Now a sedate village set along the western shore of Thale Sap, Baan Lam Pam served as Phattalung’s administrative centre prior to the 20th century. Locals come to relax by the lake while a handful of travellers explore centuries-old palaces and an exquisite temple. Hitting Lam Pam in the morning and Khao Ok Thalu in the afternoon is a great way to go if you have only one day in Phattalung.
The Old Phattalung Palaces, or Wang Chao Mueang Phattalung, exceeded our expectations. The Old Palace, or Wang Gao, includes three adjoining houses built of smooth fretted teak. Central Thai influence is noticeable in graceful sloped roofs with ceramic tiles. Interior walls feature old portraits of former rulers, some of whom had a Malay appearance. There’s also a gorgeous antique Chinese bureau inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
Behind the Old Palace within view of the Lam Pam River stands the more stately New Palace, or Wang Mai. Reminiscent of Ayutthaya’s Chantharakasem Palace, it was built out of brick and white stucco in the late 19th century for Phraya Aphaiborirak, an influential ruler at the time. Multi-tiered roofs rise over several wings spread around an open courtyard. The interior is sparse but you will find a pointy helmet and some swords used around the turn of the 20th century.
Wander further back from the Old Palace to lounge in a pavilion perched over the river. An old boat sits propped up on concrete supports that were obviously built for this purpose; we guess it was used by some or other noble person but no info was available during our visit. While visitors receive a brochure with a lot of info in Thai, there’s not even a brief info board provided in English.
A stone’s throw from the palaces stands Wat Wang, an atmospheric temple established during the Ayutthaya period and rebuilt in a notably well-done Rattanakosin style in the early 19th century. It was once Phattalung’s most important temple, where local rulers swore oaths to the kings up in Bangkok, but it fell into disrepair when Phattalung’s capital was moved further west in the early 20th century. Restored in 1969, Wat Wang still has a forgotten feel which adds to the experience. It's fine to open the doors and windows to the ordination hall if they're unlocked -- just remember to close them when you leave.
Several ancient chedis and markers rise within a square of cloisters containing 108 seated Buddha images. These encircle a striking ordination hall with glittering chofa finials and a golden image of Erawan, the three-headed elephant of Hindu mythology. Inside, the highlight is a series Central Thai-style murals thought to have been painted by the same folks who decorated Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew — some of the finest Thai artists of the time.
The murals depict important scenes from the Buddha’s life, though it’s often tough to make out exactly what’s being portrayed thanks to a jumble of other scenes influenced by early Rattanakosin-era life. A mural covering the entire eastern wall depicts the Buddha’s enlightenment, when a twisted army of Mara’s demons unsuccessfully tried to disturb his meditation.
While Baan Lam Pam is mainly worth a trip for the historical attractions, the nearby Haad Saensuk Lam Pam makes for a pleasent enough lakeside stroll. Most visitors skip the small patch of tan sand in favour of the waterside walkways and a statue of pink Irrawaddy dolphins, which sometimes hang around in the lake. A floating market takes place here on the weekends, and the tired-looking Lam Pam Resort offers a decent lakeside restaurant for lunch and dinner.
How to get there
Dark-blue songthaews park near Phattalung train station and can take you here for around 15 baht; ask around if you have trouble finding it. Motorbike taxis charge 80 baht for a one-way trip. If you have your own vehicle, Baan Lam Pam could be hit as part of the Khao Chaison loop.
All of the attractions are located fairly close together. Haad Saensuk Lam Pam is at the far eastern end of the road along the lake; walk back west from here and you'll reach the Old and New Palaces on the left (south side of the road) after no more than a km, and Wat Wang is located less than a km further west from there.
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 8th February, 2016.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.