Luang Namtha

Luang Namtha

Luang Namtha is the largest city in the northwest of Laos and is one of the most popular spots for trekking anywhere in the country. Located close to the Nam Ha National Protected Area, visitors flock here to get a taste of life in the jungle and meet the people of the ethnic villages that surround this city.
Luang Namtha Overview
Luang Namtha is a province as well as the capital town in Northern Laos on the Nam Tha River. It is in the popular region for an uncomfortable river trip. The attraction of the Province is its natural beauty and the chance to trek in such places as the Luang Nam Tha National Protected Area.

Luang Namtha is surrounded by green hills and tribe villages. Most tour operators organize trekking from 1 to 3 days in the nearby National Park or surrounding area, and most of them include visits to the hill tribe villages. some people described the experience tour in Laos as the best they had in Laos, some as the worst, some said they felt like in a zoo when visiting the villages, others had been eaten by leeches, others enjoyed the trek.
Luang Namtha History
Archaeological evidence including stone tools found in the Nam Jook River Valley in Vieng Phoukha and cliff paintings near Nale suggest that Luang Namtha Province was inhabited as early as 6,000 years ago. The first local written account of the province’s history appears in the Xieng Khaeng Chronicles that recount the founding of Xieng Khaeng on the banks of the Mekong River in the early 15th century by Chao Fa Dek Noi, a Tai-Lue that originated in the court of Chiang Rung.

Xieng Khaeng grew into a modest principality that later found itself under the influence of the Lanna Kingdom of Northern Thailand until the early 16th century and then becomes a Burmese vassal from the mid 16th to the early 19th century. Beginning in the first half of the 19th century, Xieng Khaeng fell under Siamese domination and suffered from numerous conflicts.  In 1885 Chao Fa Silinor eventually led more than 1,000 Tai-Lue subjects to what is present day Muang Sing for both strategic military reasons and in search of more expansive agricultural land.
South of Muang Sing it appears that there were considerable population movements taking place from the 16th to the 19th century as well, in both the Nam Tha Valley and Vieng Phoukha. In 1587 a group of 17 Tai-Yuan families arrived in the Nam Tha Valley from Chiang Saen, settling near present-day Vieng Tai Village. By 1624 Muang Houa Tha was established under the traditional Tai Muang administrative structure, ruled by 4 nobles of the Saenhansulin family.

In 1628, Pathat Phoum Phouk and Pathat Phasat were constructed as symbols of friendship and neutrality between Muang Houa Tha and Chiang Saen. The original Pathat Phoum Phouk still exists and is located south of Luang Namtha Township. The ruins of Pathat Prasat, on the other hand, are north of town near the source of the Nam Dee Stream but have almost completely disappeared. 
Vieng Phoukha was also prospering by the 17th century, with the construction of dozens of Buddhist monasteries and pagodas in the Nam Jook and Nam Fa River valleys. Evidence of what must have been a large population in Vieng Phoukha can be seen just north of the district capital, where an extensive khou vieng (earthen rampart) surrounds the ruins of sprawling Wat Mahaphot and many smaller pagodas.  
Though Muang Houa Tha enjoyed peace and stability through most of the 17th century, beginning in 1709 a series of natural disasters weakened the Muang and it briefly came under the influence of the Sipsongpanna Kingdom centered in southern China. A population exodus to Muang Sing, Muang Nan (Thailand) and Muang Ngern (Sayabouli Province) ensued, eventually causing the Nam Tha Valley to become nearly completely abandoned for 155 years.

During the late 1700’s prior to the reign of Chao Fa Silinor, one of the first main population movements into Muang Sing began with a group of Tai-Lue from Xieng Khaeng, led by a woman named Nang Khemma. Nang Khemma was the widow of Xieng Khaeng’s ruler at the time and went on to commission the construction of That XiengTeung Stupa in 1787. Today, That Xieng Teung remains highly revered by Tai-Lue Buddhists throughout the region and is believed to contain a sacred relic of the Lord Buddha.   
In 1890, the Tai-Yuan returned to the Nam Tha Valley under the aegis of Chao Luangsitthisan to re-establish Muang Houa Tha. Vat Luang Korn, one of Luang Namtha’s largest, was constructed shortly thereafter in 1892.

However, the newly resettled Muang Houa Tha was to enjoy its independence for only two years. In 1894, following a meeting between the French, British and Siamese colonists, it was agreed that Muang Houa Tha would be administered by the French and the Mekong from the northern reaches of Muang Sing to Chiang Saen would serve as the border between French Indochina and British-ruled Burma.

Not long after this divide took place the first group of Tai-Dam arrived from Sip Song Chou Tai in north western Viet Nam and established Tong Jai Village on the east bank of the Nam Tha River. At about the same time the Tai-Dam arrived, migrations of Tai-Neua, Tai-Kao, Akha, Lanten, Yao and Lahu originating in Sipsongpanna, Burma and northwest Viet Nam began to migrate to the area’s fertile valleys and the forested mountains surrounding them.
By the late-1950’s following France’s withdrawal from Indochina after their defeat at Dien Bien Phu, Muang Houa Tha again found itself embroiled in conflict - this time between the US-backed Royal Lao Army and the resistance government’s communist inspired Pathet Lao forces.

On 6 May 1962, Muang Houa Tha came under
control of the Pathet Lao and was renamed Luang Namtha Province, while the area between Houei Xay and Vieng Phoukha was called Houa Khong Province, nominally controlled by the Royalists until the establishment of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in 1975. Between 1975 and 1983 Houa Khong and Luang Namtha were administered as a single province and then partitioned into what is present day Luang Namtha and Bokeo.
Luang Namtha climate & best time to visit
There are practical reasons why it is sometimes difficult to get around during the monsoon season. Laos travel packages are available in those months as well however Most travelers take a Laos holiday during the driest months between November and April.

Luang Namtha's weather is determined by the surrounding Himalayan foothills. In other words, it is the mountainous weather. For most of the year, excepting the hot season from March - May, the mornings are overcast and sometimes foggy. This usually burns off as the day wears on. However, this means that one almost never sees a sunrise in Luang Namtha.

The sunsets more than make up for that loss. The best time to visit overall is the cool season, between November and February. Don't forget to bring warm clothes as it does get a wee chilly. The rainy season begins in May and ends in October. It is a beautiful time of the year to visit with every thing so lush and green. However, it does make travel a bit uncomfortable with muddy roads and land leeches.
Luang Namtha Transportation

By air

There are domestic flights to and from the Laos capital, Vientiane into Luang Namtha Airport. There is a bus service direct from China taking around 4 hours plus the time at the border crossing. There is also a service to and from Vietnam and Thailand. It means that overland options exist for Indochina tour packages.

The most popular overland routes to and from the province start and end at Bokeo Province's Ban Houey Xay and Luang Prabang. There is an international border crossing at Boten (China-Laos) and regular air service from Vientiane on Lao Airlines.

By River 
 For adventurous travelers, try a journey up the Mekong River from Ban Houay Xay to Xieng Kok in Muang Long, or a 2-day river journey up the Namtha River, which also originates in Ban Houy Xay. Once you reach the province, local transport by tuk tuk, the bus or a jumbo is inexpensive and easy to arrange. For short trips, many people get around by renting bicycles.
Things to do and see in Luang Namtha
Trekking. Kayaking and mountain biking are two options with the ultimate destination anything from a tribal village to waterfalls.
The scenery is spectacular and includes the Kao Rao Caves and several waterfalls including Nam Dee waterfall and the Gneung Phou Ku Lom waterfall.
There are many ethnic villages with their crafts and visiting a village is a great way to see daily rural life.
The night market is a great place to visit even if you are not going to buy anything. There is no real nightlife and you are likely to be fresh for the next day’s adventure after a meal and a walk around the market.
River Journeys
A fantastic way to travel through the Nam Ha NBCA is by raft or long-tail boat down the Nam Ha River, where it is common to see many bird and reptile species in the surrounding forest. A longer journey on the larger Namtha, a traditional trading route and tributary of the Mekong, links Luang Namtha to both Houei Xai and Luang Prabang. Boat trips up and down the entire Namtha require an overnight stay in the traditional boatmen's village of Ban Khone Kham (Nale District).
Ancient City & Caves
Explore the remains of the ancient city and temple, Khou Vieng and Vat Mahapot, and discover the little-known history of a civilization that formerly inhabited Vieng Phoukha District as early as the 15th century. Another must see in Vieng Phoukha is the labyrinth of caves fill with bats at Phou Prasat and the impressive tunnel-like formation of the Kao Rao cave near Nam Eng village. 
Ethnic Group & Handicrafts
With over twenty ethnic groups, Luang Namtha is one of Laos most ethically diverse and colorful provinces. Visit Muang Sing to see a wide variety of crafts produced by Akha, Yao, Tai Dam and Hmong villagers. In Namtha District. Bicycle nearby Tai Dam and Lanten villages to see the production of silk, paper and other local crafts. For a rich cultural experience, trek to remote villages with a local guide. Tours can be arranged in Luang Namtha, Muong Sing and Vieng Phoukha
Historic Heritage of Muang Sing
As a central point of trade and political administration that has changed hands over centuries, Muang Sing has many remaining historical sites including: That Xieng Teung stupa believed to contain a sacred relic of the Lord Buddha; remains of the ancient city walls and moat; residence of the former Muong Sing Prince, Panya Sekong; colonial French garrison; traditional Tai Lue houses; and the hospital of Dr. Tom Dooley, and American doctor who was stationed here in the 1960's. 
Sacred Forests
Just at the edge of Luang Namtha Town the Tai Dam community has preserved a series of forest patches as sacred sites and cemeteries. These areas hold some of the Namtha Valley's oldest and most impressive trees. Visiting these sites is permissible although always remember that you are visiting a highly venerated area that should be treated with the utmost respect. As you explore the area, older Tai Dam graves can be seen as large piles of soil while newer graves are marked by colorful flags, ritual items and symbols made from bamboo. Effigies of common household items are placed here for the use by the spirit in the afterworld.
Luang Namtha Museum.
The provincial museum has a variety of artifacts made by Luang Namtha's multi-ethnic people. Of particular interest is the extensive collection of indigenous clothing as well as many agricultural tools and household implements used in daily life. the museum has an excellent collection of Buddha images, bronze drums, ceramics and textiles. Also of interest are the traditional hand-made weapons on display that were once used for hunting and national defense.
Muang Sing Exhibition
Situated close to the center of town, the Muang Sing Exhibition is a good place to start exploring Muang Sing's rich culture and history. The building was once the residence of Phanya Sekong a local lord who ruled over the area in the early 20th century.
There is an excellent collection of traditional tools from the major ethnic groups in the area. Displayed on the building's upper floor is an interesting variety of valuable 18th-19th century historic and religious pieces that have been preserved by the people of Muang Sing.
Buddhist Temples
Tai Lue, the ethnic group most common to the Muang Sing Valley are devoutly Buddhist. Hence, there are 24 vats (temples) and monasteries in the area. Near the center of town there are a few important vats well worth a visit. Vat Luang, the most important in the area, is located off the main road next to the museum. 
Vat Xiang In and Vat Xiang Lae are a short walk from Vat Luang. Vat Namkeo Luang, which has a large monks quarters, is also quite beautiful and is located on the road to Xieng Kok near the junction with the paved road to Namtha. Also on the road to Xieng Kok is the magnificent Jorm Sing Stupa.
Old Namtha Town
The old town, called Muang Namtha, is located near the airport around 6 km south of the new town. This area has many shaded pathways and older wooden houses built in the Tai Yuan style. In the old town you can see evidence of the second Indochina War-two old artillery pieces stand like sentinels at the entrance to the airport.
Tourist attractions in Luang Namtha province Buddhist Monument & Vats
There are two beautiful Buddhist temples or vats located in the older part of Luang Namtha town near the airport. 
Vat Bang Vieng Tai in Vieng Tai village just north of the airport and Vat Bang Luang Khone south of the airport were built by the valley's Tai Yuan population (locally known as Tai Kalorm) and are well worth a visit.
That Phoum Pouk is located near Nam Ngaen village on a hill in the northeast part of the Namtha Valley. The original stupa ws constructed in 1628 to demarcate neutral terriory between the kingdoms of Lane Xang (centered in Luang Prabang) and Lanna (centered in Chiang Mai). In 1966 the old stupa was destroyed when an American plane dropped a bomb on it. The new monument seen besides the older, ruined stupa was constructed in 2003. 
French Garrison and other Historic Buildings
Muang Sing is a town with a rich history. Once closely associated with the Sipsongpanna Kingdom centered in present day Yunnan China, the town has been influenced by Chinese, Burmese and French occupants. Originally constructed in the 18th century following a deliberate urban plan, you can see the old city walls and moat about 7 blocks norht of the museum, and also an old rampart in the northwest part of the Sing Valley. 
Across from the market, around the corner from the District Administration Offices you can find the old French Garrison. The garrison is now used by the Lao army and is off-limits to visitors. Photographing this army base is prohibited. Across the street from the garrison is the former district hospital built in 1919.
Namkeo Waterfall
The multi-tiered Namkeo waterfall is located about 2 kilometers from the That Xing Stupa and can be visited as part of a guided tour from the Muang Sing Guide office or while on the Akha Experience.

Luang Namtha Travel Tips
Local food
As most tourists said that this is not the place for souvenirs but heaven for local foods. You should go to Luang Namtha Morning Market for fresh products and Night Market for various kind of local dishes from stalls.
The town is gathered of many ethnics that live in Laos like Hmong, Akha, Lanten, Yao. So not only Laos famous food like Khao Niaw (sticky rice with sweaty flavor), Mok Pa (steamed fish), Khao Piak Sen (wet noodle), Sai Uah (Lao Sausages) that you could find in the market, but also catching some ethnic cuisines as well, otherwise, you can have some ethnic flavor when traveling to some particular villages.
Local goods
When traveling to villages, you meet the ethnic minority, each tribe has their own style of making goods. For more particular, the Yao provides hat, natural paper, women traditional cloth and wearing.
Hmong provides small embroidered bags with a nice local pattern of square and triangle.
Akha tribe produces unique vine string shoulder bags and their Akha traditional costume. Most ethnic goods are made by hands so don’t be surprised if it is overpriced a bit.
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, sure that it is also applied to tourist, remember the rules for your most comfort.
Put your palms together then bow and say SAD-BAI-DEE to show respect when greeting.
Wear properly, best is to cover your shoulder, chest and the knees.
Ask first when you want to film or take photos
Take off your shoes and shocks when entering Laotian home.
Don’t use flash when shooting
Don’t make to much noise in temples
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