A not unpleasant tourist trap in North-East Laos, for exploration of ethnic minorities and country side.
Luang Nam Tha is a comfortable base from where you can arrange multi-day trekking trips into the hills and minority villages, with overnight home-stay a very popular tourist activity. Personally I cannot see the attraction of staying in a village: basic accommodation and basic food is OK, I can live with that, but conversation must necessarily be limited by the language barrier, and the claim that one gets to know the minorities lifestyle sounds pretty hollow to me. To get a real idea about minorities lifestyle, stay a lifetime (or a year, or so, something significant), not just one or two nights after which you get back to the relative comfort of the guesthouses of Luang Nam Tha. Anyhow, the advantage of these treks is that you get further away from town, do some walking, see some nature, and, of course, see minority people.
Around town there are lots of things to do, too, an attractive market (get their early morning, like 6 am!), numerous smaller villages within walking or cycling distance, and not to forget, the Boatlanding Guesthouse, a wonderful place with romantic bamboo cabins set in a lovely garden, and a great restaurant.
But one cannot get away from the feeling that Luang Nam Tha is in fact a bit of a tourist trap, and that there is not much authenticity left. In fact there are two towns, the old one having been so badly damaged in the war in the 70s that it was decided to build a new town, 7 km further – which is where everything happens, where the tourist industry is based. A multitude of guesthouses, restaurants, laundry services and trekking agencies that also rent bikes, plus all the foreigners to justify this infrastructure. Did I, in a previous life, comment on the laptop tribe? Well, here they are, once again, mostly with humble netbooks, lined up in the restaurant, at each and every table.
Still, it is a nice enough place to chill out.
For pictures of some of the ethnic minorities, or hill tribes, see here.