Luang Namtha is the largest city in the northwest of Laos and is one of the most popular spots for trekking anywhere in the country. Located close to the Nam Ha National Protected Area, visitors flock here to get a taste of life in the jungle and meet the people of the ethnic villages that surround this city.
Where to stay in Luang Namtha?
Although there are a few properties listed on online booking sites, many of the guesthouses in Luang Namtha aren’t. Luckily, it’s easy enough to arrive and walk around to find somewhere to stay!
Thoulasith Guesthouse – Right in the centre of town, Thoulasith offers both fan and air-con rooms for £12/$15/130,000 kip per night. Breakfast is available and it’s highly rated compared to other properties in the area. The main praises are that the rooms are spacious and comfortable, the staff are friendly and the location is great.
Kingmala Guesthouse – Kingmala is just off the main street so it’s a short walk to find food and book tours. The rooms have very comfortable beds with air-con, towels and a fan and range from £10/$13.50/117,000 kip up to £20/$25/216,000 kip. It’s relatively clean and quiet; the downsides are that the showers aren’t the best and the staff don’t really interact with guests much but for a few nights stopover it is a good choice.
Zuela Guesthouse – A little more expensive than the previous two at £20/$25/216,000 kip for the cheapest fan room, the location is central and a wide variety of breakfast is included. Zuela has fan and air-conditioned rooms and some come with balconies.
Manychan – not online but located on the main street. They have basic dorms and private rooms and the restaurant below serves yummy local and western food.
Top Things to Do in Luang Namtha
Head up to the Golden Stupa
Head northwest of town to visit Luang Namtha’s most impressive landmark. The cost to enter the stupa is 5,000 kip which goes towards the maintenance of the site. Although the stupa itself is nothing particularly memorable when compared to the others you will see around Laos, the view over the town is spectacular, especially in the rainy season when the hills are a lush green.
Hiking and trekking
Many visitors to Luang Namtha are visiting for the trekking. The town is the gateway to Nam Ha National Protected Area and many companies are offering all kinds of trekking tours, from one-day trips to multi-day adventures. For a recommended guide, check out the eco-friendly local trekking company, The Hiker, who offer this amazing 2-day Nam Oun Wilderness Trek which was recently reviewed by two of our writers, Ellie and Will… You can read their review here.
Check out Nam Dee Waterfall
These falls have an entrance fee which will set backpackers back 11,000 kip but this does tend to mean that you will share the area with few others (unless you visit on a weekend). There is a beautiful jungle hike which will take you there but be warned, this can be treacherous in the wet season.
Kayak in Nam Ha National Protected Area
Many of the trips through Nam Ha National Protected Area (NPA) combine hiking with kayaking and offer travellers the opportunity to explore the rivers of Nam Ha NPA as well.
Visit the local market
The market is a great place to pick up trekking supplies but it is also worth a visit in its own right. Local markets are the beating heart of the community and visiting these kinds of places give an interesting insight into the lives of the people that live here. If you are planning for dinner, you can pick up hundreds of different kinds of rice and even treat yourself to a dried squirrel!
Rent a Bicycle
Bicycle is a great way to explore both Luang Namtha and the surrounding villages. Rated accommodation provider Zuela Guesthouse has bikes available to rent from 10,000kip per day and you can even opt for mountain bikes if you plan to go really off the beaten track!
Kao Rao Cave
This cave can only be entered with a guide so ask around the tour agencies in Luang Namtha to arrange your trip. There is a 10,000 kip entrance fee on top of the guide cost and the tour around the cave normally takes around 45 minutes. There is no lighting inside so you will need to bring your own torch (many of the agencies bring unreliable lights which fail frequently).
Top Places to Eat and Drink
Rated the number 1 restaurant in Luang Namtha, Bamboo Lounge is where to go if you’re craving western home comforts (and fast wifi)! Pizza, pasta, burritos, sandwiches and a big breakfast are all things that can be found on the menu, which set it apart from many other restaurants in the small town. Many of their ingredients are imported, meaning that the prices are not quite suited for the backpacker on a tight budget (around 40,000 or pasta, 70,000 for pizza), however, it is great to see that 20% of the profits go back into the local community!
Luang Namtha Night Market
In the centre of the main tourist strip is Luang Namtha Night Market. The food is cheap but it is not your typical night market and you will have to explore a little to find the different dishes on offer. The place may seem a little dirty at first but if you want to eat like a local, it’s worth having ventured into the main market at the back to see what’s on offer.
Also a guesthouse, this restaurant sits right in the centre of the touristy part of town. It’s welcoming and the menu has loads of choice – both western and local favourites. Even better, the prices won’t break the bank. Try the Laotion dishes, stuffed lemongrass and pineapple fried rice.
Located in the grounds of the Royal Hotel makes for a great night out and offers an amazing contrast to what is otherwise viewed as a sleepy town. There is an enthusiastic DJ and good selection of the nation’s favourite: Beer Lao.
Getting to Luang Namtha
By Minibus – The minibus from Luang Prabang leaves around 8.30am and goes through Nong Khiaw so travellers can easily stop there on the way/on the way back. It costs 135,000 kip including hostel pick up at 7 am. Upon arrival at the bus station, you’ll probably need to get a tuk-tuk to the main town where most of the guesthouses and restaurants are. It is around a 15-minute drive and costs 10,000-15,000 kip.
By Plane – Luang Namtha has a small airport and so direct flights are limited and pricey, costing over £100/$130 one way from Vientiane.
Where to next?
Nong Khiaw – If you are looking at escaping the Banana Pancake Trail, head to Long Khiaw for a little bit of serenity. Adrenaline junkies will love the trekking and rock climbing that the area is famous for.
Luang Prabang – Check out this famous UNESCO World Heritage Site and explore the sparkling temples located in Luang Prabang. If you are an early bird, it is also possible to witness the alms giving ceremony, a sight to behold.
Jinghong, China – Cross into China via direct bus from Luang Namtha. Explore temples and nature in this off the beaten track Chinese city.