Luang Nam Tha
Surrounded by a lush forest, hill tribe villages and rivers, Luang Nam Tha is the perfect gateway to explore Laos northern nature and local minorities.
Luang Nam Tha province is located at the border with China and Myanmar and is home to more than twenty ethnic minorities. Many of these minorities migrated here from China hundreds of years ago. Some of the most popular minorities are Akha, Lanten, Khamu, Hmong.
Ecotourism is growing in the area and offers many options, like kayaking, jungle trekking or Hilltribe home-stay. To join a tour is very easy. All you need to do is to reach out one of the tour operator in Luang Nam Tha town main road. You will also get the chance to share the tour cost with other travelers.
For my jungle trekking and cycling tour, I have chosen the tour operator Discovering Laos . I loved their services and professionalism, I could not suggest any better than them. Both the jungle trekking and the cycling tour, have been my best experience in Laos so far.
My Jungle trekking tour
The appointment was at 9.00 am by the agency. Here I have met Varth, the local Khamu guide and the rest of the group. We've boarded on our tuk-tuk, and after a quick stop at the local market to get food supplies, we've headed to the jungle. Our adventure in Nam Ha forest begins with a hike under the shadow of the trees' canopy. Varth let us try edible jungle plant and fruits. After a few hours of hiking, we've then reached our lunch spot: a beautiful bamboo table shadowed by a banana leaves roof. In the menu, local delicacies and delicious BBQ fish freshly cooked by Varth with the help of a Kahmu girl. She comes from a village of the same jungle. Eating surrounded by the forest and using our hands, have made the food taste even better.
The trekking continued through a rich forest, with huge trees, and lianas. Here the trail got more adventurous: time for rivers crossing. We've walked upon some little bridges made by tree trunks before, then walked deep in the water. We've crossed roughly twenty streams.
Later in the afternoon, with our muddy feet, we've got to the remote Nalan village, tucked between the forest and Nam Ha river.
Here, were the Khamu ethnic preserves its traditional lifestyle, we've found a young woman showering in the river, kids playing around barefoot and squatted old ladies chatting while smoking pipes. We've enjoyed a stroll around the wooden huts and admired the Khamu handcrafts made using supplies and resources of the surrounding environment.
Dinner was kindly prepared by the family that was hosting us. We've eaten with the mother and son, while the father was still farming in the forest. The night has fallen and nothing better than a local beer around a bonfire under the starry sky.
In the home-stay, there was neither electricity nor running water. We've slept soundly and wakened at dawn with the sounds of the jungle.
Each village here has is own Shaman, so after breakfast, we've asked Varth if we could meet the village's Shaman. Varth has been very helpful doing everything possible to set the meeting. It has been fascinating to discuss with the Shaman and to have a little glimpse of his mysterious life.
Some of us have carried some floated balloons, that we've offered to the kids. At a sudden, we've been happily surrounded by kids and parents.
We've taken some time to socialize and mingle, trying our best body languages skills to communicate. I've felt part of the community, it has really touched my heart and soul to be with them.
Sadly, we had to say goodbye to the friendly Khamu people to head back into the jungle for our second-day trekking. The trail's continued through the forest and more vegetation. After having some food in the jungle using banana leaves as a table, we've hiked for few more hours, leaving the beautiful forest. Here we'met once again the tuk-tuk that's taken us back to town.
A rewarding experience
The tour was a very much worth experience for me, giving me the chance to discover ancient cultures and luxuriant nature. Varth has been incredibly knowledgeable about every plant in the forest as well as information on the local minorities.
Discovering Laos is a little tour operator run by a local family. For every tour they sell, a percentage of the tour price goes straight to the villages and preservation of the Nam Ha NPA. Also, the guides are people hired in the local communities. To purchase a tour with them, nevertheless will be a great experience but also a nice charitable gesture.
What else to Do in Luang Nam Tha
If you have some more time to spend in town, I highly suggest you to choose some or even all the following activities. I did them all, and it was both fun and interesting, as I got the chance to get to know more local people.
It is possible to hire bikes from the shop in town for as little as 10,000 - 15,000 Kip per day. With the helps of maps you can visit several minority villages while cycling through rice paddy fields and green hills. The children weaving smiley "Sabaidee" to you, wild pigs and water buffalo chilling in the fields, make the scenery even more beautiful.
By bike, you can also reach Nam Dee waterfall, situated just a few km. out of town. From here you can also pass by the picturesque Nam Dee Lanten minority village.
There is also the possibility to join tours of 1 or more days by bike, just pop in some tour operator in town to get more information.
Be ready to get very muddy and mind the holes in the road, mostly during the rainy season.
Luang Nam Tha offers exciting rafting opportunities, from beginners to experts. The most common river to kayak is the Nam Tha, which cuts through part of the Nam Ha National Protected Area. It offers small rapids and gorgeous forests. Furthermore, other minorities to discover. For the more adventurous the Nam Ha river is a better option.
It is possible to combine more activities in the same tour: tour agencies offer a large array of choices.
There are two markets in town: night and day market.
The night market is right on the main road, where all the people in Laos and tourist go to taste local delicacies such as Laab, soups, noodles, BBQ, spring rolls, insects, frogs, and vegetables. With a price range of 10,000 to 25,000 kip per portion, the night market is a cheap option to try traditional food freshly prepared by local villagers and by ethnic minority groups.
The day market is just a few parallels away from the main road. Visiting this market is one of the best opportunity to get a glimpse of Luang Nam Tha local production and culture. People from nearby villages and many different ethnics gather here to buy and sells locally grown products. It's fascinating to discover all the variety of vegetables, fruits, and insects available at the market.
That Luang Nam Tha Stupa
Above Wat Samakyxay temple (currently under construction), north side of town, at just 15 minutes walking distance, it is possible to admire the local Stupa. On its golden glaze, it was rebuilt in 2003. It is not the biggest and most attractive Stupa in Laos but, from the Luang Nam Tha Stupa, you can have the best town-view.
Visit the stupa at sunset or sunrise to get a remarkable view: most of all over the rainy season when the surrounding hills and paddy fields become of an intense green.
There are a few bars on the main road, the usual stop for tourist. They are quite nice but if you are willing to live the nightlife as a local, you have to visit the Chill Zone beer-bar. Nice little bar, with a great atmosphere, owned by a local guy called Tom. Note that the bar as a new name now, The Classic, but you can only find the bar in Google with its old name.
Another option is the Pekam1 beer and garden, overlooking a lake and frequented by the younger community. Here you can catch your own fish from the lake and have it cooked, for a small fee. Bring your own fishing gear.
I hope you have enjoyed my adventure in Laos, and for any comments or further info do not hesitate to email us
in collaboration with "A Wanderlust Love"