There is a reasonable bus service connecting Bangkok to Lampang but, as I have mentioned many times elsewhere on VT, I adore train travel, especially in Asia so I opted for what I jokingly refer to as the backpacker express, which is one of the many trains running between Bangkok and Chiang Mai and apparently predominantly poluplaced by backpackers heading North. I like the night sleeper best (there are actually two leaving within about half an hour of each other from Hualamphong Station in Bangkok (see seperate tip)) as it is a great experience and incidentally saves a nights hotel bill. I have been on this train before and thoroughly enjoyed it.
On the train, I knew the drill. Got my bunk sorted and headed straight for the buffet car which, oddly, is the only place on the train you are supposed to smoke. The buffet car on the Backpacker Express is something to behold. There is nothing else to do but drink beer and have a party, so that is what happens. On this journey, I ended up seated with two young physiotherapy students from Zurich and another Swiss guy about my age. We had a great old time as they crank up the sound system with (pretty rubbish) Western pop. I remember the last time I was on this train there were people dancing and the place resembles a nightclub more than a train carriage. It was slightly more muted this time and they have also taken to closing the bar at 11 which didn't used to be the case. Be aware that the food and drink is a bit overpriced reflectinjg the captive audience. If you are on a budget ou may want to bring your own.
Now for the technicalities. You will have been allotted a berth. As you leave Bangkok you are seated facing each other in paired seats. Shortly thereafter an attendant comes round and, by dint of a bit of rearrangement turns the seats into a lower bunk and draws down a top bunk from the wall. Fresh bed linen is provided and he will make up your bed. I am well over six feet tall and can manage a comfortable night's sleep in one. Upper bunks are cheaper but they are a bit precarious to try and get to up a stepladder. There are curtains for privacy and the air-con keeps the carriage at a reasonable temperature, if anything you are liable to be too cold rather than too hot. My ticket in 2nd class air-con upper berth was 734 baht.
If you are alighting at Lampang, do not worry about oversleeping. Apart from the fact that people start moving about the train very early in the morning, everyone travelling to Lampang is put in the last coach which they detach there, presumably to lighten the load. You won't miss your stop.
I really do recommend at least one train journey in Thailand and htis is one of the better ones, it is a great experience.
The bus station is a fair way from where you are likely to be staying on the main Asia 1 Highway at the junction with Th. Chantarasurin and it is worth investing a few baht in getting there by taxi. I wanted to get to Chiang Rai, a journey of perhaps four hours. I must digress here to make mention of the Lonely Planet guidebook, a brand I have used sucessfully for about 20 years now and which appears to be industry standard for backpackers. To my great regret, I have to say I am rapidly losing faith in their accuaracly, having found numerous mistakes in the current edition of the Thaland guide. Had I taken it at face value, on being told that the 1530 bus (not 1500 as per Lonely Planet) was full, I would have despaired as it is supposedly the last of the day, so I made my own enquiries to find out there was a later bus and it transpired there (probably) was, departing at 1800.
I have to mention here the staff at the information window and indeed the young ladies on the various ticket desks who simply could not have been more helpful. The traveller truly is well catered for here. I say the bus probably departs at 1800 altohugh I would not rely totally on it as it apparently sometimes doesn't show up and they will not sell tickets for it until about 1700 when they know it is definitely coming.
There are a small selection of food and drink outlets here, but if you have time to spare, I would suggest walking across the road where you can buy a drink from the small supermarket and sit in the shade outside watching the world go by whilst waiting for your connection.
In order to visit the National Elephant Institute and Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, I noticed some guys hanging around outside the Pin Hotel which was behind my hotel, the Kim. I managed to negotiate with one guy called Noi (who's tiny - just a little taller than his car, as you can see in the picture), a price down from 800 baht to 600 baht which I didn't think was too bad considering the distances between the two places in relation to Lampang.
We first set off to the National Elephant Institute, which is about 33km north-west of the town, along the main highway that goes to Chiang Mai. We arrived there in good time to see one of the shows which started at 10am. After the show and an elephant ride, I got back to the car and Noi took me to the wonderful Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, which is about 20km south-west of Lampang along some of the back roads. We reached there at about 11.45pm and I spent a good hour or so there before we headed back into Lampang for lunch. Noi's a nice guy and I recommend him to you if you want to do the same trip.
That's really a popular thing for Thai and foreign tourists to do: do sightseeing in a horse carriage and that's one of the things Lampang is famous for. They even say you didn't arrive to Lampang yet if you haven't took a horse.
I've spent quite a long time in Lampang on my both visits but only once took the carriage. Somehow I don't like the idea that horses have to run in the hot and on the uncomfortable surface of asphalt in the car ridden streets. It's not at all romantic. I'd like to see in future they make horse trails in Lampang and around, which will have horse and human friendly pavements, no cars, a lot of shadow and places to rest as horses work very hard and must wait costumers on the asphalt. Is that something too ambitious to ask? I think not... if you see how gasoline is getting expensive and expanded awareness of global warming, that's somehow good and ecological alternative to cars and songthaews.
You need to pay 150 THB for a short sightseeing tour or 300 THB for a big one around the city.
If you're on your own, you can get to the Elephant Conservation Center very easily and comfortably by local (green) bus for Chiang Mai from the bus station. You shall tell the ticket conductor to stop at the centre which is 28 km far from Lampang. I advise you to get there early and spend there few hours to see a show or two once you've paid for a ticket. Anyways, elephants are so beautiful to observe and ride and I didn't really want to go back to the city very fast. However when you travel back to Lampang, you'll need to stop a bus on the highway as they didn't stop if you didn't wawe hand. The green buses leave from Lampang bus station every half a hour or so.
I did not research how to get to Wat Phra That Lampang Luang by public transportation. I had rented a car in Chiang Mai and driving down there was a piece of cake (you get used to the left side driving real quick, despite mixing up the switches for wipers and indicators all the time and looking for the rear mirror in the wrong place...) and sign posting was really good.
Mine was rented online from Hertz, delivery to the hotel in Chiang Mai was almost on time and drop off at BKK airport (North of town!!!!) was swift and easy. One way charge is affordable. Overall I paid 7,500 B for 4 days.
Lampang is the only city in Thailand where you can take horse wagen around.
Thai horses are small and have to drag the car. Really uneasy.