Luang Namtha is a little town in northern Laos between Huay Xai and Oudam Xai, located in an area famous for the various minority villages.
In my opinion Luang Namtha itself has not a lot to offer. Most most guesthouses and tour agencies as well as the very interesting night market are located on the main street that leads through the town.
Maybe the only other site worth mentioning is the local market, located on a parallel street running south of the main road. It is interesting to walk around the rather large area with stalls selling fresh fruits, freshly prepared meat (and blood in bags) and other items the locals need. Do not expect to find lots of tourists souvenirs.
While the town itself is not that interesting, it cannot be said about the surrounding area, with is the reason people visit Luang Namtha – it is just beautiful. You can easily explore the area by renting a scooter or a bicycle, stopping at waterfalls or temples. Or you join one of the many treks to the national park – many offer real homestays in minority villages (where you sleep in a local house and get home made food – a great experience).
Next to the night market is a little bank branch that offers money exchange, and where you can find an ATM as well.
So if you are interested in beautiful scenery, outdoor activities and minority villages Luang Namtha might be a place of interest.
Arrival / Departure
Buses from Huay Xai and Udomxai stop at the bus stop 5km outside of Luang Namtha. There will be Tuk Tuks waiting for you (price will be around 20.000-30.000 Kip).
Buses to Huay Xai take around 4 hours, to Oudamxai 2-3 hours, Nong Khiaw 6 hours and to Luang Prabang between 9-10 hours.
Luang Namtha has even a little airport located 6 km to the west of Luang Namtha. Lao Skyway is the only airline that uses the airport, and also only offers flights to Vientiane.
You can find plenty of other guesthouses in that area.
Food & Drinks
There are a number of little food stalls around Luang Namtha, but for dinner I would highly recommend visiting the night market. Here you can find good and cheap local food, like grilled duck or buffalo, fried noodles or noodle soup. In addition of the open market you can find more stalls selling little snacks and fruits as well and of course you Beer Lao. Overall it is a great place to spend an evening to meet locals and tourists alike.
The food at the Manychan guesthouse was good as well – I had my first ever Laap here. Though the best time to sit here is in the afternoon when you can watch the people passing the mains street. Have one of the shakes – the banana one is probably the best one I ever had (even a 15 minutes wait to get more bananas from the market was worth it).
Another good place for drinks is the Forest Retreat, as you can meet fellow travellers over a beer or two (a good idea if you are looking for people for a trek). They also build their own stone oven, so you can get great pizza there (when they started locals came so their kids could try a pizza for the first time). Though prices for beer are higher than in other places.
What to do
You can spend a little time to explore Luang Namtha, but except of the market there is not a lot to see. The only other exception is to go to the far east of the town where you find a bridge. In the afternoon you can sit down on there to watch the locals doing their afternoon activities, including washing their cloth or go for a little swim. It is actually a nice experience. There are some little food stalls where you can try water buffalo skewer or chicken feet.
Instead get a bicycle or a scooter and explore the area. The roads are not very busy here, so it is not too dangerous to ride a bike there. But you are rewarded with some stunning scenery, from rice fields to temples and waterfalls. Worth to spend a day for that area. Here are information about a small motorbike loop for the day.
However, not trip to Luang Namtha would be complete visiting the nearby national parks and the minority villages. There are plenty of agencies in town that offers hikes and kayaking day or overnight trips. If you have a chance, I would recommend including a homestay in such a tour. It is a great experience. Here is the story about my trek.
One warning though, some of the agencies in town are not very honest, and I heard about some bad experience form other travellers. I would highly recommend Forest Retreat – which is owned by a couple from New Zealand. They support several minority villages in the area, and provide job opportunities for the young people from these villages. Their tours are very good as well, and their guides are great. You can contact them on Facebook or their website http://forestretreatlaos.com/
Green Discover has an office in Luang Namtha as well – though the prices are much higher and I heard mixed reviews – but at least are more reliable than other agencies in town.