Luang Namtha is a fairly dull town, as far as South East Asia goes. There’s almost nothing in the town except hotels and workshops bustling with local tradesmen. At the time of our visit, Luang Namtha wasn’t really on the map for your average party-hard backpacker, so the bar and late night tourism scene hadn’t really taken off there.
This is just as well, as the few travellers who visit sleepy Luang Namtha are there for one reason – the Nam Ha National Protected Area (NPA).
Guided excursions into the surrounding jungle range from day hikes to 3 day treks and home stays or jungle camping in banana leaves. The majority of options pass through at least one hill-tribe village so you can spend time with the locals and see how they live.
We were tight on time, so we just opted for the day hike. It’s a relatively tough hike, mainly because of the steep slopes and high humidity. So when we reached the spot in the jungle where we were going to have lunch, we (Sarah, myself, another Englishmen and a small group of Israeli Navy men and women) were all super excited for our bamboo-boiled omelette!
A couple more hours into the hike, our hard work was well rewarded. Luckilly, and to our infinite delight, we arrived at the hill tribe village on the day of a wedding. Even though we were foreigners stomping around with our digital cameras and slack jaws, we were invited into the central village huts to share in the feast.
The men were taken to the men’s hut, for beers and bawdy jokes (so I’d assume, I don’t speak Laotian) and the women were taken to the women’s hut, why I can only surmise that they talked about Sex and the City.
We’d done our research before heading into Laos, so we were carrying a small sack of sweeties; more than enough to keep the local kids happy enough to pose for some photos!
Northern Laos is definitely a great choice if you want to avoid the crowds, get your walking boots on and head off into the jungle to experience a genuine bit of the country. Check it out, but keep it to yourself!