Our second stop in Laos was the typically sleepy little town of Luang Namtha, which lies about four hours east of the border crossing at Huay Xai. For us, those four hours were spent on and off a brightly-coloured and temperamental bus that we shared with some fellow falangs (western tourists) and locals alike. The fact that our bus needed a push-start didn’t fill us with confidence so it wasn’t that surprising that we broke down half-way through the journey. The driver spent a few minutes fiddling about underneath the vehicle as if this kind of thing happened on a daily basis. He obviously knew what he was doing though since, with the help of a local who pulled over to offer his tools, we were on the move again after about 45 minutes – without the need for a push-start either.
We arrived in Luang Namtha and walked along the dusty main street, eventually finding a comfortable room at Zuela guesthouse for just £5.53 per night. In keeping with the ‘laid-back Laos’ theme, the staff tended to guests in between dealing with their children’s needs and napping. Luang Namtha is very well adapted to tourists and has plenty of western restaurants, guesthouses and tour agencies, so if you’re into trekking or homestays then there are plenty of trips on offer. However, if trekking and outdoor stuff isn’t your game then there isn’t that much to do here other than sit around and relax – which may be just what you need.
Cycling Around Luang Namtha, Laos
Since we left the UK one of the things I have missed the most is getting out on my bike. It may sound strange but I enjoyed leaving home at 5.45AM to cycle to work, 17 miles across London trying to beat my personal best; it was a great way to start the day. So, I take every opportunity to get out on a bike while we travel, usually taking Amy with me for the ride; so far we’ve cycled around Hervey Bay in Australia, experienced an Eco Cycling Tour in Bali and been out on scooters a few times around South East Asia.
Since we only use scooters as a last resort, we decided that the best way to tackle Luang Namtha was to rent bikes since it was a cheaper option and the main sights were pretty close together. Unfortunately, after a shaky start Amy admitted she wasn’t feeling great for a number of reasons and after a little stroppiness we took her bike back and I set off again on my own to see what I could find.
The first thing to discover was another waterfall; Nam Dee. To get there I followed the winding bumpy dirt road about six kilometres out of Luang Namtha through some picturesque Lao villages until I arrived at the entrance. I locked my bike up (for a small fee) and hiked the couple of hundred metres up the river.
It wasn’t one of the most impressive waterfalls that I’ve seen; nothing like the mighty Tappia Falls in Batad or the seven-tiered wonder at Erawan National Park. However, Nam Dee was definitely worth a look and I enjoyed the ride out there and the views of the surrounding hills and lush-green rice fields along the way. There were only a couple of other people at the waterfall which immediately made it better than many others I’ve seen too; there’s nothing like crowds of noisy tourists to ruin the mood.
From the waterfall I crossed the town and found That Luang Namtha; a shiny new golden stupa set upon a hill overlooking Luang Namtha guarded by a few growly stray dogs and some pristine Buddhas in their various poses. There was one solitary man tending to the plants and collecting money from any visitor who ventured up this far. From the stupa you could look down over the rest of the town and soak up the serenity. It was a really peaceful place to sit and relax for a few minutes.
As I descended from one new Stupa I went in search of the ancient 17th century That Poum Phouk Stupa. Sadly, either the directions or my sense of them were wrong so I didn’t find it. I did however see more of the vast rice-covered countryside and drew enough quizzical stares from the locals to persuade me to turn back to the guesthouse since I was clearly going the wrong way.
We spent a couple of days in Luang Namtha simply adapting to the laid-back Laos way of life; eating in a couple of nice restaurants and catching up on some reading, travel planning and blog work. After a few days we began to crave some hustle and bustle so we headed to Luang Prabang; which turned out to be one of our favourite cities to date.