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If you are interested in hiking, trekking, and other outdoor activities in Laos, your journey will probably bring you to Luang Namtha. This city is an excellent base for hiking, kayaking, rafting, and mountain biking through the beautiful countryside in northern Laos. It’s also a great place to spend a day or two in between trekking trips.
Read on for information about what to see and do within Luang Namtha and what you can do using the city as a base.
About Luang Namtha
Luang Namtha is the capital of the Luang Namtha province, located in northern Laos close to China. The city touches the Tha River, and it is surrounded by mountains, small hill tribe villages, and rice paddies.
Luang Namtha is Laos’ most diverse province, with over 20 different ethnic groups. Visiting this area is a great way to learn about Laos’ ethnic diversity and, if you venture out of the city to the nearby villages, to see Laotian village life first-hand. Some villagers even offer tourists homestays if you are interested in immersing yourself in native life.
Old Town and New Town
A key thing to know about this city is that it is separated into two sections. The older part of town, located near the airport, was bombed during the Laotian Civil War and has been partially rebuilt. The new town is located about 6 km to the north, and it’s probably where you’ll stay; most guesthouses and tourist companies are located there. The older part of the city is worth visiting during your stay, however.
The new part of the city is compact and easy to navigate, organized along three straight roads. You’ll find plenty of other tourists visiting the city; it’s a key stopping point for hikers exploring Laos or backpacking between China and Laos. This means it’s easy to make friends or flesh out a group for a trek.
Trekking Exhibitions From Luang Namtha
The main thing to do here is to plan a trekking exhibition to a nearby area. Many trips visit parts of the Nam Ha National Protected Area, an 860 square mile park that includes diverse plant and animal life, local ethnic groups, and landscapes.
The park includes three rivers, wide swaths of jungle, caves, and small villages. It is also an excellent place to see wildlife. Tigers, elephants, leopards, and many rare species of birds live in the protected area. In addition to treks through the park, you can find organized treks to nearby villages, waterfalls, and other sites.
How to Find a Trekking Group
Finding a trek is as simple as stopping into one of the many agencies located in the center of Luang Namtha. These are group treks led by a local guide, and there is a lot of variety in trek length, difficulty level, and included activities.
Treks may include hiking, kayaking, and biking. Many also include cultural activities such as learning to fish, learning to cook local dishes, or staying in a village. Treks are typically all-inclusive; they include food, accommodation, and equipment.
The Bigger the Group, the Better the Price
It’s a good idea to spend a bit of time looking at reviews of different trekking companies ahead of time. When booking a trek, you’ll get a better price per person for a bigger group. It’s generally fairly easy to join a group that’s already started. If you start your own group, the trekking companies will advertise your trip, and other tourists may join on.
Exploring Around Luang Namtha
In addition to treks, you can happily pass time exploring close to the city. If you have a day or two to spend, the best way to do it is probably to rent a bicycle or motorcycle and explore the surrounding countryside. If you head south on the main road, you’ll soon see dirt paths branching out in multiple directions.
Ban Pong, Ban Pasak, Ban Nam Dee, and Ban Tongkwa
These will lead you to a number of local villages such as Ban Pong, Ban Pasak, Ban Nam Dee, and Ban Tongkwa. As you bike around, you can also enjoy the beautiful countryside. If you’re visiting during the dry season, the rice paddies will be a beautiful bright green color.
If you’re there during the dry season, be aware that the roads will be dusty. Some people like to wrap a scarf around their nose and mouth to keep the dust out. To make it a day, pack a lunch to take with you, or stop at one of the restaurants close to Luang Namtha.
Bam Nam Dee and Muang Sing
If you’re looking for particular sites to visit, try Bam Nam Dee, a scenic village with an even more picturesque waterfall. Bam Nam Dee is only about 5 km away from Luang Namtha, so you can easily make the trip on a bicycle.
If you’re renting a motorcycle, you should head to Muang Sing, one of the most beautiful towns in the area. It’s located 58 km northwest of Luang Namtha, so it will take you about 2 hours to get there by motorcycle. The drive is stunning, with jungle, mountains, and waterfalls along the way. Muang Sing itself sits in a green valley surrounded by mountains. There are stunning views all around.
The town is also a cultural center of many diverse ethnic groups, and there are often small festivals and ceremonies taking place. Around Muang Sing and the surrounding small villages, there are over 25 temples you can visit. There’s also a helpful tourism office and an excellent market where you can easily find a delicious lunch or dinner.
Other Things to Do
There are a handful of great things to do within the city itself if you need to relax after a trek or just want to spend some time there. There are a couple of traditional herbal saunas that also offer massages, which can be a great way to relax and rejuvenate after a difficult trek.
If you want to learn more about local culture and the region’s many ethnic groups, you can visit the Luang Namtha Museum, which houses interesting anthropological collections with items such as traditional clothing, tools, weapons, and instruments.
For fresh local food, there is a market each day in the western part of town, where you can find an extensive collection of fruit, vegetables, meat, and prepared meats. In the evening, a slightly smaller night market offers food, textiles, and crafts.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Sam Shepards