Luang Namtha has the claim to fame of being the biggest city in the northwest of Laos and it is also a popular stopping off point for anyone travelling over the border between Laos and China.
People usually spend time in Luang Namtha to take advantage of the opportunity to trek in the surrounding resplendent countryside and this is a mountainous region of Laos which is also studded with ethnic villages.
Luang Namtha is also close to one of the most famous national parks in Laos and you can go hiking to scenic waterfalls in the area as well as enjoy the town itself which is packed with eateries, markets and temples.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Luang Namtha…
1. Visit Nam Ha NPA
Nam Ha NPA is the National Protected Area around Luang Namtha and is also one of the easiest nature reserves to visit when you are in Laos.
The main reason to come here is for the chance to check out the endangered clouded leopards and tigers that are said to roam in the park, although don’t be too disappointed if you don’t find any as they are somewhat elusive.
The park is covered in lush woods and jungles and there are also several local villages here that are home to the Khamu, Akha and Lao Huay ethnic minorities.
Top activities in the park include trekking and bird watching, and the entire area stretches for some 2,224 square kilometers.
2. Eat at Minority Restaurant
As the name suggests, Minority Restaurant is an eatery in Luang Namtha that focuses on serving up traditional bites made by members of the local ethnic communities.
Many of the dishes here are traditional plates eaten by the Akha, Tai Dam and Khamu tribes and you can try these alongside dishes eaten across wider Laos such as laap or laab which is a minced meat salad as well as being the national dish.
3. Admire That Phum Phuk
That Phum Phuk is the name for a grand stupa in Luang Namtha, although the one on display is actually a model of the original and was built in 2003. The original stupa was bombed during the Second Indochina War but the new gold version is still very pretty in its own right.
As with many temples and stupas in Laos, this one of located on a grassy hill so you can enjoy great views over the northwest part of Luang Namtha on a visit.
4. Visit the Luang Namtha Museum
If you want to check out some antiques in Luang Namtha then you need to head to the Luang Namtha Museum which has a huge number of items on show.
These include galleries dedicated to ancient textiles as well as musical instruments and pottery pieces.
As you would expect, you will also find statues of the Buddha as well as exhibits that tell the story of Laos’ history.
5. Eat at the Night Market
The Night Market in Luang Namtha is one of the best places to try some of the local food, but be warned as it is not for the faint of heart.
Many ethnic minorities come down from the surrounding villages to sell their wares, and you can find barbecued meats as well as simple noodle dishes.
Also on the menu however are local Lao delicacies such as beetles, offal, soup made with animal bile and even chick embryos.
If you are not sure what something is, then it is better to ask first and exercise caution.
6. Motorbike in the surrounding area
There are various ways to get around Luang Namtha, but if you want to get out into the surrounding countryside then the best idea is to rent a motorbike.
This allows you to travel greater distances more quickly and travel to the local villages and towns on the outskirts of the city called Muang Nalae, Vieng Phouka and Muang Sing.
It takes around two hours to get to neighboring Muang Sing on a motorbike but it is more than worth it as you get to ride through the stunning national park en route.
7. Admire the Golden Stupa
The Golden Stupa is sometimes also called the Luang Namtha Stupa and is said to be the town’s central landmark.
This is basically a large stupa that gleams with gold leaf under the sun and is modeled in the traditional style with eye catching, glittery design features.
This is the second of two important stupas in town and is an impressive sight if you like religious architecture.
It is also located on a hill so it is worth a visit just for the views.
8. Shop at the Morning Market
If you are looking for a hearty breakfast in Luang Namtha then look no further than the Morning Market where you will find a huge range of gleaming local produce including delicious fruits and vegetables.
This is also the place to pick up a steaming hot bowl of noodles for breakfast, but be warned that there is also a range of other eclectic ingredients on the menu.
These include delicacies such as pig’s heads, animal skin and even edible silkworms.
9. Check out the waterfalls
If you want to get out of town then make sure you head to some of the waterfalls on the environs of Luang Namtha.
This area is known for its pretty cataracts and you can cycle or motorbike out to some of the villages around Luang Namtha and then trek to the falls on foot.
These include the Nam Dee Waterfall as well as the Gneung Phou Ku Lom Waterfall which is close to Muang Sing.
10. Enjoy a herbal sauna
Luang Namtha, like much of Laos, is known for its soothing herbal saunas.
These are usually heated by a central stove and divided into two sections for men and women.
Once inside you can enjoy the steam created by the stove and medicinal herbs are also burnt to cleanse the body.
You can also usually choose to have a full body massage at the end of the steam bath.
11. Cycle to Boten
If you want cover long distances around Luang Namtha then you will need a motorbike, but if you want to stay fairly local then you can rent a bicycle.
A popular route to take is the road from Luang Namtha that leads up to the border with China, and you can stop at the village of Boten.
This takes you over idyllic hillsides and through gleaming rice fields.
12. Go kayaking
If you decide to visit Nam Ha NPA then make sure that you also sign up for a river tour.
The best way to explore the waterways in the part of the park is to hire a kayak and go on a guided tour, which will see you glide through the rainforest of Laos and check out all the local flora and fauna on display.
Depending on the route, you may get a chance to see animals drinking from and bathing in the rivers, so this is a great alternative to an overland hike in the park.
13. Dine at Boat Landing Restaurant
Anyone looking for some traditional cuisine in Luang Namtha should head for the Boat Landing Restaurant.
Here you will find dishes that come from the various ethnic communities around the town and they also sometimes run cooking classes.
Another great perk of this restaurant is that they have their own cookbook which explains the history and ingredients of all the dishes they serve, so if you are new to Lao cooking then this is a top pick.
14. Visit Ban Nam Di
Ban Nam Di is a small village which is some 3 kilometers outside of Luang Namtha.
This is the home of the Lao Huay or Lenten community and you can see villagers going about their daily lives, dressed in traditional Lao outfits.
This village is known for its paper production which is made from pulped bamboo so this is a good place to come to learn more about this industry.
Make sure to look out for the paper which is often left to dry in the sun on the banks of the river.
15. Take a boat trip
If you want to take a scenic boat trip in Laos then Luang Namtha is as good a place as any to give it a try.
From here you can charter a boat to Huay Xai although this can be expensive if you are not travelling as part of a group.
It takes around two days to get from Luang Namtha to Huay Xai, but is more than worth it if you want to experience some slow travel on the water in Laos.
You will also get to take a break from the boat in the evenings and camp in local villages, making this the highlight of a trip to Laos for those who are looking for a bit of an adventure.
Note however that boats may not run in the dry season, particularly around November as the water levels make the river impassable, so plan accordingly.