Things to Do in Luang Namtha
Jump into Laos’ adventure capital, where everyone can get close to nature and experience the lifestyles of ethnic groups. With so much to do, pick one of Luang Namtha’s five districts to explore. Luang Namtha District is adding value to its adventure list with combination tours, while Muang Sing is blazing trails to the Green Triangle near China and Myanmar. Vieng Phoukha has a strong slate of mountain activities, and adventurers are now peeking into Long and Nalae Districts.
Luang Namtha District: Where the Adventure Begins
Stroll down Luang Namtha’s main street and step into a postcard of a laidback tourist hub. You’ll enter a cluster of clean and comfortable guesthouses, small restaurants, and tour operators in tidy shops with tour-menu slates out front. The activities list keeps growing, with trekking, homestays, cycling, kayaking, and combination tours dominating the charts.
The Luang Namtha Town Loop
Hop on a bicycle or motorbike, or hire a tuk-tuk for a full-day exploring Luang Namtha Town’s environs on a 30-km circuit. Start at the Luang Namtha Museum’s display of Buddha images, hand-crafted weapons, bronze drums, and farm tools.
Then head northeast to Ban Nam Dee, the final stop on the Tea Caravan Trail, with a short hike to waterfalls and a village visit. Journey south of town to Vieng Neua Village, home of ethnic Tai Yuan, for a baci ceremony, cultural performance, meal, and cooking class.
From the airport, a 15-minute drive reaches the hilltop That Phoum Pouk Stupa. Built in 1628 to demarcate the Lane Xang and Lanna Kingdoms, the stupa was tumbled by American bombers in 1966, but rebuilt in 2003. Nearby Ban Nam Ngaen presents Tai Dam villagers producing potent lao khao rice alcohol. Walk to their Tai Daeng neighbours and observe women weaving intricately patterned cloth on a two-level loom.
A Walk in the Woods
Select a trek in the Nam Ha National Protected Area, and embark on an adventure in pristine wilderness. You can pick a path that climbs to peaks overlooking green mountains, or a trail requiring bamboo rafts to cross rivers. At night, stay in an ethnic village home or lodge, camp under a jungle canopy, or sleep in a forest retreat.
The Luang Namtha Eco-guide Unit and local tour operators offer one- and multi-day treks for everyone. Nature buffs find trails passing 300-year-old trees. Guides can teach you how they fish, and you’ll cook the catch with forest products. Visit and spend the night with remote mountaintop Akha villagers, riverside Lanten, hillside Hmong, remote Khmu and Tai Lue, and lowland Yao.
Paddling Down the Nam Tha
Ease into a kayak and paddle down the Nam Tha River. You’ll stop at ethnic villages and tackle rapids, as the river winds through steep, tree-lined shores, while skirting the Nam Ha NPA. Kayaking tours begin with basic lessons, before entering the river south of Luang Namtha Town. Several tours first stop at Ban Sop Tod, to experience Lanten lifestyle and purchase their crafts.
The kayaking continues over Tiger Leaping Rapids to Ban Sop Sim, a Khmu village where the Nam Ha River empties into the Nam Tha. Some one-day tours end here, while 2-day programs continue downriver to a forest camp or homestay at Hat Yawng or Houei Luat. The second day ends at Ban Sin Oudom and a ride back to town.
Pedalling in Luang Namtha
Hop on a cycling tour in town and ride off on a multi-day adventure. Pedal south on Route 3 to Vieng Phoukha Town, and stop at ethnic villages on the way. Explore the endless Kao Rao Cave and Nam Ha NPA, before spending the night with a Khmu family in Vieng Phoukha. Continue along the Nam Tha River to Nalae Town, visiting several Khmu villages before overnighting at Ban Ome with a Tai Lue family.
For those heading to Muang Sing, you can cycle to roadside ethnic villages, visit a waterfall, head off road into the protected area, and overnight in an Akha lodge. The next morning, you can see the town’s sites including the morning market, museum, and Xieng Teung Stupa.
Navigate Nam Tha River Culture
Hop in a wooden long-tail riverboat and take a 5-hour cruise down the Nam Tha River, stopping at ethnic villages along the way. The river meanders through the valley, hugging the Nam Ha NPA with its 300 bird species.
Tour operators offer programs beginning 15 km north of town, where two rivers feed the Nam Tha. You’ll stop at Ban Mai, a Tai Dam village known for silk production. Next up is Ban Sop Tud with Lanten people living a traditional river lifestyle, and producing bamboo paper. You’ll hit rapids around the final stop, Ban Sop Sim, a Khmu village that produces woven rattan and bamboo baskets, tools, and lao hai (rice wine).
Cast Off on a Combo Tour
Embark on a 3-day odyssey that combines trekking, kayaking, and cycling, and overnights at ethnic village homestays, community lodges, river retreats, and jungle camps.
Trekking often stars in combination tours, with operators splicing in traditional mountain trails like the original Ban Nalan Trek. Others run along rivers surrounded by forest, and stop at ethnic villages. Cycling segments take in the Luang Namtha Valley, with some including a homestay. Kayaking components are often slotted in after cycling, and can overnight at a forest retreat or jungle camp.
Muang Sing: History, Culture & Nature Converge
Sing District holds historical significance, serves as home to a diverse ethnic population, and presents pristine natural beauty between mountain ridges and peaks. A group of tour operators, all members of the Sustainable Tourism Network, conduct treks and cycling tours around Sing. These take in enlightening village visits, homestays, and nights at a jungle camp, dining on self-cooked “forest food” meals.
Xieng Khaeng Stops the Clock
Be among the first to explore the isolated Xieng Khaeng Region along the Mekong, where diverse ethnic groups have been living off the mountain forests for more than 500 years. Local tour operators offer multi-day programs that include mountain treks, Mekong boat rides, and Akha homestays.
Take a 2-day trek that starts at mountaintop Ban Mom for glimpses of China’s peaks. The trail leads to Ban Say on the Mekong across from Myanmar’s mountains, and an Akha homestay and Mekong boat ride. Another two-day option kicks off at a 1,800-metre-high peak near Ban Pakham and journeys through steep, dense forests to Ban Done Chai on the Mekong. A 5-day Akha experience tackles the mountains around Xieng Khaeng with homestays at four villages.
Delve into the Green Triangle
Head out on a challenging 4-day trek through raw nature in Laos’ north-western frontier with China and Myanmar on the “Chao Fa Trail”. Start at Ban Mom and trek to Ban Say (Tai Lue) on the Mekong for a riverside walk, sunset view over the Myanmar-mountain horizon, and overnight homestay.
Day 2 starts at an ancient Buddhist stupa before embarking on a rugged mountain climb to 1,500 metres. Continue to Ban Eula, an Akha village, where you’ll eat dinner with the locals, get a traditional massage, and spend the night. A rigorous march over the mountains through primal forests on Day 3 leads to remote villages and ends at Ban Pha Daeng for an overnight homestay. A final 4-hour trek ventures to a buffalo farm and ride back to Sing Town.
Hop on a mountain bike, and visit ethnic villages around Sing Town on an easy 2-day cycling tour over flat roads, trails, and paths, and overnight in a Yao lodge. You’ll visit nine different ethnic groups on the first 30 km of paved road, starting at a village of Lolo, the provinces smallest minority. Continue to Ban Nong Boua to inspect Tai Dam architecture and watch weavers.
At Ban Koum, you’ll see Tai Neua villagers distil lao khao rice alcohol, before a 20-minute uphill walk to That Xieng Tung Stupa. Then, cycle to a Hmong village and a Tai Neua village for noodle soup and picnic lunch. In the afternoon, pedal towards the Chinese border, pausing at three ethnic villages and a night at the Ban Nam Sai Lek (Yao) village lodge. The 35-km second day stops at more ethnic villages before returning to Sing Town.
Camp on the Elephant Trail
Learn to live in the forest on the “Elephant Trail”, a 2-day trek tracing the path of wild pachyderms between China and Laos. Start with a hike up and down a mountain pass to a waterfall, while seeking signs of elephants, bear, tigers, monkeys, and other animals. Continue to an Akha-hosted campsite, where you’ll learn to cook dinner with forest plants and herbs by using bamboo utensils before sleeping in a banana-leaf and bamboo shelter.
Wake up to gibbons calling before the hike to Ban Nam Daet Mai (Akha) for lunch. Your local guide explains Akha history, traditions, and culture as you stroll through the village. You’ll meet the people, examine their structures, and learn how to make baskets and weave. An afternoon trek reaches Ban Done Chai near the Chinese border and a ride back to Sing Town.
Hugging the Chinese Frontier
Take off towards China on this easy 2-day trek that stops at the villages of five different ethnic groups, and includes an Akha overnight homestay. Kick off the trek at Ban Nam Mai near the Chinese border, and learn about the Yao’s culture and lifestyle. Continue to Ban Sop Ee to experience the Akha way of life and try riding a buffalo.
You’ll have plenty of time for cultural interaction during dinner, after which you’ll be blessed at a baci ceremony, listen to Akha songs, get a traditional massage, and sample lao khao rice alcohol. The next morning, climb a mountain trail while your guide explains life in the forest and the medicinal herbs that grow there. Stop for a picnic lunch, and then continue to That Xieng Tueng Stupa.
Long District: Remote Mountain Adventures
Long District is a short drive from Muang Sing, and presents adventure programs for all levels. You can take short and easy treks for a day or two, or longer, steeper hikes. All visit and/or overnight in ethnic villages, take in mountaintop vistas, and look for birds and wild animals. You can learn to fish, or motorbike to meet Mekong riverside ethnic groups.
Peaks at Phou Pha Kham
This moderate-to-difficult 1-day guided trek gets underway with a morning walk to Ban Luang Pha Kham, a Tai Lue village. Then, march over a suspension bridge and through rice paddies to Ban Lang Pha Mai to visit an Akha village. From here, the trail climbs Phou Pha Kham Mountain through primal forest and past massive boulders, while you look for signs of wildlife.
The ridge at the summit presents views of a river snaking through the Long River Valley and a panorama of mountaintops. You’ll have a Lao-style forest picnic near the peak, before making an hour-long descent to visit a Tai Lue village. A van then takes you to a Lanten village, before heading back to town.
Nam Bo’s Twin Falls
Hike up the forested mountain through various forest types. Quiet walkers can hear and sometimes spot birds, squirrels, wild chickens, monkeys, and deer. After trekking more than five hours, you’ll reach Ban Nam Bo, a Hmong and Lahu village. You’ll eat dinner with the locals, learn about their lifestyles and traditions, and spend the night in a homestay.
The second day begins on a short trail that follows the Nam Long River. You’ll soon reach the base of Nam Bo Waterfall, where a pool catches a pair of chutes plunging over a 20-metre cliff. Another half-hour climb delivers you to the top of the falls, before a 2-hour trek to the mountain’s ridge. The trek ends back at Ban Nam Bo, where a van brings you down the mountain to town.
Cultural Motorbike Tour to Xieng Kok
Rent a motorbike in Sing Town, grab your map, and circle Xieng Kok, on a 2-day ethnic odyssey. The first day begins at Ban Luang Pha Kham, a Tai Lue village. From here, an unpaved road climbs the mountain past rice fields and through forests to a ridge and Ban Saen Khan Kham, an Akha village hosting your overnight stay.
The next morning, it’s full steam ahead to the Mekong River, where you visit Lahu villages in Ban Houei Koum, before travelling to Xieng Kok. Here, you’ll have lunch and a walk around town with views to Myanmar’s Shan State. Then, return to Long Town with a stop at a Lanten village on the way.
Trek around the Akha Loop
Kick off this 3-day trek on a steep trail to the Cogon Grass Mountain ridge and its view of endless green peaks. The path then heads downhill to the Akha village of Ban Cha Khuen Mai for dinner and an overnight stay. A more relaxing second day begins with a tour of the village to absorb the Akha’s daily regime. A late-morning departure wanders through old forest and a river, where you’ll fish for lunch.
Continue to Ban Mong La, an Akha village on the Nam Fa River, for a homestay. A local woman will give you a traditional massage, and you’ll eat an Akha dinner and sample some powerful rice whisky. On the final day, follow the Nam Fa, and cross back and forth on a bamboo raft. Take a moderate hike to a vista of the valley, before a short walk to the main road and the tuk tuk ride to Long Town.
Culture & Nature Circuit
Get an early morning start on this 4-day journey with a forest trek and chance to see birds and animals, before a climb to a mountain view. You’ll reach the Hmong and Lahu community of Ban Nam Bo for dinner, and learn about the villagers’ daily lives and age-old traditions, before a homestay.
A moderate second day heads through a bamboo forest and crosses streams before a few easy climbs and a break to bathe in a cool brook. The path reaches Ban Nam Hee, an Akha village, where a local guide explains the “Akha Way”, and villagers treat you to a traditional massage, dinner, and bed for the night. Day 3 is full of easy trekking to Chong Ka Mai for an overnight homestay. The final day leads up Phou Ya Kha Mountain and criss-crosses a creek to Ban Nam An and a tuk tuk to a Lanten village.
Nalae District: Mountain River Life
Nalae Town has historically played the pivot point for transporting goods along the Nam Tha River, as it meanders 325 km from the Chinese frontier through the Nam Tha river valley. Ethnic villages on the banks rely on the river, with fish as their staple food and a source of income. Villagers are also skilled weavers and craft makers. Visits and homestays open the door to a first-hand experience into their lives.
Nam Tha River Cruise
Hop on a Nam Tha riverboat in Nalae Town, and feel like a 19th-century explorer as you cruise between mountain walls with lush vegetation and old-growth forest along the Nam Ha NPA. Stop first at Old Nalae, and inspect 100-year-old Vat Boun Huang and its golden Buddha images. Manoeuvre over rapids while watching locals fish with nets, poles, and basket-like traps.
You’ll coast into Ban Khone Kham, a Tai Lue weaving village and homestay-hit among adventurers taking a boat to Houay Xay and those on a multi-day Nalae tour. The river continues to the Khmu village of Houay Lao, known for its bamboo and rattan baskets and woodwork. The village also offers overnight homestays before the boat ride back to Nalae Town.
Ban Khone Kham Overnight
Relax at Ban Khone Kham’s riverside lodge or stay overnight with a Tai Lue family, and plunge into their lifestyle after a 2-hour boat ride from Nalae Town. Villagers greet you at their boat landing, show you around, and help you settle into the lodge or meet your homestay host. The lodge stands on stilts on the Nam Tha’s rocky eastern bank and presents a view of green hills across the river.
The village teeters on a hill, with stairs, chiselled out of the hillside, reaching houses perched on cobblestone-reinforced tiers. Most homes hover over giant looms, where weavers shuttle threads back and forth on looms to create cotton sins (traditional skirts). The village also produces bamboo handicrafts and lao khao rice alcohol.
Nalae Mountain Adventures
Be among the first to scour the mountains around Nalae. Take a guided trek to caves hidden in the jungle near Ban Pha Hu and Ban Pherng, follow a trail to a waterfall on Nam Nuang Stream, or hike on a path to riverside Ban Vard.
Multi-day treks overnight in a mountain shelter or ethnic village homestay. Try cycling on a challenging climb through the limestone mountain landscape around Vieng Phoukha. An easy trail follows the river, and stops at a few Buddhist temples between ethnic villages. You can culturally connect with local people and learn about their everyday activities.
Vieng Phoukha District: Adventure’s Rising Star
Vieng Phoukha once thrived as a trading centre on the “Tea Caravan Trail” due to its location about halfway between Siam and Sipsongpanna in today’s southern China. After sitting idle for more than 200 years, it is re-emerging as a southern gateway for trekking in the Nam Ha NPA.
Camp in Town at Bor Kung
The 18-hectare park is perfect for launching a trek, and offers an excellent alternative to a guesthouse in town. You can rent camping equipment for a nominal fee, and spend the night near the remains of a Buddhist temple believed to date to the 14th century.
A short stroll along the campground’s trail leads to Bor Kung (Shrimp Stream), with its wealth of fish, crabs, and good-sized prawns, and the cool springs that feed them. Pools around the freshwater springs are perfect for a cool dip, and channels direct the pools’ overflow. Nearby Bor Kang (Stewpot Spring) spawns Sai Stream which flows to the Nam Chook River as it passes through Vieng Phoukha Town.
Explore Kao Rao Cave
The tour begins at Ban Nam Eng after a 12-km tuk tuk ride from town. A local guide leads you on an easy trail as he points out old trees and demonstrates bird-calling techniques, with a stop to feed the Chook River’s fish, before reaching the cave.
Spelunkers have mapped Kao Rao for some 1,000 metres, and still haven’t reached the end. Natural steps descend to a narrow tunnel, but you can stand upright in the well-lit cavern as it opens up to chambers containing natural stone pools, dry formations, and wet-cave pearls.
The half-day tour ends after you exit the cave, but those opting for an overnight homestay return to Ban Nam Eng. Villagers greet you with a traditional massage, before showing you how they make baskets and prepare traditional meals. You can also try fishing in the Eng River and planting rice.
Cultural Mountain Climbing
This 2-day trek starts at Ban Nam Kap Nuea for a Lahu village visit, and then Ban Tha Luang to meet your local Hmong guide. Climb a mountain through thick jungle, as the guide teaches you about forest products such as herbs for traditional remedies. After a lunch of “forest food”, continue to mountaintop views of the Nam Ha NPA, before arriving at the Akha village of Ban Tah Soom, and a traditional massage.
Roam around the village, meet the locals, and watch them go about their daily lives. During dinner, you’ll learn more about their culture, before an overnight stay in the village lodge. After breakfast, embark on a 30-minute climb to a waterfall and natural pool where you can bathe. The march continues to a Lahu buffalo farm, and then it’s a 90-minute walk back to Ban Nam Kap Neua and ride to town.
Camp Near a Jungle Cave
This 3-day trek starts on a trail that cuts through rock walls as you climb the mountains to Tah Long. After a Khmu village visit, head through thick jungle, old forests, and bamboo groves to the Maamaint Cave and your campsite. The guide prepares a dinner of local food and mountain rice, before a night in a banana-leaf shelter or tent.
The next morning, explore the cave, before a trek, during which you’ll learn how to cook soup inside bamboo tubes, make spoons and cups from leaves and bamboo, and brew tea from forest herbs. Continue to Ban Tah Leng for a traditional Akha homestay with dinner, when you learn about their culture. The next morning, watch villagers feed their animals and work in the fields. Finish with an easy 3-hour hike and lunch on the trail, before returning to the Vieng Phoukha Town.
Ancient Ruins Hidden in Nature
Take an easy 1-day trek starting near Vieng Phoukha Town in Ban Nam Mang, where your Khmu guide leads you up tiered rice fields to the top of Phou Moht (Ant Mountain). The fig trees at the summit attract several bird species, and your guide will identify and call them. The trail then enters the forest, where the guide starts collecting plants to add to the picnic lunch.
An afternoon descent leads to a forest hiding the ruins of Vat Mahapot Temple, and an ancient city dating to the 1300s, which flourished as a 16th-18th-century trading hub between southern China and Siam. Some historians believe Mahapot once oversaw hundreds of villages and temples in the Vieng Phoukha plains. A series of khou vieng (earthen ramparts) surround the ancient city, and you can still see the dirt mounds used as kilns to create kong bang (bronze drums).