Archives for : Trekking Luang Namtha

15 Reasons Why Luang Namtha Province Is The Best Of Laos

After traveling all around Southeast Asia, Laos is definitely a highlight for many, but for us coming back to Luang Namtha really hits home that this northern province is the best of Laos! Here’s why:

1. We have the BEST roads in Laos making transit far easier than the rest of the country and self guided tours on mountain bikes and motorbikes much more user friendly;  think flat, well paved, wide roads…not rock strewn, cratered, dusty and uncomfortable dirt lanes (except in tiny villages).

2. We have the most accessible National Park in Laos , which is called the Nam Ha NPA = National Protected Area ( also abbreviated to NBCA = National Biodiversity Conservation Area) with a huge range of genuine, highly regulated eco-tourism adventure activities and cultural immersion experiences to be had. The Nam Ha NPA is one of the top 200 important eco-regions of the world with tropical rainforests in the valleys and cooler montane forests higher up making for staggering biodiversity of plants birds, insects and animals. The most interesting of which are the clouded leopard, tiger and leopard.

Kayaking in northern Laos

Kayaking in Luang Namtha’s NPA

3. The people are so nice! The nicest and kindest people in Laos. This is partly because of the ethnic diversity creating a culture of tolerance, but also because local attitudes are so laid back, westerners get treated the same as local people!

Luang Namtha ethnic tribal experience

Luang Namtha has the nicest people in Laos!

4. The climate is fantastic with perpetual cool nights and sunny days, because of the altitude (700m above sea level) it never gets too hot for comfort like southern parts of Laos.

5. Luang Namtha is a natural travel crossroads between Thailand (180km away), China (50km away), Myanmar (130km away) and Vietnam (the city of Dien Bien Phu is 280km from Luang Namtha), this makes overland travel (the best way to see Southeast Asia) the logical choice.

6. Luang Namtha has the best and most varied Lao food, and is famous for its quality and huge variety. More species of jungle fruits, nuts, roots, seeds and vegetables than you can shake a stick at, combined with delicious dishes from different ethnic tribes and the most lush growing conditions. Luang Namtha even has access to cold climate (as well as tropical) fruits and veggies like apple, pear, broccoli, cauliflower and potato all year round.

 

Amazing food in Luang Namtha

The blend of culture and nature in Luang Namtha makes the food the best in Laos!

7. Close proximity to Thailand and the brand new friendship bridge, make overland traveling from Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai to Luang Namtha (and south) much faster and more comfortable than ever.

8. One of the cheapest provinces in Laos. Most accommodation in town is 80,000 kip per night for a decent room with free water and WiFi, local food can very cheap from the night market and even award winning pizzas, salads and pastas from Forest Retreat’s modern Bamboo lounge are much cheaper than they would be in Luang Prabang and Vientiane.

9. The most ethnically diverse province. There are over 19 different minority tribes in this province making it the most ethnically diverse part of Southeast Asia! Go and explore these villages, the people will be very happy to meet you. And walking through a village and being interested about the culture and their way of life is empowering to them and teaches them the importance of preserving their culture.

Visit to a Yao village in Luang Namtha

You can visit up to 19 different ethnic minority tribes in Luang Namtha

10. Chilled out atmosphere, lots of traveler interaction. Most people go to Luang Namtha to join groups for eco-tours, but when you’re not in the jungle, Luang Namtha is a great and scenic spot to chill for a while and meet some new friends if you want to.

11. Fastest internet in Laos; especially at Forest Retreat Laos! The proximity to China and Thailand and good infrastructure make for some of the fastest connections in Laos. Sweet!

12. Beautiful mountain and rice paddy scenery. The best place to see this is to head north out of town 2km, hang a right at the roundabout and cross the bridge, travel about 5km up this straight, flat, well-paved road and after you pass Thong Dee village (Ban Thong Dee) start looking for a good chill out hut on your right in the 30 square km “park” of rice paddies, completed with its own Eco-system! Walk out through the rice and witness an amazing sunset over 6 layers of mountains in every direction!

 

Luang Namtha rice paddies

Close to town, yet one of the most serene places I have ever been.

13. Get immersed into local tribes village life, Luang Namtha is the best place in Laos to base yourself then go and visit these tribes and experience different cultures and ways of life. Our record is 7 different ethnic tribes on 1 day on motorbike! In a small range of distance you will come across many different tribes living in separate villages, very cool to experience.

14. There are so many different eco-tourism tour options, all highly regulated by the local government using Luang Namtha’s award winning eco-tourism model. You can do: trekking, kayaking, cycling, rafting, motorbiking, cultural immersion experiences, fishing, cooking, homestays, forest retreats… Forest Retreat Laos is the only and most awarded eco-tourism company (other providers are agencies) who gives the most back to the local community and takes people deep into the Nam Ha NPA for amazing experiences.

Luang Namtha trekking

Trekking in the primary forest of Luang Namtha’s NPA

15. Amazing friends you will make when you do an eco-tourism tour in Luang Namtha. Nothing gets strangers bonding and makes fast friends like trekking around in the jungle for a few days! Many lasting friendships have been forged in the wilds of Luang Namtha…especially when topped off by a few cocktails when the group returns.

We hope you liked our reasons why Luang Namtha is so great, why dont you come and check it out for yourself!

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.

 

 

An Authentic Village Experience Like No Other

Many people who come to South East Asia seek to find that unique cultural experience of an idyllic little village tucked away in the misty jungle clad mountains where people still live the way they have for thousands of years…living in bamboo and grass huts, hunting and gathering in the forest and growing seasonal crops…

A way of life that can no longer be found in the west

Many people go to northern Thailand or Vietnam or Malaysia to try to get this insight into a traditional way of living before Facebook, media saturation and Smartphones cluttered up our lives.  Disappointed travellers have told me that in these places the villagers hurriedly put down their ipads and turn off their plasma TV’s and don costumes to put on a “touristy” show about a life they have long left behind…not exactly an authentic hill tribe experience is it?

If you really want to experience people living in misty forested mountain villages exactly as they have done for thousands of years you should come to Luang Namtha in northern Laos!  Unlike Thailand who has had tourists for 100 years northern Laos has only had tourists (and electricity!) for 10 years, it is much less developed than its wealthier neighbours, more densely forested and is also the most ethnically diverse part of South East Asia, a real cultural melting pot with over 20 different minority tribes; which means you can go to numerous tribes’ villages in a single day and witness the striking differences in culture, tradition, belief system, architecture and agricultural practices.

 Why should you choose Luang Namtha for your hill tribe experience?

  1. Because these local people really do want to be part of the Nam Ha eco-tourism initiative and gain a sustainable income from arranged homestay visits and handicrafts such as silk weaving.  To even stay the night at a village the entire village agrees, via a village meeting, to apply to become part of the eco-tourism project.  If the government approves them, then they will be given some training and then you will be able to stay.  This eco-tourism empowers them to preserve their tribal culture and encourages them to protect and preserve their natural environment. The original model homestay is the Khmu village of Ban Nalan another amazing jungle village on the river is the Tai Lue tribe’s Ban Sin Oudom.
  1. Many of these tribes live in the Nam Ha national protected area (NPA) for example Khmu, Ahka, Tai Lue and Lanten minorities and so have become the caretakers of the national park. This means you can tie in an amazing cultural immersion experience with a trekking/kayaking/rafting tour in the national park.
  1. The UNESCO sponsored Nam Ha NPA eco-tourism initiative ensures that a hefty proportion of the tour costs go directly to the villagers themselves and to conserving and protecting the national park.
  1. Because it really is untouched! The nature is stunning and the villages and their inhabitants really are authentic minority tribes living in a self-sufficient way that is relatively unchanged for thousands of years.
  1. Luang Namtha province is ideally situated close to the overland border crossings of Vietnam (Muang Kwa), Thailand (Huay xai) and China (Boten). Making it very easy to get to, It also has the best roads in all of Laos!
  1. Luang Namtha needs your support! Eco-tourism is a priority for the local government and many people benefit from your visit. Coming here will help the local people protect their valuable natural and cultural asset for years to come.

 

So make your patronage count and ensure that if you do do an Eco-tour in South East Asia; you find one that is the “real deal” and gives a good percentage of the money directly to the local community.

If you want more information about the Nam Ha NPA check out this article and also this one.

How To Get The Most Out Of Your Luang Namtha Trekking Experience.

Luang Namtha now has a reputation as being one of South East Asia’s premier trekking destinations. Choosing from one of the many tour operators (12 at last count!) in Luang Namtha town and the many different tour options on offer can be a minefield…this article is intended to help you to make a good choice:

Nam Ha NPA primary forest is amazing!

1. Decide exactly what you want to get out of your Luang Namtha trekking experience: the 2 big draw cards of this area are the impressive Nam Ha national protected area’s mountainous jungle and the different ethnic minority villages that reside outside (sometimes inside) its borders. So do you want the culture or the nature or a mix of both? Do you want to trek, kayak or bicycle (or do a combination tour)? How many days do you want to go for? Do you want to stay overnight in the forest immersed in nature or learn about a different culture doing a homestay? Once you have decided what you want to do it will be much easier finding a tour that fits the bill instead of being inundated by all the options.

 

  1. 2. Find a professional tour operator: In Luang Namtha (as in the rest of Asia) you get what you pay for; the cheaper tour agencies usually wont have equipment, guides, accommodations, food and itineraries as good as the slightly more pricey ones. Some operators try to cut costs by not actually going into the NPA. Ultimately shortcuts taken here to save a few dollars could jeopardise what should be a “must do” experience in Laos. Find out if your tour company supports local villagers, guides, and what they do to maintain their jungle trails and jungle houses.  The best way to find out who should get your hard earned dollars is to browse sites such as Tripadvisor, Travelfish and travel forums to read recent reviews and recommendations from other trekkers as guidebooks go out of date very quickly.

 

3. Ask the right questions: To maximise your trekking experience you need to be informed; you should ask the following questions of the trekking operator:

  • Does the trip go inside the National Protected Area? Get shown exactly what areas of jungle and villages on a map.
  • Is there any primary forest in the area of the trail? How much will there be compared to secondary/bamboo/rubber/agricultural crops/rice paddy?
  • How difficult is the trek? Remember; no trek in Luang Namtha is easy.
  • Do you trek to villages or is it purely jungle? What is the ratio?
  • How long do you walk before you get to the jungle? There are places that take you directly into the primary forest.
  • What are the sleeping conditions (if staying overnight)? You should get mattress/blanket/mosquito net/pillow or a sleeping bag provided.
  • Do I need to bring or carry a sleeping bag?
  • How much water is provided? Most people need 3L per day at the least.
  • What type of food is provided? There should be a large variety.
  • Can they cater for your dietary requirements? They should be able to cater for any.
  • How many hours of trekking per day?
  • What kind of clothes do I need to take? Warm stuff? Wet weather gear?

 4. Get a group together: If you go on your trip with a group of like minded individuals it will not only be cheaper but be a much more unforgettable experience. Putting you trust in a good tour agency you think is capable of attracting a group for your tour is very important. You can even be really proactive about forming a group by going around town yourself and finding out if nice people you meet want to join you. You can also check the group sign-up list, see where the people are from and how old they are to ensure it is a good fit for you, a good tour operator will give you the chance to meet them beforehand.

5.Knowing what to expect from your trek: One of the most common comments people make about trekking in the Nam Ha NPA is “that was harder than I expected” so, be prepared to challenge yourself on the steep uphill and often slippery (especially in wet season) downhill sections of the mountainous NPA jungles. A trek in Luang Namtha is definitely not a gentle walk in the park as some people expect, it is real trekking! Trekking in the primary (first growth) forest is the most challenging but also the most rewarding. Other things you should expect from your trek are:

  • Insects; wear long sleeves and pants while trekking and at night.
  • You probably will have to carry your own water (3 or 4.5 litres per day) for the duration of the days walking.
  • Showering will usually be in a river or using a bucket of water; so bring soap. Girls should do as the local females      and wear sarongs.
  • Toilets will be of the squat variety, or a ‘dig your own’; BYO toilet paper is a very good idea.

Now you should be informed enough to have an outstanding trekking experience while in Luang Namtha. We recommend Forest Retreat Laos.

 

 

Dry Season in Luang Namtha

The dry season, usually between November and April, is the busiest time of year in Luang Namtha. People mostly come for the main attraction of the area; trekking and kayaking in the Nam Ha NPA. When the jungle is drier and the temperature is cool makes dry season ideal for these activities.

Hard at work harvesting rice in Luang NamthaDry season here means cold nights, and waking up each morning to a mist covered valley which doesn’t usually lift until about 10am ish. At this time, the sun seems to reach a certain heat and within 5 minutes you can watch the mist burn off to reveal another stunning blue sky day.

The beginning of dry season is the opportunity to witness the rice harvest; a fascinating process that is very hard work for the rice farmers and ensures food for the coming year ahead.

Forest Retreat Laos trekking in the Nam Ha NPAThis is the time of year when it becomes much easier to get a group together for an adventure into the jungle and the most popular trips combine kayaking with trekking, and sleeping in a jungle camp and/or an ethnic minority village.

Trekking in the Nam Ha NPA is challenging, and also very rewarding. The terrain is steep both up and down, and can be slippery in places. This is where a well trained professional guide is invaluable; they will guide you through the tricky spots and help you learn the trade secrets of the jungle.

Luang Namtha AttractionsKayaking on the other hand is quite chilled out. You float with the current of the river and have stunning views of the jungle for the entire day. Most kayaking trips include stops at some different ethnic minority villages, so this is a great way to combine seeing the NPA with a cultural experience. During dry season the rapids are small, so the Nam Tha river is perfect for beginners or people who just want a relaxing day soaking up the beauty of nature.

Dry season also means activities like cycling are much more pleasant, as the days don’t get too hot. Motorbiking in the mornings or evenings can be a chilly activity, so make sure you have something warm to protect you from the rush of cold air.

Overall this is a great time to experience the beauty of Luang Namtha with a wide range of activities on offer to you. Make sure you spend some time relaxing in Forest Retreats Bamboo Lounge too, when you’re far from home it’s a great place to have some comfort foods and have the rare chance while in south east Asia to sit in some comfy armchairs while listening to good music and catching up on your emails.

10 Reasons To Choose Luang Namtha

Laos is a very spread out country so, if you come to Laos for a holiday there are many options of places to visit. This is why you should seriously consider choosing to come to  Luang Namtha in the countries far north:

1. The food! The food of forested northern Laos is some of the most delicious and exotic in Laos; due to the abundance of jungle produce, lush growing conditions and cultural melting pot of ethnic tribes in the area. Luang namtha is famous for its Kao soi (noodle soup with pork mince and fermented peanut paste), local fried rice and many, many other dishes.

2. Close proximity to other countries: Luang Namtha is very close to both the Chinese border (Boten; near Kunming and Jinghong in Yunnan provence) and Thai border (Chiang kong; near Chiang rai and Chiang mai) perfect for onward travel.

3. The Namha NPA: Think a stunning 222,000 square hectares of  mountains covered by pristine jungle with rivers running through it. This huge national park is home to a huge biodiversity of plants, animals, insects and birds. The best part of it is that you can trek and kayak through it with a guide and homestay at some amazing villages that that have had their livelyhood tied in with the jungle for centuries. A truly awesome experience.

4. Affordable and chilled out town: The town of Luang Namtha has many good guesthouses, hotels and restaurants (and even 2 disco’s), it is a chilled out place to base yourselves for a while you explore the surrounding area. It is one of the cheapest towns in Laos to eat and stay at. The roads are the best and the internet is the fastest in the country. You can be sitting enjoying the espresso and WiFi from a soft chair and 5km away be chilling in a bamboo rice paddy hut or walking through a tiny ancient village by the river.

5. Self guided adventures close to town: Its easy to rent a bicycle or motorbike for a day or more and explore some nearby minority tribe villages, rice paddies, temples and other local attractions all within a few km of the town centre. For the more adventurous why not motorbike father afield to cultural attraction Muang Sing or Vieng Phouka with its cave and  “off the beaten track” trekking.

7. The rice paddies: the middle of Luang Namtha valley is a 30 km stretch of seemless rice paddies surrounded by 360′ of mountains on its borders.  It is very beautiful and a great place to base yourself to watch the sunset over the mountains. Witnessing nature  from a small bamboo hut in the middle of the paddies for a few hours is a priceless experience.

8. Trekking, kayaking and homestays in the Nam ha NPA: There are a lot of  unforgettable authentic adventures to be had in the mountainous national park. Meet some new friends as you form a trekking group then go out into the wild to experience jungle life and stunning natural beauty with your guides.

9. Fantastic cultural diversity: If you like the idea of visiting many different ethnic minority villages and learning about their contrasting way of live and belief systems Luang Namtha is for you. There are about 20 different ethnic tribes that call Luang Namtha province home, in just one day it is possible to visit up to 10 different minority villages where different costumes are worn, different languages are spoken and different traditions and ways of life are adhered to. Most of these tribes live as they have for many hundreds of years, making it a really authentic experience especially when compared to more developed countries like Laos’ neighbours.

10. Nice relaxed pre or post trekking ambiance: Luang Namtha really is a pleasant place to hang out for a few days. The local  people are very nice and kind, the weather is temperate and mostly sunny, there is an amazing fresh market where you can see jungle produce and local fruits, vegetable and herbs on display, there is also a daily night market where you can sample all the local foods and even seasonal favourites like bats and Rhinoceros beetles. You can visit some really cool chilled out villages and temples. There are also some cool places to chill out in town that have super fast WiFi, serve great cocktails and excellent western food like Forest Retreat. Hang outs like these are great places to chill out and meet like minded travellers and discuss trekking options and share travel experiences.

Luang Namtha’s World Famous Nam Ha NPA (National Protected Area)

Luang Namtha's NPA

The biggest natural allure of Luang Namtha province has got to be the Nam Ha NPA (also commonly misspelt as NamHa NPA) which was Lao’s first national park and an ASEAN national heritage site. It is the second biggest national park in Laos at 222,400 square hectares which is a huge amount of the provinces land area.  The Nam Ha NPA is named after the Nam Ha river that runs through it; which is simply stunning and you can kayak down it, but only with a guide. Moreso than the rest of its South East Asian neighbours Laos has demarked an impressive 13% of its landmass as national park which helps it to be a natural tourist destination for nature seekers.

Namha NPA, Luang NamthaLao PDR’s first national park:

Mountainous Luang Namtha province was the clear first choice for a national park for Laos  because of its huge biodiversity of plants and animals including the Tiger, Clouded Leopard, Pangolin, Asiatic black bear, Sun bear, gaur, over 300 hundred birds species and many other types of flora and fauna; many of which are found nowhere else in the world. A number of these species of large animals are globally threatened because they  have been hunted for centuries, especially as this part of northern Laos is a cultural crossroads for nomadic ethnicities over history. These species are very wary of people (as you would be after being hunted for centuries!) so are unlikely to be spotted by visitors. The Nam Ha NPA’s main purpose is to protect habitat and biodiversity for the unique and amazing wildlife of northern Laos.

 

Namha NPA in Luang NamthaThe caretakers of the national protected area:

There are 25 tiny ethnic minority villages that lie within the borders of the Nam Ha NPA, these peoples have had their livelihoods entwined with the jungles and rivers in the national park for centuries. The Nam Ha NPA Management Unit has helped educate and empower these peoples to be the protectors and sustainers of this amazing natural environment by creating rules for land use  and setting up a well regulated eco-tourism industry as well as teaching the people to sustainably harvest and sell non-timber forest products (such as wild Cardamom) as an income source for the villagers. The villages realise their sustainable future depends upon them being able to protect the national park for future generations.

 

Luang Namtha's NPANam Ha NPA ecotourism:

The eco-tourism industry in Luang Namtha is designed to protect the Nam Ha NPA natural environment and give sustainable income to the nearby local village as well as making sure the tourist dollar goes into those areas which contribute to the ongoing welfare of the national park and its peoples.

You can go on many amazing excursions into the Nam Ha NPA; kayaking or rafting through it along the Nam Ha river is one of the most popular activities. There are also many treks where you can stay at camps deep in the jungle or homestays at local villages who get there sustainance from the jungle and rivers.

This national park is simply a natural specticle not to be missed when you come to Laos.

Nam De Waterfall

About 5 minutes out of Luang Namtha town is a pretty waterfall named Nam De, meaning Good Water.  It’s a popular place to visit because it’s so close to town yet so far away – once there you feel like you are a million miles from any kind of modern conveniences and you’re surrounded by nature and beauty.

Nam De Waterfall in Luang Namtha, Northern Laos

Next to the waterfall is a small Lanten minority tribe village, Ban Nam De.  The Lanten people here are super friendly and are always willing to have a chat with whoever passes through.  (You will have fun trying conversations using hand and body movements and lots of pointing at what you might be talking about – there is pretty much no English spoken in the village but that’s no barrier to dancing around a bit and getting your message across!)  They are seen wearing the traditional Lanten dress of hand woven fabric dyed with plants from the forest to a dark indigo blue, and bring pink strings tied beneath the waist.  You can also stay overnight in this village, but the only way to do this is to arrange it through a trekking agency in Luang Namtha town.

Walking through the village and up to the waterfall is a scenic and easy walk; there are some well-placed, flat stepping stones across one part of the river and small bridge, and the rest of the walk is fairly flat terrain up to the waterfall.

In dry season there isn’t a huge amount of water pumping out, but it’s still a pleasant and scenic and peaceful spot to spend some time.  You can swim at the waterfall too, if you want to.  In wet season there is a lot more water, and the look of the waterfall can actually vary from day to day depending on the amount of rain the day before.

Some photos of the lovely Nam De waterfall are here.

 

Welcome to Luang Namtha Guide

Hello!!  Our names are Andrej and Karen Brummer.  We have been in Luang Namtha now on and off for about 7 months.  We are totally, utterly in love with this place, and want to stay here as long as we can.  Before our first time here, we spent time on the internet searching for information on Luang Namtha and found that there was very little.  Since then, we have left several times, missed this place so much that we’ve come back 8 times, spent a LOT of time exploring the area, and met many travellers.

We have been amazed at the huge increase in travellers coming here – it seems word is spreading fast about this amazing town.  And since we now have people coming to town actually looking for us, we thought it was about time that we started a website to help people learn about Luang Namtha before they get here, to give correct information, and just to generally help out.  We know a lot about Luang Namtha and it’s surrounding area, and we’re learning more all the time, so why not share our knowledge?

A few months back, after getting to know many of the locals in town, and having many adventures with them, we started to help out in a very small way by writing people’s signs in English (have a look around town – is that handwriting starting to look familiar? ;) ) and after a while we sort of ‘accidentally’ fell into helping a few people more than that.

We are mainly teaching the local community about western standards when it comes to organisation, cleanliness, hygiene, customer service and stuff like that.  This is because the local people are pleading with us to do so!  We have inadvertently become the famous crazy falang (foreigners) who the locals know because we love and stay in Luang Namtha.  Everyone who makes a new sign now gets us to check their English, people who want to cook western food ask us to teach them how to cook it.

It’s a much bigger project than we originally anticipated, and it’s also way more fun than we could have imagined.

So, from here on we will attempt to write about our adventures in Luang Namtha and in Laos in general, as well as provide our personal recommendations about cool stuff to see and do.  There is SO much to see around here, after 7 months we are still finding things we haven’t done before and we still have a list of stuff we want to do.  We’ve included some of our blog posts below so you can see what we’ve been up to here and a bit more about what we like doing.

If you come to town, please come and visit us, we mostly hang out in the green building in the centre of the main street… you can’t miss us, it’s one of  most fun our projects to date.  Comfy chairs, western music, the only green building… come and say hi :-) .

Project Laos: Helping Luang Namtha

As you will know, for a while now we have been making plans to help the people of Luang Namtha with their trekking agencies, and teach them what tourists are looking for, how to market the business and how to attract people in and most importantly, to tell tourists what is unique about their own trekking agencies.  So for many months we have been looking for the most deserving first candidate for our business makeover.  Forest Retreat Laos, which Thong has been running for the past couple of years (in a 1.5m x 3m shoebox!) is the only agency in Luang Namtha that has imported kayaks, the only agency that has the rights to stop at the confluence of the Nam Ha and Nam Tha rivers – in our opinion this is the most beautiful part of the entire river in the Nam Ha National Protected Area – he has a camp there which is a bamboo house made by the local Khmu tribes people that tourists can stay in…. all of these amazing unique features that he has never thought to tell any tourists! And now we have helped him to up the ante: He has the only real espresso in town, the only couches in town, the only cool hang out place in town, the only falang music in town, and will soon have the only real cocktails and wood fired pizza in town. We want to help Thong to understand that while many tourists know about Green Discovery (the main tourism agency in Laos) before they get to Luang Namtha, and pay sometimes up to double price to go with GD because it’s a name they know, he actually offers many services and trekking/kayaking adventures that are superior to these in that they are unique, private trails etc, and yet he is the ‘little guy’ that just needs some exposure for tourists to begin to understand that there are better, cheaper, more friendly alternatives to Green Discovery. (And based on our experience, GD often has inferior tours to the smaller operators aswell – so this only seems fair.)  Forest Retreat Laos is the only trekking agency in Luang Namtha to actually offer Forest Retreats – where people can chill out in the jungle as well as trek or kayak or cycle or spend time in small minority villages – and we really want to help Thong to advertise this fact. His business is unique in town and yet no one would know it because he simply has no idea how to sell himself, or even that he needs to.

So… all of this information has lead to the birth of Project Laos – a project that we have enjoyed quite possibly more than anything else we have ever done before, a project which has stretched our brains in ways we couldn’t previously perceive, a project which has at times left is wondering what on earth we have embarked on here! The cultural differences between the western world and sheltered wee Laos are sometimes too vast to comprehend, and throughout this process it has been both a massive learning curve, and a hugely fun and fulfilling experience.

Let’s start at the beginning: several months ago, when all of this information came to light about Thong’s agency being so unique, and when we got to know Thong and Paet, their amazing, generous and genuine nature, their need to help the minority tribes and the community (a large percentage from every trek/retreat/kayak/cycle goes directly to the minority people or community) we had discussions with them about how we could help them. We instructed Thong to keep looking for a larger building (1.5m street frontage really doesn’t cut it, even in Luang Namtha) and we actually walked the main street looking at all of the buildings and picked out a couple which we thought would be perfect to rent and transform into the best hang out and trekking agency in town.

A couple of months ago, when we were preparing to leave Koh Lanta Thong phoned us and said that the building which we had earmarked as being our best option, had become available. The exact building – was this divine intervention, or what? So we sent him to take photos and asked lots of questions (we had never been inside the building) Does it have a western toilet? Yes. Does it have a western shower? Yes. Is it renovated? Yes. Does it have a kitchen? Yes. Does it have water in the kitchen? Yes. How big is it? Big enough. OK, we’ll come and have a look.

We headed back to Luang Namtha and initially we were both shocked at the state of the inside of the building. The ‘renovated’ building was disgusting… filthy and mould and mildew everywhere. We told Thong that we thought maybe he shouldn’t rent this building. It obviously had a lot of water damage and needed a LOT of work done to get it up to falang standards. Thong, having no idea about falang standards, couldn’t really see what we were on about (seeing as he lives in a Lao hut). The water damage by the fridge was explained by the fridge leaking. The water damage on the upstairs ceiling happened when the neighbouring hotel had a partial wall collapse onto the roof and has since been repaired. The water damage on the upstairs wall might be because someone spilt a glass of water there? The western toilet did not flush. The western shower was in fact a tap coming out of the wall. The ‘kitchen’ was a fridge that the landlords were taking with them. The ‘water tap in the kitchen’ didn’t exist. The entire top floor’s power didn’t work. Hmmmm. What were we getting ourselves in for?

After much negotiation between Thong and the landlord, we managed to get a discount on the rent and would use this money to renovate the building and fix all of the issues. The deal clincher, was that a building on the main street only becomes available for rent every couple of years, on average. So if we wanted to go ahead, we had to work with what we had. (A building not in the main street is not really worth having, since Luang Namtha town really is just the main street.) So began our building/painting/repair project.

The beginning was relatively easy. We hired some Lao’s to clean out the building, and when we suggested using a soap and bucket they looked at us and laughed as though we were mad. When we went back to check on their progress, we found that the Lao way of cleaning is taking a hose inside and hosing out the entire building. We had to choose paint colours, to make the place stand out and also be a nice place to be. We learned that in Laos, you can buy paint rollers, but not roller trays. You can buy Chinese paint brushes, with jagged edges and bristles that fall out onto the wall you’re painting with every second brush stroke. You can make roller and brush extensions with bamboo, if you need them. You can use a bowl or paint your roller with a brush if you need it to be able to spread paint. Bopanyang. (No problem). You can only buy Chinese tools, which is fine if you don’t mind your hammer breaking in half, your drill bit spinning crookedly and oscillating 1.5cm as it spins, the drill button getting stuck in and only working when you put your finger inside the button, and your extension lead literally melting, sparking and catching on fire (true story!).

Then we asked for bamboo to be put on the walls – this part was really fun – Thong and the builders went into the jungle for a day and came back with 50 bamboo poles, all about 10m long. They then had to cut them to size, cut them in half (for putting on the wall), paint them on the inside with insect repellant and then staple them all to the walls. For us this part was awesome because all we had to do was tell them where to put the bamboo and watch the walls take shape.

Next came the kitchen and bar. What seems to us in western society as a simple task, quickly becomes very complicated in a country where they have never seen or heard of a bar before, don’t know what one looks like or what it could be used for, and so need step by step by step instructions to build one. (which then only get followed loosely). In the end, after drawings, 3D drawings, physical demonstrations, and lots of explaining to Thong who would then translate into Lao for the builders, we ended up going to the timber shop and building a 3D model for the builders so that they could understand what a bar is. It’s little things like that that we take for granted and end up taking days of effort to explain the concept. Still, we found it all very entertaining, and we did end up with a bar, albiet a bit higher than we asked for.

Then there were the finishing things – we needed them to take a door off, shave off some of the bottom (where it was scraping on the floor). Seemingly to us, an easy job. And it was – when you don’t have a screwdriver to get the door off, you just use a hammer to bash it off. When you break the door hinges with the hammer, you just straighten them with the hammer, or at falang insistence, get new ones. When you don’t have a screwdriver to put the hinges back on, just use a hammer. Bopanyang. This kind of thing was mindblowing for us – with western sensibilities you would never use a hammer for this and in the beginning it was hard not to get a bit stressed out! But we quickly realised we just had to go with the flow, the task might not be done in the way we thought was the ‘right’ way, but it still got done. So a lesson in not worrying about the details or the ‘how’, just about the result.

The toilet. Although the Lao’s couldn’t understand why we needed a proper western toilet, we convinced them it was very necessary. So off we went to buy a toilet. The extensive range of western toilets in Luang Namtha meant that we had 2 to choose from. We got a ‘top of the line’ one. When the builders assured us that they knew how to put it in, we believed them. Then later in the day came back to find cement all over the floor, a toilet perched on the edge of the platform (that the old toilet was sitting on), and the cistern on backwards. This was probably the funniest moment in the entire project. What on earth could make someone think that the flush lever should face the wall, and the non-enamel, non-polished, ‘made in thailand’ stamp-side of the cistern should be the side that faces out? We laughed for ages about this one and the builders said ‘they were just resting it there’ (not, it was screwed in) and it was quickly fixed.

As the inside of the building has taken shape, we have received massive interest from the local community. Udon, our manager (an amazing person who has just finished being a monk for the past 11 years), said ‘Wow, it’s like paradise for humans’ and every Lao that comes in just says “Nyam lai, nyam lai” (Beautiful). We drew attention by having the first vaccuum cleaner in town and people would come into the shop just to try it out. We have the first couches and people come in just to experience sitting in a chair that isn’t hard. And overall it’s just the most interesting that that has happened in town for a very long time. The fact that a building is actually having thought put into what goes inside is a new concept. Painting it green alone has drawn the crowds.

So, the paradise for humans is now open. There is still lots of work to be done, wood fired pizza oven to build, seating for upstairs to get, lots still to learn and to teach. A big ups to Dre’s sister Kate, who designed the Forest Retreat logo for us – without you, Kate, we would have been totally lost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why are we doing this?  We both work online so can be based anywhere.  We fell in love with Luang Namtha about 9 months ago and have a hard time leaving this place.  We have gotten to know many people in town and have had many different experiences here.  The jungle is amazing and the kayaking for us, has been a real highlight.  And after spending about 6 months here, doing many different treks and just generally hanging out, Thong really stood out to us as the most genuine person we have ever met.  He makes sometimes $1 or $2 for each trek (sometimes up to $10), even after organising food, transport, and English speaking guide, local guide, sending kayaks to the river, food into the jungle, putting on a massive delicious feast, organising accomodation in the forest if you’re staying overnight, transporting blankets and mosquito nets, paying the NPA (National Protected Area) and Tourism Police fees… and then he takes some of that and donates it to the local community.  He is a very special person and we just really felt that we could not only help him but also the community as a whole.

So yeah, come check out Forest Retreat Laos, it’s pretty awesome, if we do say so ourselves ;-)

Thong really deserves your business – you are directly helping the local community by taking a trek or kayak or cycling or doing a forest retreat.  For us it has just been amazing to learn how little the people get out of each trek and yet they are often embarrassed to tell foreigners their prices because they feel that it’s expensive.  (Only very rich Lao can afford to trek in the jungle, and it’s illegal to go into the National Protected Area without a registered guide.)  Helping Thong just seemed like the right thing to do, while having a good excuse to stay in our beloved Luang Namtha.

We hope to see you here!

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