Located on the banks of the Nam Tha River, Luang Nam Tha means ‘The area around the Tha river’. Luang Nam Tha is the largest city in the province of the same name, in the northern part of Laos.
Like Huay Xai, Laung Nam Tha is primarily perceived as a stopover point. Most visitors who come from China to Laos use this city as a starting point instead of taking the uncomfortable and crowded boat ride between Luang Prabang and Huay Xai. The city has two distinct parts; one which is referred to as the old town was bombed during the 1970s and the new town, six km away and which was built as a replacement of sorts for the old one has most of the trekkers’ huts and guesthouses.
Opening Hours: 08:30 to 11:30 & 13:30pm to 15:30pm, Monday to Thursday; 08:30 to 11:30 Friday.
Don’t expect to find extravagant cuisine at the restaurants in Luang Nam Tha. Most places have Chinese chefs because it is economical and convenient to do so. The most popular dishes found at the restaurants here are Chinese, Thai and Lao; some of them may also serve Western food.
Most locals earn their living by tending to their paddy fields. However, they have a unique way to complement this agricultural income by selling indigenous cuisine such as sticky rice and phad thai to tourists. You can try the Night Market if you want to experience some local cuisine such as soups, fresh fruit, noodles and barbequed chicken.
The Coffee House serves traditional Thai food as well as good coffee, fresh fruit shakes and juices. The service here is very pleasant. If you want tribal cuisine you must try Minority Restaurant. It is run by a couple from the Tai Dam tribe, otherwise known as the Black Tai tribe. They serve authentic Tai Dam food as well as cuisine of Lisu and Akha origin. If you are a vegetarian or even a vegan, the Minority Restaurant should be able to meet your needs as dishes here can be prepared without dairy or meat products as per the customer’s choice. Mr. Vanxian, who is the owner of the restaurant, also claims to serve the dishes without MSG in them, which is a common component of Lao cuisine.
Aysha Indian Restaurant offers mouth-watering northern and southern Indian food. The breakfast served here is particular delicious. It was earlier known as the Yamuna Restaurant and is owned by a Tamil Indian who married a Lao citizen.
Panda Restaurant has a relaxing patio on its second floor and is close to the main city area. The food is good and comes at a reasonable price with fruit shakes particularly popular. Close to the Panda Restaurant, the Korean barbequed chicken is a must try at the Rambo Fusion.
You will not find too many bars, pubs or discos in this town but if you want a cold beer, you can have one at the restaurant where you are dining at. Since Manychan Guesthouse is one of the very few joints that has a bar in Luang Nam Tha, it is very popular among locals and tourists alike. The bar is above the restaurant and is open till 22:30 every night.
If you are looking for a place to shop for your family and friends back home, Panfa Art is the perfect place to visit. There are beautiful scarves on display and the wall hangings here are made from silk and designed in the traditional way – all made by local artisans and workmen.
Luang Nam Tha Tourism Department
This is an eco-guide service that also provides assistance for kayaking to those who are interested.
Although this service charges more than most, the Green Discovery takes trekkers on three-day trips that may also include kayaking among other activities.
These two trekking services are authorized to guide locals as well as tourists on trips up the hill. Unlicensed guides or independent trekking expeditions are forbidden due to past incidents of tourists having gotten lost or offending local tribes.
Most trekkers like to experience the forest habitation and mountainous terrain. Therefore, specify your preference for the trekking experience to your guide since some of them may take you through paddy fields and the countryside instead.
However, if you want to see the rural landscape you can hire a tuk tuk or a bicycle for the day and go by yourself keeping to the road and avoiding jungles so as to not get lost. Bike hiring services also provide you with a map of the area. It is quite comfortable to cycle around the area since there is minimum traffic and the roads are decent. You can even make the 120km round trip between Luang Nam Tha and Boten.
Villages such as Vieng Phouka, Muang Nalae and Muang Sing are some of the rural spots to cover while biking around. Waterfalls such as the Nam Dee near Nam Tha town and Gneung Phou Ku Lom near Muang Sing are also popular tourist sites to cover.
If you are looking for a relaxing experience in Luang Nam Tha go to one of the herbal sauna services. One of them is located close to the Lao Airlines Office, beside Panda Restaurant. It is hard to miss since it looks like a run down shack and has a stove as a spotting sign. There are separate saunas for both genders with lockers and changing rooms provided for customers.
Take the Lao Airlines flight between Luang Nam Tha and Vientiane, operating four days of the week. The newly expanded airport with the 1,600-metre runway promises to offer international flights very soon. Take a tuk tuk outside the airport to go to your guesthouse.
If you want a direct bus ride between Luang Nam Tha and Jinghong you can catch one from bus stand number 1. It leaves at 10:40 and takes eight hours.
The bus ride from Mengla to Luang Nam Tha leaves at 08:00 with repeat trips throughout the day as well. This ride is about 6 hours long since it involves crossing the border from China to Laos. Of course, you can get a visa on arrival for an average price of US$37 which is variable depending on the time of the week of your arrival as well as your nationality. However, visiting China requires a pre-acquired visa which you can get from Vientiane in Laos or Chiang Mai in Thailand. Make sure that you convert your Kips into Chinese currency before making this trip if you don’t want to face atrocious exchange rates at the border.
If you want to take a boat trip from Huay Xai to Luang Nam Tha and back you must make arrangements beforehand as there are no fixed regular services. You may have to depend on cargo ships for this, which can be tricky and depends highly on your good fortune. However, the Boat Landing Guest House/Green Discovery service can make some kind of arrangement for you at the total cost of $168 which can carry up to 10 passengers at a time. Although the price is unfairly high, it is one of the few options available for tourists. Remember to not try this route in winter as the northern part of the river is frozen during this time. The trip takes two days which means you may have to stop over for the night at a nearby village.