Luang Namtha is actually the most ethnically diverse area in all of South East Asia. So this means nowhere else in the entire subcontinent can you be in such close proximity to so many charming villages where the language, rituals, traditions, beliefs, dress and way of life of the inhabitants are so different and unique.
Many different ethnicities in one province
There are more than 20 different ethnic minorities in Luang Namtha province, living at all elevations of this emerald-green mountainous region of northern Laos. Our record so far is travelling to 7 different minority tribe villages in one day; which was an awesome experience!
The only theme that all these ethnic minorities have in common is that they all have aggregated here from their ancestral homelands eons ago and now try to live as one people under Lao law. In our experience they are welcoming and friendly like the indigenous Lao, even the ones who have never seen westerners before; which if you are lucky enough to find some of these peoples is an amazing experience to behold!
Many of these ethnic minorities (that actually number more than the ethnic Lao) speak Lao and often look like ethnic Laos’ its not until you talk to them that you realise the group of 10 people having a great feast and party at a communal table are made up of 6 different ethnic minorities; talk about racial harmony!
How are they different?
When you travel into their respective different villages you can see the physical and cultural differences straight away. For example Lanten people always seem to live near rivers and always wear their traditional indigo dyed costumes, Hmong have their huts on the ground in immaculately organised villages, and Ahka always seem to be high in the mountains and have their villages identified by towering gates and swings used for rituals.
Even the way they grow their crops (and what they grow) and the specific plant and animal species harvested from the jungles are very different and steeped in centuries of tradition.
Visiting Luang Namtha’s ethnic minorities
It’s very easy to travel to many different ethnic minority villages in a short space of time in Luang Namtha by riverboat, kayak, motorbike or trek. It really is an amazing cultural experience (kind of like visiting multiple countries in 1 day) to witness their authentic traditional way of life and be made to feel so welcome and get an insight as to how these people live relatively unchanged as they have for hundreds of years.
This innocent authenticity and sense of tradition simply does not seem exist anymore in less untouched places such as northern Thailand or Vietnam.