Luang Namtha: Whiskey, Wats, and Some Serious Struggles

After nearly 24 hours in transit we made it to Luang Namtha, a town in northern Laos not heavily visited by tourists. The area’s main attractions include trekking in nearby mountains and to small ethnic villages, as well as visiting the local wats (temples) littering the landscape. We loved the town, but had some interesting experiences while here.

Things to Do in Luang Namtha

Drink the Local Lao Lao Rice Whiskey

We enjoyed happy hour both nights as we had few other paid activities, meaning we had a lot of whiskey. You can go to the Lao Lao Distil not far out of town, but given our horrific biking skills we didn’t attempt it. We drank the local rice whiskey at Bamboo bar instead. Although all 5 foreigners in town were at this place, we felt good patronizing it as they employ locals from the villages who have no previous English or food service experience as to give them skills and income. Both times we got drunk from 2 drinks…probably because we didn’t eat and I previously puked violently due to food poisoning.

Make Purchases from the Three Sisters

Although I wouldn’t advise it. These “three sisters” travel from their mountain village daily to attempt to peddle wares – shoddy beaded purses and bracelets, to be exact – to unsuspecting tourists. They repeatedly emerged from between the plants in front of the bar while we were at happy hour, shoving items into our laps. When we refused the bags and bracelets dozens of times, one sister switched tactics and tried to sell us drugs! She winked at me, making a smoking motion while laughing through her toothless grin. We also refused this offer, to her dismay. A quick look online told us this is actually a quintessential Luang Namtha experience…

Bike to Local Villages

I love seeing small villages, and there are tons here. Since our biking skills are iffy at best, we took the “short” route to the Nam Di Village to see the bamboo paper making and waterfall and the Lan Ten village to see the local black-dyed textiles. The hostel had free bikes, so we were feeling great. For about 5 minutes. We soon discovered the free bikes lacked gears, my tire was semi-flat, and there were a lot of speedy motos on the main road getting closer than we’d prefer. The small roads into the village were worse; rocks and mud, holes, steep uphills. We walked our bikes no less than 11 times (and probably more). At one point, a small child passed me on foot, walking substantially faster than I could bike. Needless to say we never made it to the waterfall, and kind of wanted to die.

Eat at the Market

We went to the market to enjoy some cheap, in-budget breakfast fare. Before going we discussed “being careful,” as to avoid any food poisoning issues. Flash forward ten minutes: we’re excitedly purchasing dirt-cheap (and straight up dirt) items with reckless abandon. Pastries! Cold old eggs with uncooked veggies! Green sticky rice with weird black bugs stuck to it! Spring rolls with unknown meat! Sketchy bowls of noodles with literal green weeds in not-boiling warm water!

While chop-sticking the bowl of weeds and noodles, I suddenly felt an all too familiar stomach pang. Uh oh. Within minutes my vision was going black while my eyes were open and I was sweating profusely. My lips turned blue, body pale white. I had to sit on several stumps, feeling awful and shocked by this instant reaction and illness. I gripped Sarah’s wrist with clammy hands – committing a social faux-pas as it’s not appropriate to show affection/hug/hold hands in public in Laos (although this wasn’t exactly affection) –  my vision blurred as we walked back. Needless to say we ate at restaurants after this. We had local fare (friend noodles and rice with meats and veggies) at Lai’s Place and an Unnamed Spot next to The Hike agency.

Check Out the Wats

We walked to the 2 temples close to town (there are several more on the long bike route but, ya know, biking). Spellings always vary, but we saw Wat Samakkixay, a large red-peaked temple under construction on the hillside and That Luang Namtha (Golden Stupa) which is as golden as the name says it is. It even has some unexpected golden buddhas at back. There is a rubber plantation between the two where the monks work, and you can walk right up to the rubber harvesting trees which is pretty rad! Note: It’s probably not that rad, but we have a weird obsession with rubber, which started when I visited the rubber barron’s grave in Peru.

All in all, there were quite a few things to do in Luang Namtha. It was a good stopping off point to break up our journey to Luang Prabang, and we liked it because it felt very authentic and real but still had places for travelers like us to stay (we loved our accommodation – Villa Amandra – too).

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