Image © James Antrobus / Creative Commons
North Laos’ Luang Namtha lies in a valley covered with rice fields and quiet villages – a bucolic countryside with a remarkable biodiversity conservation area within easy traveling distance. From Luang Namtha’s new town – where you can easily hire a motorbike or a bicycle – it takes only a few minutes to travel to the area’s minority villages, nearby forested hills, and other natural wonders.
Start with an easy trek that leads down the old town, stops at the Boat Landing for lunch, then meander east to the Thai Dam (Black Thai) villages, havens for traditional silk and cotton weaving.
You can also wander out to Ban Nam Dee, a Lanten minority village close to a scenic waterfall. Nam Dee practices the ancient craft of bamboo paper-making; you can purchase some of their work at the town handicraft shop.
To venture further afield, you’ll need to hire a motorbike. This lets you travel to the Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area, a forest reserve with opportunities for kayaking and rafting on its two rivers; and past it to Muang Sing, a settlement close to the Chinese border, located about 60km from where you started.
Wherever you go, you’ll travel down some of Laos’ best roads, crossing over well-laid tarmac and the occasional bamboo bridge past sparse traffic and scenery that ranges from rice paddies to verdant mountains to picturesque ethnic communities.
The best time to visit happens around November to February, when the winds feel cold and the roads are dry. Try not to go during the rainy season between May and October, when the roads can be slippery and dangerous.