In a nutshell
Located in the northwestern part of Laos, Luang Namtha is the capital of one of the most amazing natural and cultural destinations in the country.
Why go to Luang Namtha
Just few km away from the famous Nam Ha National Protected Area, Luang Namtha is an all adventure seekers and unlimited outdoor opps buffs’ paradise.
Jungle trekking is a big draw here and a variety of tour programs on offer suit travellers of any level of fitness. There is everything – from one-day easy trips to multiple days challenging treks bringing you deep in the forests.
Kayaking and rafting are two other popular activities, while motorboat trips will take you farther down the Nam Tha River.
In addition to the natural wonders the province is home to at least 30 different ethnic groups, and many of the villages are open for visitors. Those interested in hill tribe culture will have a chance to have a glimpse of the daily life of the villagers and to support their ancient traditions.
Luang Namtha city is a sleepy river town and even if it lacks important attractions it is a convenient starting point for exploring the beautiful countryside. A fantastic night market and a good choice of laid back guesthouses makes the town a relaxing place to spend a few days before moving to your next destination. If your days in Laos are over, Luang Namtha has direct links to Thailand, Vietnam and China, all of which are easily reachable via a few hours bus journey.
When to go to Luang Namtha
The best time of the year to visit Luang Namtha is between November and February when the weather is almost always dry and the temperature is not too high. Expect the nights to be quite cool – especially in January, so don’t forget to bring adequate clothes.
April and May are the hottest months of the year, and for inexperienced travellers even a simple trekking adventure can be quite demanding under these conditions. At the end of May the rainy season starts and even if it’s still possible to visit and organize tours in the National Park, expect to have your feet constantly wet, walk in the mud, and generally speaking go trekking in the worst possible conditions. If you’re still ok with that, the good news is that hotel rates can be bargained and tourist numbers are considerably lower.
Where to stay in Luang Namtha
The absolute majority of accommodation options come in the form of backpacker guesthouses and are clustered around the city centre, near the night market. The quality of the cheapest rooms is very often leaves much to be desired, but just a slight increase of your budget will give you access to considerably better rooms with air-con and hot water. A few mid-range solutions can be found in quieter locations, still within walking distance from the centre. No luxury hotels or high-end resorts are available in town nor in the immediate proximity of Luang Namtha.
Where to eat in Luang Namtha
A bright star of the local food scene, the night market marks the city centre and can be considered the highlight of everyone’s stay in Luang Namtha. Here you’ll find the best genuine food, the most affordable prices and the friendliest people to hang out with. Some traditional restaurants cater for those who look for more private atmosphere. Lao and Thai food is dominating, though Western food is generally easy to find at any of the guesthouse restaurants.
How to around in Luang Namtha
The town has grown along the main road with all the guesthouses and restaurants located around the night market or within walking distance from there. Measuring less than 2 km from north to south, Luang Namtha is pretty walkable and you will never need any public transportation to move around the city centre.
Tuk-tuks are available to take you to the airport or the bus station and they will cost you a flat fare of LAK10,000 per trip. To explore the surrounding area, bicycles and motorbikes can be rented at several shops and guesthouses. Zuala Guesthouses has the widest selection, with prices starting from LAK30,000 for a mountain-bike and up to THB50,000 for a semi-automatic motorbike. Some of the pricier hotels and guesthouses will let their guests use bicycles for free.
How to get to and from Luang Namtha
Three daily buses head to the border town of Huay Xai on the Mekong River for onward travel to Thailand. After you go through the immigration on the both sides of the Friendship bridge, you find yourself in the Thai town of Chiang Khong. From there buses for Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai depart almost every hour. A ticket from Luang Namtha to the border will cost you LAK60,000 and the trip takes 4 hours.
A direct bus to Dien Bien in Vietnam is available every day. It stops at the boarder waiting for the passengers to go through all the immigration formalities, but keep in mind that is not possible to obtain a visa on arrival at this border crossing so you’ll need to arrange one in advance.
The Chinese border is just 50 km away from Luang Namtha and travellers holding a valid Chinese visa can get the 8.00am bus to Mengla (2 hours, LAK50000) or Jing Hong (4 hours LAK90000). Travel agencies in Luang Namtha can arrange a Chinese visa for you, but they will anyway send your passport to the embassy in Vientiane and collecting it when ready. The whole process normally takes 3 business days and will cost you around LAK500,000.
Is Luang Namtha a safe place to visit?
Luang Namtha is a safe place to travel. Friendly locals, the typical relaxed atmosphere of a lazy river town and good infrastructure catering for western tourists makes it a convenient and a safe base for travellers. Nevertheless all the outdoor activities are potentially risky and basic safety rules should always be kept in mind. Make sure you don’t venture alone off the designated paths, and let the experienced travel agencies and guides organize your adventures.