Vat Mahapot: Explore the ruins of a hidden hilltop forest temple inside an ancient city dating to the 1300s, and which flourished during the 16-18th centuries. Vat Mahapot and its domain served as an important trading hub between China and Siam. It is believed that around 500 temples once dotted the Vieng Phoukha Plains at the city’s peak, before the region fell into disarray.
Surrounding Vat Mahaphot and the abandoned city is a series of earthen ramparts called “khou vieng”. Several earthen mounds, once used as kilns, sit southwest of Vat Mahapot, and archaeologists suggest craftsmen used them to produce bronze for drums (kong bang), a symbol of status and wealth, which are on display at the Luang Namtha Province Museum. Locals believe spirits protect these ruins, and those who take objects from the site will suffer from illness and even die.
Location: Access to Vat Mahaphot is about 1 km north of Vieng Phoukha Town on Lao Route 3.
Old Namtha Town: Venture 6 km south of Luang Namtha to Muang Namtha (Old Town) near the airport and check out the former provincial centre. Shaded paths wind through the Old Town’s wooden houses built in the Tai Yuan style. You can also see evidence of the 2nd Indochina War, including two artillery pieces standing like sentinels at the entrance to the airport.
Luang Namtha Museum: Inform yourself about the province before your exploration at the Luang Namtha Museum. You’ll find a variety of artefacts made by Luang Namtha’s multi-ethnic people. Highlights include informative displays of indigenous clothing, agricultural tools and household implements used in daily life. The museum has an excellent collection of Buddha images, ancient bronze drums, ceramics and textiles. Also of interest are the traditional hand-made weapons on display that were once used for hunting and national defence.
Location: The museum is about 2.5 km north of the Luang Namtha tourist centre, on Route 3 just before Samakhisay Stupa.
Muang Sing Museum: Kick off your tour of Muang Sing at the district museum and gain a good understanding of this area’s interesting past. The museum was the home of Prince Jao Fa in the early 20th century. Inside the 2-storey exhibition, you’ll find displays of Buddha images, hand-crafted weapons, bronze drums, and farm tools, alongside an excellent collection of traditional tools from the area’s ethnic groups.
Location: The wooden museum is located on the main road in the centre of town.
The Old Muang Sing & French Fort: Explore the site of a civilization on the fringe of the Sipsongpanna Kingdom in today’s Yunnan, China. The community’s founding fathers set up the town in the 1700s following an urban plan that included a city wall, moat, and ramparts. Parts of the city wall remain intact a few blocks from the museum in the town’s northeast corner. You can see the old French Garrison across from the Moring Market, but it is now a Lao army base and off limits. A drive to the northwest plains reveals remnants of the city’s ramparts.