Luang Namtha in northern Laos is lies on the banks of the Nam Tha river in a small valley surrounded by mountains. Luangnamtha is a great place to experience the real Laos with beautiful landscapes, rich biodiversity, the largest number of ethnic groups in Laos, and a wide range of eco tourism and adventure activities such as trekking, mountain biking and kayaking.
5-6 hours bus leaves from Huai Xai costing about 60,000 kip. The road is completely sealed and graded meaning shorter traveling time and better comfort for your booty. You can hire a minibus and ride comfortably to Luang Namtha in 3-4 hours for 120,000 kip/person. Trips to Luang Prabang take 9-12 hours–depending on road conditions– and cost 120,000 kip. The roads from Luang Namtha to Luang Prabang are in poor to fair shape with numerous potholes along the way. Scenery is fantastic.
The old bus station across from the market has now been demolished to make way for a 5-star hotel. The bus station for destinations inside the province is located on the main road west of the main guesthouse strip. The main bus station for destinations further afield is now inconveniently located 10km out of town. A tuk-tuk should cost about 10,000 Kip (if its full).
The bus leaves to Luang Prabang at 8:30 and its better to be in the station before 7 to get a decent seat or you’ll find yourself sitting on plastic stool in the aisle for hours on end.
The bus for Huay Xai, on the Thai border, leaves at 9am and cost 55,000 Kip. Tickets can be bought from 7:30, and the journey takes only five hours now, due to improved road conditions, so that you can make it into Thailand on the same day. If you want to be assured of a seat, tickets can be bought in town the day before at the travel agent across from Green Discovery Treks for 75,000 Kip including tuk-tuk to the bus station. The tuk-tuk leaves the travel agent at 8am.
There are also buses to Muang Xay (Oudomxay).
To go to China, you can get a bus leaving from here at around 8 a.m. going to Boten and Mengla. You need to have a Chinese visa as there is no way to get one on arrival. Spend all of your kip before the trip, as changing them at the border will give you quite a bad change rate. The border is close (about 1 hr). Customs procedures will eat up another good hour. The trip costs ca 45k kip.
Sawngthaew leaves for Muang Sing from the bus station, 20000 Kip, one hour, until 3 PM.
Bus from Muang Xay (Oudomxay) cost 28,000 kip takes up to 3.5 hours and leaves daily at 8:30, 11:30 and 15:00.
Flights are also available from Vientiane to Luang Namtha a couple of times per week. Check the Lao airlines website for flight details.
Activities and Things to Do
There are two main companies offering trekking to the hill tribes in the area, and it is illegal to take an unlicensed guide or to trek independently since tourist have gotten lost and have also offended the local people.
- The Namtha tourism center (Namtha Eco Tours) offers up to four days trekking for an average of USD16/day. Groups can be from 4-8 people and the cost per person drops the more participants there are. Other activities offered include kayaking. The Internet cafe just outside of the bus station has some information about treks going with this office.
- Green discovery offers up to three days trekking trips, the price is a bit more expensive then in the tourist office. They also offer kayaking and other activities.
You can also take a tuk-tuk or bicycle and just go independently to some of the villages which are next to the roads and not in the jungle. You can rent really good mountain-bikes at a shop along the main road for 15000 kip. They provide you with a not-to-scale map over villages and a nice waterfall. The surroundings are really pretty to cycle about in.
The quality of bicycling on the road from Luang Namtha to the Chinese border is excellent. The road is completely sealed with little or no traffic along the way– except for a 1 km muddy patch near the Chinese border. The route from Luang Namtha to Boten round trip is approximately 120 km long and passes through Laotian hill country and rice fields. The grades range from flat to moderate with one 2 km 10% grade stretch. Welcomes along the way are great.
Kayaking and Rafting
Green Discovery runs kayaking and rafting trips on the Nam Ha and Luang Nam Tha rivers. They offer trips ranging from 1 to 3 days.
Apart from the storefront restaurants that are commonplace in Southeast Asia, there is also an Indian restaurant. The Indian proprietor speaks English, a real rarity in this town. Panda restaurant is on a road between the highway 13 road and the bus station. It has a friendly owner and sells Lao Coffee. Manychan Resuarant also offers a good variety of Lao, Thai and western food. The nightmarket is a good choice if you want to try something new after being on Phat Thai and Sticky Rice for a while.
Luang Nam Tha is not a party town, Manychan guesthouse have the most action when it comes to drinking, it seems to be the most visited restaurant and many people pass by it. Seems to want to close before 23 PM, but you’ll be able to overstay a bit longer. You will have to wake your guesthouse up though, as they probably have shut down already.
Internet: There are a few internet cafe along the main guesthouse strip charging 200 kip per minute. Speeds are reasonable