It’s true that Luang Namtha is a trekking mecca and fast becoming one of the hottest trekking and cultural destinations in South East Asia, especially as people increasingly realize it offers a much more authentic, untouched experience than destinations such as Sapa in northern Vietnam or Chiang Mai in Thailand.
The eco-tourism initiative in Luang Namtha’s national protected area is highly regulated by the local government and is making a huge effort to preserve and conserve primary forest and minority tribe culture and customs.
There are many things to do in Luang Namtha when you are not out trekking and it is an interesting and scenic destination for those travelers who do not want to trek/kayak or do a homestay with a local minority tribe.
Here are some top tips for things to do in Luang Namtha:
1. Walk five minutes out of town to the Nam Tha river, cross the bamboo bridge (washed out in the middle of wet season but rebuilt a few months later) and visit the traditional Tai Dam villages with their charming local crops on the riverbanks. The Tai Dam minority tribe are well known in Laos for their weaving abilities, and you can often see them weaving in the village, or sometimes even getting the silk off their silkworms. Walk out further to the left and explore some nearby sticky rice paddies.
2. Walk about 10-15 minutes (5 minute cycle) to the new golden stupa on the hill behind the town. It has some cool Buddha statues behind it and gives an amazing view of the rice filled valley surrounded by mountains. If you get up early enough this is the best place to watch the sunrise, and in winter the mist rise off the mountains. There is a trail at the back right of the stupa that goes up through rubber plantations and villagers crops to a very high mountain that rewards the climb with panoramic views of the town, rice paddies and surrounding mountains and jungle. You can also bike the newly sealed road in front of the temple (at the foot of the stupa) out into the countryside to the old ruined stupa; a very scenic trip.
3. Rent a scooter or bicycle and travel 6km out of town to the Lanten minority village of Ban Nam Dee. Explore the village with its thatched bamboo houses and traditionally dressed residents who hand make their indigo blue clothing. If you are lucky the women will be making bamboo paper in the river by hand which can also be purchased. Take the 10 minute walk on a good path through the jungle up to the nearby small waterfall; which is pleasant and worth the trip.
4. Travel 2km north out of town, cross the roundabout and ride 5km out on the main road to be in the middle of a huge “ocean” of rice paddies bordered on all sides by mountains. This stunning scene is dotted with bamboo huts made by the rice farmers and you can follow the little trails out to them and chill out in the huts and witness the peace and the wildlife rich rice paddy ecosystem. Insects and birds are found out there in abundance. A great place to read a book, take a picnic and watch the sunset over the mountains.
5. Do a minority village trail; get a map then on scooter or bicycle go out to visit some different minority villages on your own as a cultural trail. You can visit the different ethnic minorities of Ahka, Black Tai, Khmu, Lanten, Tai Lue and Pounoy villages all in one day, thus witnessing first hand their different cultures, traditions, style of housing and clothing, cooking methods and languages. All of these tribes co-exist peacefully together in Luang Namtha.
6. Take a scooter or motorbike 60km north towards Muang Sing. You will pass through the stunning, densely jungle-clad mountains of the Namha NPA, where you can walk a few km through the jungle to a beautiful little waterfall. This you will find about 10km before you reach Muang Sing, on the right hand side of the road, clearly signposted. There is little traffic on this road and many scenic spots to stop including some ethnic minority villages.
So, there you have it. There are many great things to do in and around Luang Namtha when you are not out on a tour.
Also another must do in the town is to chill out in the soft chairs of Forest Retreat Laos’s Bamboo Lounge using the super-fast Wifi with a good cocktail, sweet tunes and an authentic wood-fired pizza.