Lampang is the first old Lanna city that you stop in if you’re coming up from the South. It was founded in the 7th century as a city in the Mon Kingdom centred around Lamphung near Chiangmai. But its Mon ruler, Yi Ba, was defeated by the First Lanna King – Mangrai – and was made to flee to Lampang while Mangrai set up a new capital city in Chiang Mai in 1296. Yi Ba’s exiled capital didn’t last long before Mangrai chased him further south to Phitsanulok and claimed Lampang as part of the Lanna Kingdom.
As Mangrai pushed up against the growing power of Ayutthaya, a 33 year war raged in the 13th century which ended in stalemate.
The Lanna Kingdom eventually fell to the Burmese when they invaded and held the area from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The Burmese withdrew after being defeated by the Siamese under King Taksin the Great of the Thonburi kindgom in 1775, who went on to also take modern day Laos an Cambodia.
The Lanna were different. They were more part of the Indian cultural tradition than the Mon or its southern Thai neighbours. They spoke a language which was somewhere between Thai and Laotian, and with a written script that looks more like Burmese. It has morphed into Northern Thai language today, with about 6 million native speakers. They also had their own architectural, culinary, and generally artistic nuances.
As far as Thai railway stations go, this one is a beauty. It may not look like much from the platforms, but its an architectural gem.
It was built around 1915 before the first Royal Train arrived at Lampang Station on April fools day in 1916. It shows a mix of artistic and architectural styles, particularly combining the Northern Thai styles with the European styles popular with the Royal Family of the time.
It was constructed by Karl Doring – a German architect who was sufficiently captivated by Indo-Chinese arts and monuments as to accept a position with the Royal State Railways of Thailand to build stations, but eventually went on to build palaces for the Thai Royal family too.
Its second floor, which houses the Lampang District Traffic Department, has a high red roof with extended eaves shading a fetching balcony with an intricate balcony fence. Door frames and windows are also intricately patterned. The entrances of the lower floor are solid curved arches. For good measure, they’ve parked an old steam engine in front of it.
Perhaps I’m getting too excited by it. But I just think that there’s an inordinate amount of love that has gone into preserving this building for a small town in Middle-of-nowhere, Thailand. It even received an Architectural Conservation Award in 1993. Its not uncommon for the State Railways of Thailand to care so thoroughly for their heritage buildings in even minor stations. But for this one, I can really imagine King Rama V arriving triumpantly at the station on a machine the likes of which no-one had seen before, and waving to his people from that sturdy balcony.
Incidentally, the river that runs through Lampang is the Wang River, which is a major tributary of the Ping river, which in turns empties into the Chao Phaya.