In a nutshell
Enjoy the stunning scenery around dusty, remote Luang Nam Tha by going trekking in the Nam Ha Protected Area. Or try mountain-biking, rafting or kayaking; this is eco-tourism at its most authentic. Visit the ethnic museum. Shop for handicrafts.
Nestled in the north of mountainous Laos, just a hop, skip and a jump from the Chinese border, Luang Nam Tha has a remote, cowboy town feel to it but makes an excellent base for exploring the many natural wonders of the province of which it is capital.
Formed by three long, straight and flat roads, the town and its life centres around its two markets. Tourism infrastructure in recent years has improved dramatically here and places such as the excellent Forest Retreat cafe offer fantastic information about the entire region, expanding the options for those looking to forge a trail into the jungle.
Trekking, mountain-biking, rafting and kayaking are among the growing number of ways to enjoy the stunning scenery surrounding Luang Nam Tha. As many argue, tourism here can help send a message to locals that their culture and forests are important and valuable in their own right. Cash you spend on access permits goes to wildlife and forest conservation projects.
Luang Nam Tha itself is home to an ethnic museum, which is worth a pop in if you can find someone to let you in, as well as a small selection of places to buy handicrafts, though you can also explore the surrounding villages for unique finds.
Rent a bicycle to get around town and also to explore the outlying areas. The waterfall at Ban Nam Dee is just a few kilometres outside town and an easy trip using pedal power. More serious explorers should head to the Nam Ha Protected Area, reputed to be home to large mammals such as tigers and elephants (don't hold your breath!) as well as a myriad of colourful birds and frightening reptiles (if you ask us, anyway).
You can take a trip by boat along the Nam Tha River to see some of the area. Guided trips can be arranged by the tourism office. Green Discovery also offers one- or two-day trips along the Nam Tha. For advice and the very latest information, head to Forest Retreat Laos.
There are ATMs and money exchange facilities in town and very fast 3G internet through Unitel and ETL but the best guesthouses have free WiFi anyway.
Text and/or map last updated on 26th November, 2012.
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Nam Tha and more
Luang Nam Tha - or Nam Tha to those that have enjoyed the hospitality - is much more than the city. While it's off the mainstream tourist trail, it provides more than a welcome rest stop for those choosing not to take the Mekong boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang.
Nam Tha is ranked highly as a great trekking destination. Yes, but. Yes, to understand the trekking available in the area. The English speaking Laos EcoTourism office at Nam Tha (or the nearby, but more expensive Green Discovery) will put you right. But, the trekking 'enjoyment' depends on what takes your fancy: from walks with local guides through their rural village areas, to treks through the Luang Nam Tha National Protected Area (NPA).
The Luang Nam Tha National Protected Area almost encircles Luang Nam Tha and is accessible from Vieng Phoukha (65km south of Luang Nam Tha on the road to Huay Xai), Nam Tha itself and the road to Muang Sing. You can see a good map of the Luang Nam Tha National Protected Area here.
Nam Tha town (where westerners stay) is some 10km from the bus station in 'old' Nam Tha (both towns have been rebuilt since the mid-1970's) and the 'attractions' of the area are rather spread out. Generally, the facilities in Nam Tha meet those expected by (most) western tourists.
We liked that the night market provided great Lao food options, and that most people we encountered in Nam Tha were really friendly and only too willing to assist.
We hired a small motorbike so that we could experience the array of enjoyments around Nam Tha. We motored south beside the Nam Tha (river Tha) through several welcoming ethnic communities before resting at Nalia (apparently a road less travelled).
The Nam Tha area holds some 39 different ethnic tribal groups: some with highly visible costumes, others more westernised.
We also visited Muang Sing: definitely a frontier town and well worth the effort.
YouTube has a contribution that captures the essence of Nam Tha better than these words can indicate:
We found the surrounding scenery to be energising, the ethnic villagers (generally further away from the town) to be very welcoming, and the ambience of the place refreshingly relaxed. It's very easy to lose time in Nam Tha.
We'll be back in the near future.
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By BruceMoon (4)
Written on 20th May, 2009 after a visit to Luang Nam Tha in April, 2009
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By BruceMoon, 20 May 2009