The new wing at Thoulasith Guesthouse

Mr and Mrs Thoulasith have built a brand new 3 story wing onto their iconic Luang namtha guesthouse

 

The first time we ever came to Luang Namtha more than 6 years ago we stayed at Thoulasith Guesthouse for a few months. It was clean, friendly, comfortable and a lovely place to be.

 

 

Recently Mr and Mrs Thoulasith have completed a new 3 story wing to their original guesthouse. Because they are well traveled themselves their rooms are well finished, feature loads of Teak wood, are large and with plenty of natural light.

Luang namtha hotels

Thoulasith Guesthouse has quality large rooms and uses loads of traditional Lao Teak wood styling

 

Unlike many other guesthouses in Luang Namtha; Thoulasith’s is fitted out with nice modern amenities from Thailand instead of cheap and cheerful items from China. All rooms have WiFi access and plenty of hot water from the solar water heaters on the roof.

 

All rooms have air-conditioning, flat-screen TV’s (Chinese, Lao and Thai channels only I’m afraid), kettle for hot water, free drinking water and table and chairs for lounging on the shared balcony.

 

places to stay in Luang namtha

Your shared balcony

 

There are 3 room types at the new wing of Thoulasith’s Guesthouse

 

  • Twin (2 beds): a twin room has 2 single beds and is 160,000 LAK per night.
Luang namtha bathroom

Bathrooms all feature shower/bath and are well ventilated

  • Double (1 bed): the double room has 1 king sized bed and is also 160,000 LAK per night.
Luang Namtha hotels

Large and comfortable king sized bed will ensure you sleep well

  • Family (king bed and single bed): the family room is huge at 8 x 4m and has a king sized bed and a single. This room costs 180,000 LAK per night.
Guesthouse in Luang namtha

The family room is the biggest room type at 4 x 8m

Thoulasith guesthouse features 2 wings separated by the carpark and small garden, the new wing (featured in this article) and the older original one which has cheaper rooms and you can read about here

 

Thoulasith guesthouse is run by Mr and Mrs Thoulasith, who are very friendly and welcoming. They speak a little bit of English and have daughters who live internationally. Their receptionist speaks English well and will help you with anything you need during your stay.

 

If you want breakfast as part of your stay package you can pay a little extra and get a wonderful Lao fusion breakfast at Bamboo Lounge (directly across the road from the guesthouse) with fresh daily baked bread, the best eggs in Asia and awesome coffee.

Laos travel

The family room is huge

Thoulasith is the newest, most modern guesthouse in Luang Namtha, it is centrally located on the main road close to restaurants, trekking offices, the night market and banks.

Local Foods Guide: Luang Namtha

If you’ve spent even one day in Luang Namtha you’ve probably discovered the excellent Night Market. You may have even ventured the 10 minute walk to the morning market (It’s worth it. Go!). And while you’ll find familiar Asian fare at these spots like noodle soup and spring rolls, you will also encounter some seriously interesting Lao edibles. Much of this food is harvested right from the forest and because it’s unfamiliar it can intimidate even the most adventurous eater.

But don’t let that stop you! Here is a teeny tiny guide to some local foods of Luang Namtha. These are some of my favorites and I hope they will start your eating adventures off on the right foot.

 

Pickled Mustard Greens

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This dish is popular and you will notice a few vendors who selling nothing else. The greens are a variety of mustard green that have been lactofermented (think sauerkraut or kimchi). They are tart, salty and flavored liberally with fresh ginger and fresh chili. It’s a good accompaniment to a meal so grab a little plate and eat it cold, along with sticky rice and whatever else strikes your fancy.

 

Rattan Shoot Salad

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Another cold vegetable dish, these long white stalks look related to bamboo, but are actually the young shoots of the rattan palm. This is the same rattan used to make wicker chairs and baskets, but as a young plant it is tender and tasty. You can buy a plate of whole shoots or get a salad version, chopped up and mixed with chili, lime and other aromatics. This was one of my favorite dishes and so good that I was happy to eat it as a salad, forgoing the rice. It’s on the spicier side and the pricier side (but not really…) at 10,000 kip for one plate, which is about $1.25.

 

Fried Bamboo Fritter

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These “fritters” look like tasty golden bundles of straw, about the size of your hand. They are, in fact, lightly pickled bamboo shoots, tied up, battered, deep fried and filled with a tasty mixture of minced pork or chicken. Deliciously salty, the bamboo remains moist and the filling is tasty without being too spicy. If you arrive early you can get one freshly fried, but even hours-old fritters are good and worth a try.

 

Tree Frogs

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Yeah, tree frogs. If you’re interested in eating the “weirder” animals you’ll have your pick at the markets here. Stuffed bullfrogs on sticks, grilled rat-type-animals, silkwork larvae and huge crickets and roaches are all available. Most of these creepy crawlies I enjoy only with reservations (“it’s good… for a cricket”). But I recommend the little crunchy fried tree frogs, caveats aside. They are fried so crispy they remind you of pork cracklins or whatever crunchy bits are left at the bottom of the frying pan. Eat them head, legs, bones and all, and dipped in awesome sweet spicy sauce. Great as a beer snack. This is another food that goes for a bit more, at 10,000 kip, but worth it.

 

Roasted Eggplant

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This one hardly deserves to be on the “strange food” list as it’s at home on the eastern European menu — my Russian grandma makes a similar (though less flavorful) version. Basically it’s a very smoky, salty and very delicious roasted eggplant puree. But as we’re in Laos, not Russia, it’s also blessedly spicy. It’s not the most exotic dish nor the most attractive one, but it may be my favorite bite of food I’ve tried here. Eat it with sticky rice, as usual. I could easily put away a few plates, and at 5000 kip each you can afford to.

 

Rice Cake with Tamarind

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This dish is only available at the morning market. You’ll see the attractive bowls laid out with different shapes of rice cake: cubes and sticks, stubby noodles and long ones. Most people approach the stalls for takeaway but you are more than welcome to sit down, point to a bowl and dig in. The dish is very simple: smooth rice dough in the shape of your choice served with a ladle of tart tamarind water over the top. The beauty of this dish is that the tamarind broth can go sweet or savory. Make a sweet and sour treat by adding brown sugar, or flavor your bowl with chili paste, salt and MSG. Or all of the above! A big bowl of rice cake costs 3000 kip and leaves you full. Or you can add an egg for a more complete meal (Try the ones with a hole in the shell. They’ve been emptied, mixed with delicious things, refilled and cooked. Awesome!)

 

Are these dishes all Luang Namtha’s has to offer? Of course not! There are pork knuckles and fish roe, steamed squirrel and fresh water algae awaiting you. But hopefully now you can approach at least a few Lao dishes with confidence. Get out there and taste away!

“Superstar” Ananda Everingham visits Bamboo Lounge

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Ananda with Bamboo Lounge owner Koly

Ananda Everingham poses for a photo with the staff of Bamboo Lounge

Ananda Everingham poses for a photo with the staff of Bamboo Lounge

 

Thai film actor Ananda Everingham made multiple visits to Bamboo Lounge this week while filming his new movie which will take place in Luang Namtha. Everingham, best known by Lao for his role in the movie “Sabaidee Luang Prabang”- the first Lao commercial film produced since the country adopted communism in 1975 and shot entirely in Laos, caught the attention of locals while relaxing at Bamboo Lounge.

This is the second time that Everingham has made an appearance in Luang Namtha this year. He will make multiple trips to the city while he shoots his new movie which will involve the actor trekking through the jungle and will feature popular landmarks of Luang Namtha such as the majestic Golden Stupa (also known as That Luang Namtha).

Luang Namtha’s New Amandra Villa

Want to stay somewhere in Luang Namtha with a touch of class?

The newly opened Amandra Villa could be a great option for you. It is located on the main road about 400m from the centre of town (towards the airport) close to where all the restaurants, major banks and night market are.

Amandra Villa Luang Namtha

Amandra is traditional Lao style with a touch of modern.

Amandra Villa is owned and run by Souk and his lovely receptionist Prik. Souk has had a lot of experience running hotels in Luang Prabang and Vientiane but as a native of Luang Namtha he wanted to create a high-end guest house that is competitively priced right here in Luang Namtha.

Both his and Prik’s English is very good and they try very hard to look after their customers and so have great reviews on the internet too. They offer customers free bicycles and free drinking water too 🙂

Amandra Villa

Free bicycles and fast fiber-optic WiFi is a nice touch

Amandra has a wide selection of room types all with plush and comfortable bedding and mattresses, it’s also worth mentioning that this place is spotlessly clean and has some nice areas to hang out on the balcony and under the breakfast pagoda.

Amandra Villa

The upstairs balcony is a great place to chill

There are quite a few different room choices; from the standard room in double or twin format being US$10 (room only) all the way up to the beautifully appointed Deluxe double/twin room which goes for $38 these prices are effective as of Jan 2016.

Amandra Villa

Room rates can be “room only” or include a pleasant western breakfast.

The classic double/twin rooms are not huge, but they are very clean and have comfy bedding suitable either for warm or cool weather.

Luang Namtha hotel

Amandra’s classic twin room

 

Luang Namtha hotel

The classic room’s bathroom

 

The most opulently appointed room is the Deluxe, complete with a sofa, TV, tables and luggage storage closets and most importantly a huge big  soft bed. This room style is very large and has plenty of windows and space to spread out.

 

Luang Namtha Hotel

The deluxe room

 

 

Luang Namtha hotels

The bathroom of the deluxe room

 

Luang Namtha Hotels

The deluxe rooms sport a cool closet style bathroom, a desk and loads of storage space

So if you want a real touch of class during your stay in Luang Namtha, Amandra Villa is definitely worth a look. It is one of the cleanest hotels we have seen in Laos and the owner and receptionist speak good English and will go that extra mile to ensure you have a wonderful stay.

Amandra even offers room service from nearby Bamboo Lounge if you fancy a takeaway wood-fired pizza, pasta or burrito! What more could you need after a busy day sight-seeing 🙂

For booking information go to Amandra’s website, or simply phone +856 86 212 401

Luang Namtha Hotels

The owner/operator of Amandra Villa is Souk. He speaks great English and will even come and pick you up from the bus station in his car!

 

An unusual trip to Boten!

How do you fancy some Belgian chocolate? What about a German beer or some French biscuits? Then Boten on the Chinese – Laos boarder is the place to visit, but wait, there’s something you should know about Boten….

At the height of its fame Boten played host to nearly 10,000 gamblers and pleasure seekers. Chinese tourists crammed themselves into the hotels and restaurants enjoying comforts from all over the world, a mecca for those seeking a little indulgence.

In 2011 this all came crashing down. Following some high profile kidnappings the Chinese government forbade its citizens from gambling in Boten and encouraged the Laos government to control the countries more salubrious boarder activities.

Now Boten is a ghost town. Its abandoned hotels and luxury apartments stand empty and crumbling, the casinos lifeless. The few people that are dotted about busy themselves with imported goods from China, a couple of little restaurants cater for the local appetite and that’s about it, except of course for the massive Duty Free Mall.

 

Right in the centre of town the lights are on and the staff are bustling, polishing glass shelves and arranging the displays of luxury goods brought in through China from all over the world. There are few customers to contend with so as someone who detests shopping this is perfect! This place is truly surreal, set against the backdrop of mountains and jungle browsing the Belgian beer selection, this is an odd experience. What makes it even weirder is that you can’t pay in Laos Kip, its Chinese Yuan only, which you can get from the in-house currency exchange.  In Laos, buying English chocolate, with Chinese money, brilliant!

Boten is not the place to visit if you’re on a tight schedule, although the journey there is quite spectacular. Boten is the place to visit if you have a spare day and want to experience a post-apocalyptic film set. If you fancy seeing something a little weird then you should go, take your camera and pick up some Cadburys chocolate while you’re there!

Rice paddies at sunset

The iconic rice fields of Asia conjure some of the most beautiful imagery you can hope to experience during a visit. Here in Luang Namtha, it’s quite literally on your doorstep. Pop out on a bike either end of the main street and immerse yourself in a picture postcard of lush greenery as farmers tend their crops. Go at dusk and treat yourself to a scene you will never forget, hazy evening light descends over the mountains as the sun dips in the west, the dragonflies scatter in all directions. Make your way between the fields on the narrow interconnecting paths to one of the little wooden shelters; used by the farmers to shade from the heat in the day, fine for you to use also.

In short, get there from about 5pm, grab a couple of beers, choose your spot and appreciate the beautiful scenery… It will blow your mind!

Waiting for the sun to set

Waiting for the sun to set

In search of the golden stupas

Luang Nathma is home to two beautiful golden stupas, That Luang Namtha and That Phum Phuk that should not be missed while visiting here. The original stupas were built in the 17th century to symbolise and commemorate the friendship between Sy Sod So Tammikarad King of Xieng Sean (Xieng Sean the present day north of Thailand) and Naleatafai King of Chanthabouly (Present day Oudomxay province, Laos). Both were rebuilt in 2004 and 2003, with the latter having been destroyed by an American plane, with the ruins still visible on site. These rebuilds shouldn’t put any potential visitor off as not being the originals, as the newly painted gold on both stupas is both dazzling and awe inspiring; a lot of care and attention has been put into these rebuilds and they are used and treasured by the local community. These stunning monuments can be seen peeking through the lush greenery that surrounds Luang Nathma. With a map and a motorbike, off we went!

 

That Luang Namtha stupa
That Luang Namtha is the closest and largest of the two stupas, with no real need for a motorbike to visit, as it’s only a 10 minute walk, northwest from the town centre. As we drove to the top of the hill where the stupa is situated, we passed Wat Samakyxay, which is currently under construction. Even in its current phase, the beautiful ornate roof gives a clue to what the finished building will look like, which we’re sure will be another stunning addition to Luang Namtha.

That Luang Namtha stupa

That Luang Namtha stupa

As we arrived at the stupa, it was calm, quiet and peaceful. The view of Luang Namtha is worth the trip alone, as it stretches across the mountains and to the rice paddies below. The golden stupa itself shines beautifully on a sunny day and we’d certainly recommend visiting at sunrise or sunset for an even more striking view. We were lucky to find, when we arrived, that people were inside making offerings and chanting; it was lovely to listen to, whilst obviously keeping a respectable distance. Behind the stupa there are more statues including a large reclining Budda and a small man-made cave with more statuary inside.

Budda statues behind the stupa

Budda statues behind the stupa

View walking around the stupa

View walking around the stupa

That Phum Phuk stupa
That Phum Phuk stupa is a little further out of town near Nam Ngaen village (about 5km away, so a bicycle or motorbike is needed) and can been seen nestled into the hill as you approach. The stairs to the stupa are visible from the roadside, however there is a road to the right handside for closer access with a motorbike or bicycle. Although it is smaller than it’s paired ‘twin’ stupa, the views are still as beautiful and the peaceful atmosphere is matched, if not beaten by the cows grazing nearby with their tiny bells softly chiming. The ruins of the previous stupa can be seen here and add an interesting contrast between the old and new.

That Phum Phuk stupa

That Phum Phuk stupa

The old and the new

The old and the new

Having been to many temples and religious monuments throughout Asia, these are both now included in our favourites. Although they might not be on such a grand scale as other stupas they both, more importantly, feel untouched by tourism… Go now before everyone else catches on!

Both stupas are only 5,000 kip each to visit.

First impressions of Luang Namtha

We’ve been here for over a week now and it has to be said, Luang Namtha is one of those places that immediately feels like home. Everyone’s friendly and although there is the obvious language barrier, we’ve found it very easy to get by with broad gestures (mainly pointing at food) and big smiles. The staff at Bamboo Lounge where we’re volunteering are as amazing as the food. After five months in Asia eating fantastic food, a wood fired oven pizza tasted like a delicious treat from home! We’ve worked one to one with each member of the team teaching English and it’s been some of the most fun teaching we’ve done in Asia. There’s a real camaraderie between the people who work here and it’s great to be a part of it.

Rob on the scooter!

Yesterday we went on our first scooter excursion out of town to the Nam Dee waterfalls, they’re spectacular! It’s incredibly easy to rent a scooter, with rental costs being around 50,000 Kip for the full day, that’s about £4 in a currency we’ve almost forgotten. The fuel came to 10,000 Kip, which is unbelievably good value and so we spent the whole day exploring and taking photographs. Hiring a bicycle or scooter/motorbike is definitely one of the best ways to discover Luang Namtha.

Nam Dee waterfall

The scenery is truly amazing and only 5 minutes from our front door. The rice fields stretch on for miles until they reach the mountains that surround this region. In a matter of minutes you can go from jungle to open, lush plains and all this not far from an ice cold beer! I think we’re really going to like this place.

Beautiful rice fields

So, plans for the next few weeks include, hiring a motorbike to ride to the Chinese border (what a sentence!), visiting the golden stupas, trekking into the Nam Ha National Protected Area and sampling some local food that we’ve been hearing a lot about these last few days…… We made a good choice coming here!

Volunteering at Bamboo Lounge Training Restaurant

Volunteering at Bamboo Lounge Training Restaurant was an amazing experience, an unique way to get in touch with the local day to day life in Luang Namtha and to make a difference while traveling the world. Although most of the staff can’t really maintain long conversations in English yet, we felt welcome and had great laughs together since day one.

We visited nearby villages from where some of them come from, observed their language and their joyful way of treating each others, and witnessed the great differences between their traditional life style, organized around and in accord with the growing and harvesting of countless rice fields that surrounds Luang Namtha, and the life in a small town that is expanding and changing due to tourism opportunities.

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Baking wood-fired delights…

Our main activities were to teach and practice English with all the staff, which you must be wondering how was even possible if they don’t speak much English and we speak even less Lao, but turned out to be quite simple and fun. Bamboo Lounge Training Restaurant has an easy to follow curriculum that allows anybody to teach and learn basic conversation and restaurant related vocabulary.

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Classes at Bamboo Lounge Training Restaurant

It starts by showing them pictures and naming objects and actions repeatedly, and once that is covered you start to ask them to name real objects around the restaurant and the actions you catch them performing everyday. With repetition, a little bit of patience from both sides and lots of gestures, communication suddenly becomes not only possible, but relaxed and enjoyable. What really makes it work is the staff interest and persistence, and the fact that the learning process happens not only in classes, but in day to day activities.

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English practice while making banana bread

But that’s not all you’re gonna do while volunteering at Bamboo Lounge. Our tasks also included writing boards with special promotions, helping Koly, the restaurant manager, with the computer and printer, cleaning doubts of customer accents, learning how to cook (and being able to eat!) delicious wood-fired pizzas, and even some odd jobs like carrying the broken washing machine to where it would be fixed.

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Daily specials & local handicrafts!

Everyday is a new day and we deeply enjoyed all the few ones we spent in Luang Namtha in the company of Bamboo Lounge Training Restaurant staff. Thank you once again for having us and treating us so kindly. We’ll always remember you!

While in town…

Luang Namtha is a region blessed with fantastic landscape, exuberant untouched nature, as well as an unique richness and diversity of human culture, and all of this can be experienced by stepping just a few meters out of town. But if you’re staying in town for a longer period, like we did, there’s always an opportunity to get in touch with the charming of it’s simplicity, observe the locals daily life and immerse yourself in Laos relaxed life style.

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Main street

You should definitely check out both markets, the Morning one (they call it the morning market but it’s open until 5 PM, so no problem for you that was never truly an early bird), located just a few roads south of the town centre, and the Night one, a good option for affordable and authentic local food, centrally located in the main street right in the heart of Luang Namtha. The Pagoda on top of the hill behind town is also a good spot to watch the sun rise or set, offering panoramic views of the town and the rice fields that surrounds it.

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The Morning market (at noon)

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The Night market (late at night)

However, if you’ve done that already and you still got some time to spare, here’s our advice for an unconventional, yet very local experience: following any direction out of town you’ll soon be engulfed by endless rice plantations spreading until the foot of the mountains that surrounds Luang Namtha. Every now and then, near the road or even in the middle of the fields, you’ll also find some wooden shelters, like bungalows, used by the locals for relaxing or protecting from the sun or the rain.

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A sea of rice

We found those to be the perfect spots to enjoy the sunset after a day of work in Bamboo Lounge Training Restaurant, specially accompanied by the presence of some bottles of Beer Lao, the nation’s pride!

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