A great way to explore the surrounding area of Luang Namtha is by renting a scooter. I saw several places along the main road having scooters and semi-automatic bike available. I used twice the first shop on the right of the Many Chan guesthouse, and never had a problem with the bike or the agency. For a full day I paid 70.000 Kip. The tank will be empty, but there is a petrol station just north of the night market.
You could do a nice day trip doing a little loop around Luang Namtha.
To start the loop head the road north until you reach a larger bridge on your right hand side. While this is a nice spot for a late afternoon snack to watch the locals continue here for now. Cross the bridge and follow the 3a road.
For the first site of interest – the Nam Dee waterfall (around 6 km away from Luang Namtha) – turn off the main road and then right at the first crossing. Here the paved road turns into a dirt road – careful when it is raining. But at least it offers some great scenery as you pass rice fields and some little houses. Locals are waving, and the kids are were very curious when we stopped – they loved to see themselves on the screen. Just a few km away from Luang Namtha it feels like a complete different world here.
Soon you see a little village, but before entering there is a little wooden bridge you have to cross to get to the falls. At the time I was uncertain as the bridge didn’t look very strong, but the locals just pointed at me and gestured to drive over fast. I did – until I saw that the wood at the end of the bridge was replaced with gravel. Somehow managed to break in time without falling off the bike and the bridge. Lesson learned – drive slower next time.
After the bridge is a place to park your bike. At the time I paid 2.000 Kip and got a little note – your bike will be watched (recommended to use these services). From here it is a little walk on a path to get to the waterfall.
Well – the waterfall is nice, but not spectacular. It is probably more impressive during the rainy season. But the area was well looked after, with some benches and it seems that it is a rather popular place for locals. It is worth the little detour – for the nice ride on the side road alone.
Heading back to the main road turn right and continue the main road 3a. It is a lovely ride, and you might stop a few times to enjoy the lovely scenery – little villages with rice fields in front of them and mountains behind. Locals working in the fields, or resting in the little huts that provides some cover from the heat and sun. There is no need to drive fast here – you would just miss. You could easily turn off the road into some of the little path to get to the mountainous area and some small villages.
If you continue staying on the 3a you soon arrive at the end of the road, and get to the “highway” that connects Huay Xai and Oudam Xai. Turn left here. It is probably the least interesting section of the loop, and you might be overtaken by some cars, buses and lorries. I just followed that road until you get to the crossing with the road 17a that leads to Luang Namtha again.
Off the “highway” just follow the 17a, again passing rice fields after rice fields as well as some little settlements of houses, until you reach a smaller village where the bus station and airport is located (Done Khuon).
In that village you will see a paved road turning right that leads to Nam Tha river. On that road you find a guesthouse with little bungalows located next to the river. It has a nice setting, but it is a little bit remote. Though it is a nice stop for a drink to enjoy the view and the peaceful atmosphere. You could follow the road, though soon it turns into a dirth path leading to some little villages. Unfortunately on day I was there it started to rain, and I didn’t fancy riding on such road in wet conditions (as a non-experienced driver). But it must be a nice road to follow then the sun is out.
Another recommendation in Done Khone is just before you leave the village and passing the airport – there was a little food place (it felt a little bit like being in someone’s kitchen) serving a great Pho. The owners were very friendly, and a bit surprised having a Westerner as customer.
When exiting Done Khone you have two options. You could follow the wide dirty raod towards Luang Namtha. It has nothing to offer – it is just a fast route back to the hotel.
Or you turn into the road just before the airport (the road actually leads to the entrance of the airport. This road leads you through a wide sea of rice fields, and the views here are great. You could stop here very 2 minutes. it also leads to a large Stupa you could see from the main road. I guess it is interesting to climb up the stairs, but I must admit I didn’t do it.
Instead I turned right here, and the road leads all the way back to Luang Namtha, though it is a nice scenic route, offering some nice views, and you constantly hear kids shouting “Sabaidee” or see them waving when passing them. It is a nice and relaxed ride, until you arrive at the day market in Luang Namtha via a little alley. This route easily beats the boring main road from the airport.
Overall doing this loop is a nice day trip (I did the whole Loop in a day, but saw some areas during a half day tour I cut short due to rain). It was the first time for me on a scooter, and I didn’t find the conditions not too bad. Might be a different story riding the dirt roads after heavy rain. You could also add some detours via the little path and roads you will see, but even the little loop gives a great insight of the surrounding area, and a great chance to see the rural Laos