Luang Namtha, Laos’ prided adventure capital, is filled to the brim with a stunning variety of activities and experiences to enjoy – so much so that it’s actually hard to keep track of it all. So, to help you along the way in curating your own memorable and comprehensive visit, here’s a list of some great Things to do in Luang Namtha and to see in the natural paradise of the country.
1. Cycle through Luang Namtha Valley Route
One of the best ways to get around Luang Namtha is via a bicycle – preferably a mountain bike. You can ride through one of the most frequented and highly praised trails in the province, the Luang Namtha Valley Route. It takes you through a few of the best natural sights and cultural hotspots in the country including temples, local communities, forests, and waterfalls. You can choose from two different routes depending on your schedule and preference – the short one which takes 1-2 hours and the long route which takes 2-4.
2. Trek Nam Ha National Park
Feeling adventurous? Test your hiking skills by trekking through the Nam Ha National Park, seeing its natural wonders, feasting on delicious Lao meals made by hand in the forest in true nomad style all while meeting the friendly and hospitable members of the local tribes along the way.
3. Kayak through Luang Namtha rivers
Kayaking Nam Ha River is another adventurous, fun-filled experience in Luang Namtha, usually best done in the rainy season for higher, more exciting water levels – and much more mud, so do wear clothes you’re okay with getting dirty! Two of the most frequented kayaking waters in Luang Namtha are the Nam Ha River and Luang Namtha river. The difference between the two is that the Nam Ha River is inside a conservation area, and is typically a bit less frequented (and also has comparatively clearer water).
4. Visit Villages
Visiting the local villages is a great way to really earn a comprehensive grasp on the ins and outs of Lao culture and everyday living, so making time for this on the itinerary is highly recommended. The different villages in Luang Namtha all have their own unique specialties and handicraft, like the Akha village with their intricate and detailed traditional costumes, the Ba Nam Dee village’s bamboo paper-making, and the Na Lan Tai village’s textile dyeing craft.
5. Learn from the Handicraft Center
To gain a deeper insight on the Lao handicraft, you can visit handicraft centers usually located near villages. One such example is the Phieng Ngam Handicraft Center where you can learn all about the steps in the weaving process over complimentary snacks and beverages – from the silkworm stage to the creation of the beautiful final product. Aside from watching, you can also purchase products at the centers for yourself, and for a very good deal – usually a sizeable difference from the weaved items being sold in the markets and city centers.
6. Go on a Day Trip to Muang Sing
Muang Sing is just a two hour drive away from Luang Namtha, a home to 9 different ethnic groups. Here you can learn all about the daily lives of the locals and try out some of their homemade delicacies such as rice noodles and Lao whiskey. Aside from that, you can educate yourself with a visit to some historically and culturally relevant spots like the Muang Sing Museum, the Wat Na Keo Luang, and the Xieng Tung Stupa. Want to stay over a few more days? Homestays with the different ethnic groups are available to book, a perfect way to really delve into the lives of the villagers.
7. Live in a Homestay
I am a big fan of homestays, I’ve done a couple in Nepal where I stayed in Patan Homestay and Panauti Homestay. What better way to immerse yourself in the Lao culture than to live like one of them for a couple of days? Homestays are abundant in Laos and you’ll find that you can avail of one from most any group – from the Akha tribe to the Khmu in Nalan Tai. It’s quite different from what you might be used to, but it’s also enlightening seeing how the locals live their day to day lives – aside from that, you also get to experience eating their delicious homemade food three times a day.
8. Visit Temples
Beautiful temples and structures are abundant in Luang Namtha, like the Samakkhi Xay Stupa, Poumpouk Stupa, and the Vat Luangkhone Temple which is a prominent Buddhist temple frequently visited by the Lao Yuan people.
9. Learn about culture and history in the Luang Namtha Museum
If you want to catch a glimpse at the relics and artifacts gathered all throughout Luang Namtha history, then their museum is a great place to visit. Here you will find all sorts of historically-relevant items like weaponry, ceramics, and even the traditional wear of local ethnic groups through the ages.
10. Motorbike around the city
Want a faster way to get around? Aside from bicycles, you can also rent a motorbike for the day whether it’s for driving around spots in the city or visiting some of the further- flung outlying areas.
11. Have a Boodle Fight
Lao communal eating is very similar to that of the Philippines’ – they have their very own ‘boodle fight’, wherein sticky rice is placed at the center of a banana leaf along with various side dishes to go with it. Push past your comfort zone and eat with your hands like the locals! Aside from the delicious food, it’s also a wonderful opportunity to bond with one another in closer proximity.
12. Go Trekking
In terms of the abundance of great trekking spots in Laos, Luang Namtha is arguably the winner. Some of the best trails include the Nam Ha National Park, where you can enjoy get some exercise amidst the serenity of nature, listening to the wind rustle the leaves and the waters of the Nam Ha river ripple quietly in the background.
13. Watch and Join a Cultural Dance
Lao hospitality really goes above and beyond – the locals always ensure that you feel welcomed and at home whether you’re simply visiting a few hours or staying a few nights at a homestay. After sundown, they’ll typically entertain one another and guests with their traditional dances and even ask you to join in their dancing, holding hands with all the villagers for the perfect way to bond with the community.
14. Try your hand at a crossbow
The ancient hill tribes of Laos frequently use and craft their very own crossbows for hunting – an important weapon for gathering game both then and now. Aside from the opportunity to see for yourself how the locals craft the crossbows with such refinement, you can also try your hand at them and test your aim – in a controlled environment with the experienced villagers guiding you, of course!
15. Wear traditional Lao garb
The traditional wear of the local tribes are very detailed and handcrafted, making for a picturesque final product you’ll want to have memories of for years to come. Many villages offer the chance for visitors to wear their cultural hats and attire, and it really gives you a deeper appreciation for the amount of work they put into their outfits.
16. See the Nam Dee Waterfall
“Nam Dee” literally stands for “good water” when translated, and indeed the sight of the Nam Dee Waterfall is one to behold with its large streams of water flowing down large stair-like boulders so symmetrical you’d think it was man-made. The hike to the waterfall is more than worth the time, especially during the rainy season when the cascading water appears endless.
17. Have dinner at the Night Market
The night market is where many locals go to have their dinner cravings satisfied – here you can find a variety of local eats like skewered barbecue, noodles, papaya salad and mango sticky rice. The night market is open from 4PM to 11PM, leaving you a very wide timeslot to explore the different delicious meals the local vendors have to offer.
18. See the “Sea of Rice”
Rice is the main staple of Lao people, meaning you’ll come across rice fields spanning miles and miles into seemingly never ending greenery – a sight worth stopping your motorbike for and snapping a picture made for treasuring forever.
Of course, the possibilities are endless when it comes to such a bright and bustling place like Luang Namtha, but this guide is a good kick-off point. Feeling inspired? Know more sights and sounds in the province well-deserving of a shout out? Let me know in the comments down below.