Travellers who visit the jungled mountains of northern Laos usually aren’t your run-of-the-mill tourists whose idea of cultural immersion is a local beer from the minibar of their 5 star hotel. People who come here want to see the REAL Asia that most tourists to Asia never get to see…
Luang Namtha exemplifies Laos as being one of Southeast Asia’s best kept secret destinations because of its natural beauty and well preserved cultural melting pot of interesting ethnic minority tribes.
These days many travellers want to travel responsibly and give something back to the communities they visit as part of their trip. There are easy ways to make your visit count and ensure your presence helps to make a difference in the local peoples lives.
Here are 10 ideas to ensure your visit to Luang Namtha helps make a difference:
- Do an organised tour into the Nam Ha National park: this will ensure money goes directly to the local tourism department thus preserving the national park and pays many local villages/service providers involved in your trip. When doing a trek/kayak/cultural immersion experience please ensure you go with a company that has a good reputation for responsible eco-tourism and ensuring all the local peoples involved get a good percentage of the tour price. The Internet especially TripAdvisor will tell you all you need to know here, all agencies and companies offering tours in Luang Namtha are not equal.
- Visit some local villages: Luang Namtha is scattered with many villages of different ethnic minority tribes mostly living the same way they have done for hundreds if not thousands of years, all these villages are very friendly and are happy for you to wander through checking out their way of life and culture; so share a beer, buy a snack, have a look at their local handicrafts and say “Hi”. Your visit helps them to see the importance of preserving their culture and heritage and it will be an amazing experience for you and a great way to make friends with the locals. The best way to get around is by motorbike or mountain bike, some of these villages are also within walking distance of town. Have a look at this map for village locations. Generally the more rurally located a village is the more traditional it will be.
- Purchase some authentic handmade local handicrafts: many local villages produce and weave silk and/or cotton producing beautiful swathes of material used for wall hangings, bedspreads, table clothes, traditional skirts and shirts. The Tai Dam,/Tai Deng (black Tai and red Tai) villages of Ban Nam Ngaem and Ban Pieng Nam are a good example of this. Observing the creation process and buying from the source makes for a fascinating experience for you and a great business opportunity for the locals, it is also a great way to meet new friends.
- Visit the morning and night markets: Some amazing seasonal jungle species and some local dishes you could never imagine are an attraction unto themselves. We still see fruits, nuts and plant foods we have never seen before after almost 3 years! The markets are a great place to browse local wares and sample some real Luang Namtha food; the vendor will give you a smile and a free sample of any local delicacy you may want to try.
- Eat at some different restaurants: Luang Namtha has the most interesting and diverse cuisine in Laos, there are places that sell the same old fried rice and noodle dishes you can find anywhere in Asia, but places like Minority Restaurant and Lai’s Place also have authentic local dishes on the menu. There are also a few noodle soup joints on the main drag that make Luang namtha’s famous Kao Soi (pork mince and fermented peanut paste noodle soup – delicious!). Forest Retreat Laos trains local girls with no experience or English to cook authentic Pasta, Pizza, salads and sandwiches based around their wood fired oven using local ingredients, their food and espresso coffee gets them rave reviews from westerners craving a taste of home.
- Volunteer at a local school: If you have the time teaching at an English language class at a local school is a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. You can help out for a few hours or a few days and classes will be based on conversational English with very eager and enthusiastic students. Talk to the staff at Forest Retreat Laos if you want to give this a go.
- Practise English with the locals: Everyone in Luang Namtha wants to practice English with you, especially the school kids. Spend some time with these people and teach them a few words and in return learn a few words of Lao, its really fun and they really appreciate it.
- Spend some time at the Forest Retreat Laos training school: all of the local staff start off their careers at Forest Retreat Laos restaurant with zero English, zero experience and usually very little education but want to learn English and about western style cuisine, customer service, hygiene, food prep and business practice in a supportive, fun environment. Why don’t you come and lend a hand for a while and meet the staff from Ahka, Phunoi, Black Tai, Khmu and Sida minorities. Forest Retreat also offers limited volunteer and job opportunities for westerners.
- Encourage your friends and relatives to visit: If you loved Laos and thought Luang Namtha was an interesting and fun destination why not tell others about it, travellers highly value word-of-mouth travel recommendations, so share the love!
- Eat local produce: Luang Namtha has many foods produced locally from the ubiquitous sticky rice to bamboo shoots, rattan, spit roast pork belly and the delicious fruits from the market. Try these foods you cant get at home and thus benefit local farmers and retailers.
All or some of the above ideas are easy to implement and help to ensure your trip to Luang Namtha benefits as many local people as possible and also makes your visit more rewarding and memorable for you, try them out!