Dokchampa Hotel

 

Room rates: 60,000 kip – 160,000 kip
Breakfast included: no
Free wifi: yes
Laundry service: yes
How to book: just show up at the hotel, or call +856 86 260003
Website: www.dokchampahotel.com

Dokchampa is a big Chinese hotel in the centre of Luang Namtha. It is located on the main street, where you will find the Night Market, many restaurants and trekking agencies.

Dokchampa has 61 rooms in total. They offer single, twin, double and double VIP rooms with fan or air-conditioning. All the rooms have ensuite bathroom with hot showers and coffee or tea making facilities. Try to book a room on the third or fourth floor (on the back) to have nice mountain views.

The big lobby is furnished with big wooden couches and a fish tank. Behind the hotel there is a big parking lot for customers to park their car or motorcycle.

Room prices

Double VIP: 130,000 kip (fan) / 160,000 kip (aircon)
Family Room: 100,000 kip (fan) / 130,000 kip (aircon)
Double or Twin Room: 80,000 kip (fan) / 100,000 kip (aircon)
Single Room: 60,000 kip (fan) / 80,000 kip (aircon)

 

Adounsiri Guesthouse

 

Adounsiri is a family run guesthouse in the centre of Luang Namtha. It is located on the street parallel to the main street, only a five-minute walk. On the main street you can find the night market, trekking agencies and many restaurants.

Adounsiri has thirteen rooms in total. They offer twin, double and family rooms. All the rooms have a fan and ensuite bathroom with hot shower and western style toilets.

Outside the rooms there is a green garden sitting area. Remember that at night the guesthouse’s gates will close between ten and eleven o’clock.

Room rates: from 60,000 kip for a single to 100,000 kip for a family room
Breakfast included: no, but free coffee and tea in the morning
Free wifi: yes
Laundry service: yes
How to book: just show up at the guesthouse

Tribute to the Yellow Moth

Hopping into Laos

 

Exploration of local biodiversity starts even before you set off to one of the many tours available in the surroundings of Luang Namtha.

Today we would like to introduce to one of the small creatures that you’ll spot anywhere if you only stop for a second and look around. Arthropods, insects and spiders in particular, are often frowned upon or considered disgusting in the Western world, but actually they represent one of the biggest and oldest branches of the Tree of Life. They play an essential role in pollination among other things and they are also an excellent source of protein, which could make us reconsider Lao’s insect-based cuisine.

We will keep an overview of mouth-watering insect-based recipes for another post, as we would like this post to be a tribute to the dying Yellow Moth spotted on the wall of Forest Retreat Laos this week.

The Yellow Moth, Dysphania sagana, is a geometrid moth from Southeast Asia, Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo and has been reported in Northern Lao. Its larvae have been observed feeding on plants of the Carallia species, which, especially Carallia brachiata, is also an important source of nectar food for bees. As descripted by Wikipedia’s “moth writers”, the basal half of the forewings is chrome-yellow, while the outer half is bluish black, crossed by two bands of semitransparent white spots. The hindwings are chrome-yellow with a black spot at the end of the cell. The apex and a submarginal row of spots are black. The head, thorax and abdomen are yellow.

Dysphania sagana

Luang Namtha is a preferred destination for enthomologists, who come here on exploration and often leave with one or more species named after them, because the rich arthropods local biodiversity has been little studied and much has yet to be identified. This encourages all of us to go out with our cameras and big eyes to spot the universe of biodiversity that the surroundings of Luang Namtha have to offer.

Here a small collection of the hundreds of arthropods we have photographed and that we need help in identifying! More to come!

The antennae of the Indian luna moth detects a single sex pheromone molecule from more than six miles away due to extremely sensitive olfactory receptors.
[source The Encyclopedia of Life]

Luna moth

Common Mormon

Papilio palinurus, common name Emerald Swallowtail, Emerald Peacock, or Green-banded Peacock, is a butterfly of the genus Papilio belonging to the Papilionidae family. It is native to southeast Asia.

 

After mating, often female mantis eat their partner. This will give them extra proteins to tend their eggs.

Forest Retreat’s Bamboo Lounge Restaurant = real western food

It’s official; Luang Namtha now has its own wood-fired pizza oven, it is even painted green and is decorated with Buddhas eyes, so you cannot miss it…

This iconic wood fired oven made from local clay has now served up thousands of authentic Italian (and not-so-Italian) pizzas to travelers and locals alike. The wood fired oven now baked fresh bread rolls and loaves daily as well as cakes and Lao Banana breads.

Northern Laos best pizza oven

The worlds most enlightened wood fired oven

So when you are in northern Laos if you get sick of sticky rice, or fried rice or rice noodles (it can actually happen 😉 ) and you are craving the comfort foods from home or have just got back from a 3 day trek in the Nam Ha NPA dreaming of cheese and bacon for the last 2 days…then Forest Retreat’s Bamboo Lounge restaurant can help you!

Bamboo Lounge is rated Luang Namtha’s #1 restaurant according to Tripadvisor, it has also won an excellence award for 2013 and an International Star Award for Quality.

Northern Laos best western food

BLET baguette; really good eating!

The concept behind  Bamboo Lounge Training Restaurant is that it is a Lao and western collaboration. Western managers teach Lao staff English language, hospitality, customer service, hygiene and western standard cooking skills as part of their employment. Lao staff teach westerners about their culture, way of life and traditions.

Birthday cake

Even the locals enjoy real western food

Bamboo Lounge specialises in authentic western dishes. The drinks menu features a range of fresh roasted and ground espresso coffees, freshly squeezed juices and excellent western standard cocktails (with either local Lao lao rice whiskey varients or the real stuff).

Northern Laos best cocktails

Fresh fruit cocktails

For food you can have all day breakfasts, sandwiches on home made bread, authentic Italian pastas and wood fired pizzas or salads and other goodies like chat potatoes and risottos.  Their menu has many ingredients are either sourced from abroad or made from scratch like tomato pizza base, soups, pasta sauce, pesto, hummus and olive tapenade.

real cheese and bread? In Asia?

Mmmm,tuna melt on homemade bread…

There are many plants from the jungle, fast WiFi and the comfiest chairs and sofas in town. The service is quick, smiley and professional.

Northern laos best pizza

Pon cooks like an Italian!

So if you find yourself in Luang Namtha craving some REAL comfort food from home, follow the smell of freshly baked bread to Bamboo Lounge Laos.

The Luang Namtha Welcoming Party

Author: Ryan Crossett
The Akha  people are a large ethnic group with populations in Lao, Thailand, Burma and China.  Here in Luang Namtha Akha women provide a service unlike any other.  They will give you the opportunity to shop for souvenirs while you are dining, visiting the night market or out walking.  They peddle an assortment of handicrafts including bracelets, belts, hats and bags.
Akha sales women in Luang Namtha

But you DO want a bracelet!

If you’ve never met an Akha woman, you are almost certain to when you visit Luang Namtha.  There’s even a good chance you’ll be welcomed to Luang Namtha by one as you climb out of your tuktuk.  However, if you don’t meet one right away, no need to go looking for them, they will come and find you.
Akha handicrafts are easy to find in Luang Namtha

Welcome to Luang Namtha; would you like a hat, belt or bag with that?

The Akha ladies employ a unique sales tactic, taking “don’t take no for an answer” to an all new level.  The reason they can do this is because they know what you want better than you do.  They break through any communication barrier using their universally understood sign language to make sure you don’t leave empty handed.
Akha woman in Luang Namtha

No means yes right?

At Bamboo Lounge Training Restaurant we have a special deal with the Akha saleswomen, no soliciting for free water and phone calls.  This has also given the staff here at Bamboo Lounge the chance to enjoy getting to know the local Akha saleswomen. They can be a lot of fun and may even bust a move if they like the music.
Elu queen of the Akha

Its all pleasure and no business for Akha at Forest Retreat Laos!

If you’re lucky, and you probably will be, there will even be a few ladies around to bid you farewell as you leave Luang Namtha to continue on your journey.  “Thank you for shopping with us!”

Go for the real local culinary experience

Hang out at Luang Namtha’s night market and enjoy local food and drinks

You cannot leave Luang Namtha without spending at least one evening at Luang Namtha’s night market. If you want to experience an authentic local night out, this is the place to be.

The night market of Luang Namtha opens every single day around five in the afternoon and usually stays open as long as there are customers. In the wet season they might close around 21.00 and in the dry season this means around 23.30, since nearly every bar and restaurant has to be closed by that time.

Nonetheless, the night market is the very spot to hang around at night if you want a real local experience! Late afternoon, the tribal sales women arrive at the market place and start to display their goods. You can find some souvenirs here – like traditional Lao skirts, other handicrafts or CD’s with popular Lao music – but the night market is mainly about food. And drinking.

Luang Namtha is known for it’s local specialities that you cannot find anywhere else in Asia. Village people collect vegetables, herbs and spices from the jungle and use these in their traditional dishes. At the covered section of the night market, you will find long tables with all these dishes displayed.

And of course you will find some crazy stuff here as well. What about deep fried grasshoppers, a salad of silkworms or little snails to go with your sticky rice? You can either take away the dishes you like in a plastic bag, or select the plates you want and find yourself a table at the centre of the market. Or, if you’re not craving exotic foods, just grab a Beer Lao and share it – local style – with the people sitting next to you.

If you want less adventurous food, there are enough options as well. Get yourself some Lao style spring rolls for an appetizer, a spicy noodle soup as main dish and some fried banana’s for dessert. And if you’re ready for the drinking, which is part of the social life at the night market, you can choose from a wide variety of Lao Lao, the locally brewed rice whisky.

When you don’t get too hammered on the Beer Lao’s and the Lao Lao’s, you will notice that the night market gets quit messy after a few hours. It is usual for local people to throw their food waste on the ground and to leave their empty beer bottles on the tables. Don’t feel uncomfortable and do as the locals: soon the stray dogs will eat the food from the floor and the food stall holders will take away the bottles.

So the next day, people can come and make everything dirty again!

New Friendship Bridge Makes Travel From Northern Thailand To Nothern Laos A Breeze!

Want to get from Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai or Chiang Kong to scenic northern Laos as fast and comfortably as possible?

Well now instead of the tiring routine of taking clunky buses, spluttering tuk tuks and then hauling all your belongings onto a longtail boat across the Mekong, then hiking them up a steep hill on the Lao side….the Lao/Thai “Friendship Bridge 4” has just been opened!

New Border Crossing from the Lao side

The brand new bridge spans the Mekong river from Chiang Kong (Chiang Rai province) in Thailand to Huay Xai (Bokeo province) in Laos. The bridge is connected to Laos’ best sealed highway that goes through Luang Namtha to Boten (the Chinese border crossing) then down part of the way to Luang Prabang before the road gets less sealed (i.e. more bumpy) 3 hours south of Luang Namtha.

Northern Laos/Thailand  border crossing

Getting the flash new bus to Chiang Rai

The best features of the new bridge border crossing for the traveller are:

  • The many immigration offices on the Lao and Thai side (instead of just one each at the old river crossing), streamlining entry and exit; meaning you will spend a LOT less time queueing for stamps in your passport.
  • The nice new VIP buses transporting people from the Lao side (Bokeo province)  after you have  been stamped out, straight to Chiang Kong and Chiang Rai quickly, regularly and comfortably. When we last crossed there was a bus to Chiang Rai every 10 minutes or so for 220 Baht  each!
New buses from Thailand to Laos and Laos to Thailand

New buses from Thailand (Chiang rai) to Laos (Bokeo) and Laos to Thailand

  • The new VIP buses from Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai to the border crossing (the buses wait for you to get stamped in and out on the Thai and Lao side) to Bokeo provinces international bus station.  There are 2 companies; Green bus and the Transport Company. Now you can get tickets all the way to Luang Namtha and Luang Prabang from Thailand.
  • The ability to now drive across the Mekong for people with their own transport (many rental places in Thailand will give you the documents to take a car or motorbike to Laos) or on guided tours.
  • The much more regular bus connections on new buses, less waiting and now the trip to Chiang Rai takes about 2 hours from the bridge border crossing, instead of up to 3 hours plus on the old shaky red buses from Chiang Kong.

So, for people travelling from Chiang Rai to Laos via the bridge, simply catch a bus from Chiang Rai bus station 2, (the new one, outside of town – you can catch a shuttle there from the old bus station in the centre of town for 15 Baht).  There are VIP buses that leave at 6am, 9am, 12pm (I was told this time, but didnt see it written on the sign), 3pm and 4.30pm for 22o Baht. These buses all go directly to Bokeo international bus station, where you get off and get connections to Luang Namtha, Luang Prabang, China etc

To get directly to Luang Namtha, you get the 9am bus from Chiang rai and get transferred to a Bokeo 2.30pm bus that will get you to Luang Namtha by 6pm; all for 590 Baht!

For Lao-bound buses departing Chiang Mai, there are also numerous buses, but as of yet I dont know the times, s0 watch this space…I know there is a Green bus that goes to Chiang Kong every day at 9am, but I will write more info, as it comes to hand!

Thanks Lao and Thailand, for making it so much easier, faster and safer to traverse the Mekong!

New bridge crossing the Mekong at Chiang Kong/Huay xai

Over the Mekong by VIP bus…better than leaky longtails and a series of tuk tuks!

 

Luang Namtha’s morning market

Run into some crazy stuff on your stroll through the morning market

Visiting Luang Namtha’s morning market is one of the best ways to get a glimpse of Lao local life. People from Luang Namtha and nearby villages come here to buy their fruits and vegetables, new clothes or tools like machetes. People from villages near the jungle come here as well to sell jungle meat and edible plants that they’ve foraged from the jungle.

If you go to the market by bicycle or motorbike, you can park your vehicle in the ‘parking lot’, near the main entrance, for a mere one thousand kip. Directly behind the parking lot, you will find Lao women sitting on little stools next to a mat on which they’ve displayed their produce. Bananas, spring onion, coriander, cabbages and other local vegetables, fruits and herbs are for sale here. And don’t forget to have a look at the local delicacies, like these fried silk worms!

When you enter the covered section of the market, you will immediately pick up the fragrance of numerous different spices. Stroll along the stalls to find dried noodles and cooking oils next to the spices. Here you will find a lot of small containers filled with all sorts of seasoning, like fish or chilli paste. And what would be a better way to kill time if it’s not busy than watching soaps?

Those with strong stomachs can continue walking on the far side of the market there they will find the meat section of the market. Intestines, buffalo skin and even pigs’ faces can be found here. The sales women keep themselves busy shooing away the flies with plastic bags attached to the end of thin bamboo sticks.

A little bit further down are basins with live fresh water fish.  Other live animals for sale here include chicken and duck. Local people choose the fittest, or the fattest, chickens and ducks for their dinners.

In the back, by the huge sacks of rice, are minority people, who have come from out of town to sell their edible plants and leaves that they’ve foraged from the jungle. And next them, the seamstresses are sitting at their sowing machines to repair clothes.

Getting hungry from all of this shopping? By now you will have reached the stalls with local dishes. Treat yourself to a noodle soup, some freshly prepared jungle food or fried bananas. You can also try a typical Asian dessert: fluorescent coloured jellies served in a plastic bag with sweet coconut milk.

 

If you happen to have have run out of toiletries, go and have a look at the tiny shops at the right. Here you can stock up on toothpaste, shampoo and soap.

Do you want to get yourself a souvenir other than the bracelets the Akha-ladies sell on Luang Namtha’s streets? At Luang Namtha’s day market you can get yourself handicrafts made from rattan, like tiny boxes to serve sticky rice in or a handmade wooden mortar and pestle.

But of course you can also treat yourself to a freshly brewed bottle of Lao Lao, the local rice whiskey that Laos is famous for.

Looking for something a little more crazy or funny? Go inside the market on the right and get lost between all the Chinese clothing and shoe shops. It won’t take long for you to find all kinds of hilarious T-shirts and flipflops. And honestly, who doesn’t want to go home with these?

A Luang Namtha River Experience

You really should consider a kayaking trip on your South East Asia holiday to northern Laos.

Laos kayaking, Luang Namtha kayaking, South East Asia kayaking

The lovely Nam Tha river

Here in Luang Namtha for most of the year the days are warm and sunny and its nice to take to the water for an outdoor adventure passing through impressive dense and uninhabited jungle, stopping at different ethnic minority tribe’s villages dotted along the opposite riverbank and of course going through a few rapids and having a swim at the end!

Trekking is a major draw card of Luang Namtha’s ecotourism, but to combine that with a kayaking trip adds a cultural and scenic element to your Nam Ha national protected area tour. Trekking is all about being immersed in the nature and challenged by the steep accents and descents (the Nam Ha NPA is mountainous), surrounded on all sides by trees. Kayaking allows a more laid back scenic experience and gives many stunning photo opportunities of  the jungle and river vistas and the unique villages you pass by.

 

Some highlights of kayaking the Nam Ha NPA:

  1. Visit 3 or 4 different riverside ethnic minority villages; Lanten, Khmu, Khmu Rok or Tai Dam or Tai Lue villages. Park up your kayak on their little beach and learn about the similarities and differences of these ancient cultures and their unique way of life by touring their various villages with your guide.
kayaking Laos, kayaking Luang Namtha, kayaking South East Asia

Village girls fishing in the Nam Tha

  1. Eat awesome jungle and local northern Lao food on the river, either in a village on on a isolated riverbank surrounded by nature, your guide will cook for you and you also have the choice to learn how to cook Lao jungle style!
  1. Traversing the river by kayak or raft, is really fun and makes for a great group activity to meet some new friends, the scenery is stunning and the river (except in the middle of wet season) is gentle with some small but fun sections of rapids. The river is a grade one by western standards for most of the year.
  1. Taking photos of the jungle and river from your kayak make for some excellent holiday snaps, and jungle, village vistas.
  1. Kayaking is easier than trekking, so it is a pleasant way to explore the Nam Ha NPA without putting in too much effort, but still getting some exercise!
Kayaking Luang Namtha, Kayak Trip Laos, Kayak in South East Asia

Parked up at a riverside village

Things to know about kayaking in Luang Namtha:

  1. Check the kayaks; are they good quality, will they be waterproof and stay inflated? All Luang Namtha kayaks are inflatable, so they can still go down the river in dry season. Make sure your tour provider has a good product and is able to provide life jackets and/or helmets if you want them (recommended in wet season, in dry season the river is not very deep or current very strong)
  1. Where exactly is your tour company/agency taking you kayaking? It should be SOUTH of Luang Namtha on the Nam Tha or Nam Ha river, not north of the town (where the river terminates at a dam surrounded by rubber trees) or behind the town where there is little jungle and the water is too low to go in dry season. 30km south of Luang Namtha is where the boundary of the Nam Ha NPA starts and so does the dense jungle and idyllic villages. In this stretch you can kayak ALL YEAR ROUND, if you are told you cant, go to another tour provider!
  1. You should be provided with a proper 10 or 15 litre dry bag for your camera and other possessions you don’t want to get wet, make sure it is not a plastic bag! A good tour agency/company will transport your daypacks to your destination so you don’t have to worry about keeping them dry.
  1. Take hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, shorts, swimwear, tee-shirts and jandals (flip flops or thongs to you non kiwis 😉 as well as you camera safely stowed in a dry bag. Don’t let the dry bag float in the water for the whole day, this is asking for trouble.
  1. Make sure you can swim!

For a quality and fun kayaking experience that gets great reviews on TripAdvisor check out Forest Retreat Laos and their kayaking and combination trips.

 

 

The Slow Boat vs. Northern Laos

There are 2 popular ways to get to Luang Prabang, Laos from Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in northern Thailand:

  1. The slow boat; a crammed, diesel chugging, sweltering jaunt down the increasingly developed Mekong river including passing through dams and sitting on hard wooden seats for 2 days solid.
  1. Venturing overland via Luang Namtha through mountainous lushly forested scenery dotted with rice paddies and different tribal villages on the best roads in Laos, then down to the stunning riverside town of Nong Kiaw, where you can boat the rest of the way on the much less developed Nam Ou river through the jungle clad riverbank to Luang Prabang.

Northern Lao scenery

Homestay village in Luang Namtha

Many people are pre-sold on the idea of a leisurely slow boat cruise down the mighty Mekong river from Chiang Kong, Thailand/Huay Xai, Laos all the way down to the popular world heritage city of Luang Prabang.

There are many vendors in Thailand who will sell you this option and tell you it is by far the best way (or even only way) to get to Luang Prabang…seeing as they make commission from ticket sales.

Unfortunately the reality is for many people quite different from this romantic vision of river scenery and old world comfort.

 

Thailand to Laos via the Mekong. Ready?

What to expect from the slow boat:

  1. The slow boats seating capacity is limited to 60 but it is often packed to way more than this forcing people to sit in the engine room or even hang off the side of the boat! This makes for a packed, noisy and uncomfortable journey.
  1. You will most probably be sitting on a hard wooden seat for 2 whole days meaning most people arrive in Luang Prabang far from refreshed and relaxed. Some people just drink the whole time just to get through the journey!
  1. It’s true there is some nice scenery but the mighty brown Mekong has gone through a lot of development on its banks (especially the Thai side), so the journey will be far from an insight into authentic rural Lao culture, so don’t be mistaken.
  1. You will need to pre-purchase all your food and water before the journeys to ensure you have enough, the toilets although western are very far from clean.
  1. The fast boat may seem like a better option as it does the whole trip in about 7 hours, but the cramped conditions and scary ride due to high speeds and submerged logs and debris make it a dubious choice.
  1. Queuing and crowding to get a good seat on the boat and accommodation in Pak Beng can be a real test on patience.

 

What to expect from Northern Laos, overland:

  1. You will get to experience northern Laos amazing mountain scenery, ethnic diversity and famous hospitality first hand away from the maddening crowd and heat of the Mekong. This is the most forested and ethnically diverse region  of South East Asia.
  1. Buses and minivans depart Huay Xai daily for Luang Namtha every couple of hours (no hard seats!) and take about 3 and a half to 4 hours through stunning jungled mountains dotted with different tribes villages, for a scenic introduction to Laos. This is also Laos’s newest best-sealed road.
  1. From December 2013 you will be able to simply get a connection to Luang Namtha from Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai as the new friendship bridge across the Mekong will be opened for border crossings, making getting to Laos much faster and easier.
  1. Luang Namtha is a great place to trek, kayak, raft or mountain bike in the immense and very scenic Nam Ha national protected area, from the pleasant town with many accommodation and dining options you can visit different ethnic minority villages by yourself, explore the stupas, waterfalls or rice paddies.
  1. Luang Namtha is emerging as the hottest new eco-tourism and trekking destination in SE-Asia because of its highly regulated Nam Ha national protected area. This community based eco-tourism set-up has vastly different and intriguing tribal villages and wild untamed jungle and beautiful pristine rivers.

Luang Namtha valley

  1. Travelling south to Nong Kiaw sees you going through more of Laos most beautiful scenery, to a stunning riverside town on the Nam Ou surrounded by limestone karsts, it takes 5 and a half hours to get there from Luang Namtha, you get to stop in the Chinese influenced town of Oudomxai for lunch.
  1. From Nong Kiaw you can get a daily public boat (or hire a private boat – there are always people looking to form groups to hire a boat) for the very scenic 6 hour trip to Luang Prabang through jungle and mountains. Or you can chill out for a few days and venture up river to the increasingly popular and very quaint Muang Noi.

The boat to LP from Nong Kiaw

In our opinion and the opinion of hundreds of travellers we have met, if you are missing out on northern Laos, you are missing out on the best part of coming to Laos.

So consider wisely before you blindly sign up to that slow boat ordeal 🙂

 

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