According to the Lampang guide books, you’ll see teak-wood carvers, horse drawn carriages, Lanna era templates and an elephant conservation centre.
We saw almost none of that.
Instead, we saw a version of Lampang I’d never imagined: a wide-eyed hippyish vibe pulsing through colourful markets and local restaurants, a spirited city that could not have been more different than the grey pit stop I was initially dreading.
It all started when we met our friend Win, by chance, while lost on our way to the Lampang market. We walked into his restaurant for directions, and then shuttled onward to explore the market, where we wound up off-put by the meat flies. We decided to head back to Dreamer Cafe for their speciality burger over green curry.
“Whoever owns this place has a story,” our videographer mused as he took in the eccentric retro-styled decor.
Win delivered our meals and the friendship was fast. “From of the bottom of my heart,” he said to us, placing a hand to his chest, “I’d like to show you my Lampang.”
For a moment, my stomach panged with a touch of anxiety. Don’t we want to highlight the accessible offerings of this already off-the-beaten-path place? We had plans—to see the wood carvers, the temples, the horse-drawn carriages. To the wind, they went.
The next morning, we met Win bright and early. He picked us up in a 1960s Volkswagen truck. Our video crew piled in the bed, while Sue and I rode in the back seat.
Win had brought along his beautiful, newly pregnant wife, Saieiw, who rode shotgun. Together with their double-denim Levis and Ray Bans juxtaposed with Lampang’s rusty, blue-collar feel, I had trouble reconciling my cognitive dissonance—what I thought this place would be versus what it was becoming.
Win wanted to take us to the workshop of his friend, a local leather craftsman who sells his contemporary goods across Thailand. On our way, we stopped for the Thai version of Tim Hortons: an iced coffee with plastic-bag handles for motorcycle compatibility and a soft-boiled egg served without a shell, more runny than we’re used to and jiggling in a cup with salt, pepper and chili sauce.
After our gulping down our breakfast, some struggling with the texture more than others, down back alleys and into the Lampang suburbs we went, arriving at a small suburban garage where Bob Dylan blasted from somewhere inside.
As we approached, Sung, the leather man, came out to greet us. At first look, he reminded me of my dad; his hair fell to the middle of his back and he sported the kind of goatee typically sported in the biker world. While you might think this would make him seem hard, he was anything but. Soft-spoken and even slightly shy, he led us quietly inside and into a room that was a work of art in itself.
His worktable looked out on a patch of jungle, with tools strategically placed for accessibility. Rulers and extractors and hammers and finishers all within arm’s reach. Cow skulls watched from the walls. While delicately adorned with flowers, the bullet hole was still visible. He could even make death beautiful.
Taking my wrist, Sung measured out a bracelet. He sliced the leather into form, carving fine lines into the band. He worked silently, even as we peered over his shoulder. I was astounded how quickly he entered the artist’s flow, even with the added pressure of cameras and our 10,000 questions.
He said it was like meditation for him, this kind of work. Thinking of the meticulous concentration needed to stay within the lines, I could see why.
“This is where we come to chill,” said Win, gesturing out at the tropical view with one hand and extending a bowl of freshly plucked guava in the other. From the covered porch, you could see the muddy river ambling on outside and palm trees swaying from their leafy heads to their hips.
“We come here and have a couple drinks and make music and art. This is the real Lampang.”
I thought back into my life in Vancouver, where so little of it is defined by the city. No, it’s the people I surround myself with and the things we choose to do that define our experiences of a place. It’s never the city itself.
While we didn’t get to show you the teak-wood carvers, what we did do was show you the most invaluable offering that Thailand has, a most accessible and attainable experience: the human one.