or Louangnamtha or Luang Nam Tha is the largest city in Luang Namtha
Province, northern Laos. It lies on the banks of the Nam Tha river, and
the meaning of the name is "The area (luang) around the Tha river (nam Tha)".
Best known as a stopover point on the backpacker trail from China to Laos,
Luang Namtha has become increasingly popular as a starting point for hill
tribe treks. While short on sights, it's a compact and fairly pleasant
little town, albeit one divided in two distinct parts: the "old" town near
the airport, and the "new" town to the north where the trekking companies
and most guesthouses can be found. The two are about 6 km apart and
connected by Highway 3 from China to Thailand, which also serves at the
main street for both halves.
Get in to Luang Namtha
or Louangnamtha or Luang Nam Tha.
Luang Namtha Airport (IATA: LXG) has Lao Airlines flights to/from
Vientiane 4x/week (1 hour, full fare US$97). As of 2009, there are no
longer any services to Huay Xai or Luang Prabang, but the airport was
renovated in 2008, with a 1600m paved runway, and there are even plans to
start fielding international flights. Shared tuk-tuks wait outside for
arriving flights and will take you to anywhere in town for 10,000 kip.
By road to Luang Namtha
or Louangnamtha or Luang Nam Tha.
From Mengla (China) via Boten it will cost you 46 RMB for a bus to Luang
Namtha. The trip takes 4-6 hours, depending mostly on the length of the
border crossing. Oddly, the same bus back only costs 45,000 kip(around 37
If going to China, you will need to have arranged your visa in advance
(nearest embassy/consulate is in Vientiane). The daily bus leaves around 8
AM, and you'll want to exchange/use up all your kip before you head off,
as exchange rates at the border are terrible.
The bus station for destinations inside the province is located on the
main road west of the main guesthouse strip. The old bus station across
from the market has now been demolished to make way for a 5-star hotel,
and the main bus station for destinations further afield is now
inconveniently located 10km out of town. A tuk-tuk should cost about
10,000 Kip per person or 20,000 if you're alone.
Buses for Huay Xai, on the Thai border, leave at 9am and 1pm and cost
50,000 Kip. Tickets can be bought from 7:30, and the journey takes only
four hours now, due to improved road conditions, so that you can make it
into Thailand on the same day. If you want to be assured of a seat,
tickets can be bought in town the day before at the travel agent across
from Green Discovery Treks for 75,000 Kip including tuk-tuk to the bus
station. The tuk-tuk leaves the travel agent at 8am. Alternatively, you
can hire a minibus and ride comfortably Luang Namtha in 3-4 hours for
Trips to Luang Prabang take 9-12 hours--depending on road conditions-- and
cost 65,000 (85,000 incl. transport to bus station) kip. The roads from
Luang Namtha to Luang Prabang are in poor to fair shape with numerous
potholes along the way. The journey is not the faint-hearted during the
rainy season with the bus squeezing over one lane collapsed roads due to
the landslides. Scenery is fantastic. The bus from Luang Namtha leaves at
8:30 and it's better to be in the station before 7 to get a decent seat or
you'll find yourself sitting on plastic stool in the aisle for hours on
Buses from Muang Xay (Oudomxay) cost 28,000 kip, take up to 3.5 hours and
leave daily at 8:30, 11:30 and 15:00.
Sawngthaew leaves for Muang Sing from the bus station, 18,000 Kip, one to
two hours, until 3 PM.
It is possible to take a boat up the Tha River all the way from Huay Xai,
but there is no scheduled service and only occasional cargo ships, so odds
are high that you'll have to charter. From Luang Namtha, Boat Landing
Guest House/Green Discovery can try to arrange boats, at an estimated (but
highly variable) prices of US$168 for a boat that can handle 4-10
passengers. The trip takes two days and requires overnighting in a village
along the day. In the dry season, the northern parts of the river (towards
Luang Namtha) may not be navigable.
 Get around
The two halves of Luang Namtha can be individually easily covered on foot,
but you'll want to hop on a tuk-tuk (10000 kip/person) for going to the
airport, the bus station or crossing over between the two.
You can get a good map of the city at K.N.T internet for 3000 kip and some
guesthouse will have a copy of it for free for guests.
What to do in Luang
Namtha or Louangnamtha or Luang Nam Tha?
There are two main companies offering trekking to the hill tribes in the
area as well as nearby Nam Ha Protected Area. It is illegal to take an
unlicensed guide or to trek independently since tourists have gotten lost
and have also offended the local people.
* Luang Namtha Tourism Department (Eco-Guide Service), located behind the
night market. Offers up to four days trekking for an average of USD16/day.
Groups can be from 4-8 people and the cost per person drops the more
partcipants there are. Other activities offered include kayaking.
* Green Discovery  offers up to three days trekking trips, the price is
a bit more expensive then in the tourist office. They also offer kayaking
and other activities.
You can also take a tuk-tuk or bicycle and just go independently to some
of the villages which are next to the roads and not in the jungle. You can
rent really good mountain-bikes at a shop along the main road for 15000
kip per day or 3000 kip per hour. They provide you with a not-to-scale map
over villages and a nice waterfall. The surroundings are really pretty to
cycle about in.
The quality of bicycling on the road from Luang Namtha to the Chinese
border is excellent. The road is completely sealed with little or no
traffic along the way-- except for a 1 km muddy patch near the Chinese
border. The route from Luang Namtha to Boten round trip is approxmately
120 km long and passes through Laotian hill country and rice fields. The
grades range from flat to moderate with one 2 km 10% grade stretch.
Welcomes along the way are great.
Other activities in Luang
Namtha or Louangnamtha or Luang Nam Tha.
There are several herbal saunas in Luang Namtha, the most popular being
the one next to the Panda Restaurant, down the lane from the Lao Airlines
office. It's a very simple rickety shack, but easy to spot (look for the
stove) and equipped with separate male/female saunas, a changing room and
lockers. The tourist price is 10,000 kip, with optional massages around
the same. See Laos#Bathe for tips on herbal sauna etiquette.
Last but not least, if you liked what you saw, leave a compliment at the
People's Complaint Box in front of city hall!
Money: There are two banks and one post office offering change for cash
and travellers' cheques, all in the main street the bank next to the
tourism office change travellers for 3% commission (minimum of 3$). Banque
pour le commerce exterieur Laos now has an ATM on test run.
There are three sisters of the Akha people travelling from Muang Sing
every day to sell their crafts and agricultural products (Opium and ganja)
to falang. They are difficult to get rid of, and may follow you around
town. Enjoy a bi-lingual conversation with them, it's great fun. If you
refuse their wares they might offer you a special treat.
Eating options in Luang
Namtha are decent but a little monotonous, with pretty much all
restaurants serving the same menu of Lao, Thai and ersatz Western dishes
at the same prices. The night market is a good choice if you want to try
something new after being on Phat Thai and Sticky Rice for a while,
although very small there are a few good choices.
* Coffee House. Open eatery with a comprehensive Thai Menu, lattes and
cappuccinos, great fruit shakes, plus friendly atmosphere.
* Minority Restaurant. One of the few options that stands out in any way,
this little joint is run by Black Tai (Tai Dam) tribesmen and specializes
in tribal cuisine, with Tai Dam, Akha and Lisu dishes on offer. It's
fairly simple stuff, but still a nice change — although the menu also
covers all the usual suspects if you really need more banana pancakes,
omelettes or French fries.
* Panda Restaurant. Just a 2 minute walk away from the main area of town,
with a nice second floor patio with views over rice paddies. It has a
friendly owner and good food that's not overpriced. Make sure to try their
fruit shakes as they are the biggest in town.
Luang Nam Tha is not a party town, but it's easy to find a cold Beerlao.
* Manychan Guesthouse. Probably the most popular place in town, has a
dedicated bar on the 2nd floor above the restaurant. Seems to want to
close before 11 PM, but you'll usually be able to stay a bit longer. You
will have to wake your guesthouse up though, as they probably have shut
Hotel, Lodge, Guest House for sleep in Luang Namtha or Louangnamtha or
Luang Nam Tha.
There are a number of decent guesthouses in town. A few surround the large
intersection that can be seen from the bus station. One guesthouse run by
a Chinese family even lets patrons borrow bicycles for free.
* Khamking Guesthouse, tel. 086-312238. Right in the center of the "new"
town, this simple guesthouse is comfortable and squeaky clean. Rooms with
fan, TV and attached bathroom from 50,000 kip.
* Keusophone Guesthouse. Rooms starting at 20000 kip with no bathroom.
Free water in the lobby.
There's only one even slightly upmarket option in Luang Namtha:
* Boat Landing Guest House , about 7 km south of town. Beautiful
eco-tourism bungalows on the river with quiet surroundings. Twin rooms
USD20-30 (cash only).
Email & Internet for contact.
Internet: There are a few internet cafe along the main guesthouse strip
charging 200 kip per minute. Speeds are decent.
Get out from Luang Namtha
or Louangnamtha or Luang Nam Tha.
* Huay Xai, for the Thai border and Mekong cruises down to Luang Prabang
* Mengla, to cross into China's province of Yunnan
* Muang Sing
* Muang Say (Udomxai)
For more information of Laos visit