot easier than it sounds.
After this we headed on a 20 minute ride to our next stop, a sewing factory. We were shown around by one of the ladies. The room was quite large, but covered in sewing machines, not too dissimilar to factories in the UK. They showed us some of the clothes that were produced and it was a wide range of goods, from jackets to purses. We were heading into the late afternoon now, and after a cold drink we hit the road once again.
We rode another hour or so, slowly back to the village, through amazing, postcard like scenery. Most of the journey was on dirt road but there were parts where there was just no road at all. At times there were large gaps in the road so we had to get off our bikes and walk through fields to find the road again. We rode past locals working on their rice paddies, knee deep in irrigation, waving to us as we went past. At one point I had to just stop for a few minutes and really take in my surroundings. It all felt like a dream.
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British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.