Trekking in Luang Namtha – Northern Laos

Luang Namtha is the gateway for wonderful treks to hill tribe villages and dramatic rice-bowl valleys surrounded by mountainous vistas from every periphery!

trekking, Lahu Village, Luang Namtha, Laos, SE Asia

Where is Luang Namtha?

Lahu Village, Luang Namtha, Laos, SE Asia

Rural Luang Namtha is the northernmost town in Laos and almost kisses the border with China.

Luang Namtha is fast becoming the trekking mecca for this stunning region in Laos. Check my post on Lazing in Luang Namtha for where to eat and sleep.


Organising a trek

Booking the trek to the not-so-traversed Lahu Hill Tribe Village through the Zuela Guest House in Luang Namtha (Namtha), the excitement builds.

The actual company at Zuela is the Nature Life Tour and think the owner is related to the guest house somehow. The trek lasts for two days, with an overnight stay in the village.

On booking, the trek included four people (the more people on a tour the cheaper the price) for the duration of the tour but two people pulled out. Luckily, the tour company’s owner still honoured the four-person price (200,000K each in August 2014) even though only two of us are going. The other two people did lose their deposit.

At around 1,300 metres high, the Lahu Village trek is rated medium to hard. This will be an interesting trek as we’re in August, which is the wet season but also when the wet season reaches its peak.


Day 1 – Lahu Hill Tribe Village Trek

Anticipation grows as the trek to the Lahu Village starts at 9:30 in the morning. A Songthaew – adapted pick-up (or larger) truck used as shared transport in Laos – takes us for a quick visit to the local market to equip ourselves with food for the 2-day, 1-night trek.

The experience at the market is much more fascinating with our trekking guide (Kong) than I imagine if doing this on our own. As a local to Luang Namtha, Kong explains any questions you have about the authentic exotic food on offer in any of the stalls.

The Songthaew then drives for about an hour southeast of Luang Namtha to the tiny village of Ban Sing, which is the start of the trek. From here, another 2 porters join the trekking team – one of which only stays with us until lunch, then walked back down the mountain in his flip-flops, of course.

Lahu Village, Luang Namtha, Laos, SE Asia
Our brilliant and funny guide – Kong – notice his trekking shoes

A quick split of all the supplies between the guide and porters, and we are off on our trek through some of the most amazingly fluorescent green rice fields draped by imposingly high stunning mountains. This steadily becomes a steep climb that never seems to get any easier or shorter…and forces one to ponder that we are definitely out of condition! Remember, the Lahu Village sits 1,300 metres high, so this was never going to be an easy trek…

The guide and porters are amazing as they don’t even break into a sweat, while my clothes are ringing wet!

Lahu Village, Luang Namtha, Laos, SE Asia
Rest hut and lunch stop, around halfway up the mountain

The impossibly high rice fields ascend all the way up the mountain revealing small thatched huts dotted sporadically here and there on the ascent. Naively thinking that these are where the workers live or stay overnight when working the fields at this height, Kong advises otherwise. Workers trek up the 1,300 metres each day, then back down to their homes in the village for the evening. These small huts are only for lunch breaks or rest spots, during the hottest part of the day.

Finally, arrive at the Lahu Village at around 14:30 Hrs and the view from the top is nothing short of magnificent!

Lahu Village, Luang Namtha, Laos, SE Asia
Spectacular vistas!

Surrounded by even higher mountains, the transitional panoramic vista is both humbling and awe-inspiring, but then again nature is, isn’t it?

Lahu Village, Luang Namtha, Laos, SE Asia
Marvellous scenery!

The site on which the village sits is quite dusty, even though it is the wet season. The sparse area is cleared of trees and grass.

There is no running water, no electricity, no school, no hospital, no shop, and not much food. The village is very isolated, basic, and rustic. Although, the huts do have small solar panels for night power, which makes me think this puts Australia to shame as such an isolated village can use solar but the Australian government is not serious about renewables.

Lahu Village, Luang Namtha, Laos, SE Asia
Children of the Lahu Village

A little background on the Lahu Village

The Lahu people are one of China’s and mainland Southeast Asia’s ethnic groups, with China officially recognising 56 ethnic groups.

This Lahu Tribe village was moved here by the Laotian government some sixteen years ago. Currently, in 2014, only 114 people live here in 16 thatched huts graced with dirt floors.

The children don’t go to school. Rice is still painfully pounded manually. Typically, the women of the village use the archaic method to pound the sun-dried rice with a huge heavy piece of solid wood shaped smooth and worn by time, onto a stone pedestal. This cracks the hull of the rice. Women seem to do all the work in this village.

Lahu Village, Luang Namtha, Laos, SE Asia
Notice the comb adorning the local’s hair – fashionable in the village.

This village is like stepping back in time more than 100 years and while here, you need to remind yourself what century you’re in…

There are a lot of babies, children, piglets, puppies, kittens, roosters, and chicks running around – everything here seems to be breeding. The internet and TV are non-existent in the village so what is a local to do?

Lahu Village, Luang Namtha, Laos, SE Asia
Part of the Lahu Village

As foreigners and as anticipated, we are the novelty in the village, especially with the inquisitive children. Maybe as promised, this village didn’t see too many foreigners back in 2014 – I’m sure this has changed.


Where to sleep and eat

The “Lodge” so aptly named by Kong and purposely built for tourists, is rustic at best.

The thatched hut is one large room that sleeps up to ten people, typically, eight tourists and two guides, although it is home for only four of us on this trek. The hut includes a table that doubles for food preparation, a dining table, and an elevated hard rattan bed area.

Lahu Village, Luang Namtha, Laos, SE Asia
The Lodge – is a little leaky in the rain!

Cooking over an open fire is done on the dirt floor inside the hut, so it gets a little smoky and smelly. Food preparation is also on banana leaves on the bamboo raised area that later doubles as the sleeping quarters.

Lahu Village, Luang Namtha, Laos, SE Asia
The dining area, food preparation, and our bed are on the right!

Bedding and mosquito nets are provided but as there are loads of animals roaming in and out of this hut including cats, the bedding comes with fleas, at no extra cost!

Lahu Village, Luang Namtha, Laos, SE Asia
Pretending to sleep after the hard trek and playing with the village children

A squat toilet was built close by in a side hut but this hasn’t seen a scrubbing brush or cleaner in many years. So, nature is your only choice. Oh and beware of the marauding pigs as nothing goes to waste and you may get a fright at night when nature calls!

Lahu Village, Luang Namtha, Laos, SE Asia
The kitchen and cooking area, next to the bed area

During our stay, many locals visited our hut, mainly looking at what the guides had brought with them and whether any scraps of food such as oil, garlic, or leftovers could be scrounged. So very sad.

Lahu Village, Luang Namtha, Laos, SE Asia
Frequent adorable visitors

Starting to feel guilty because everyone in the village is very sinewy and visitors to The Lodge ogle at our food as though nothing nutritious touched their bellies in a while. Had I known, I would have insisted on buying extras at the market for the villagers, which would have meant a harder trek up the mountain with the extra supplies, but anything to help.

Apart from the pre-prepared lunch on the first day, all the vegetarian food is cooked by Kong and our porter. Every meal is simply delicious and it’s quite amazing considering where we are and how food is being prepared.

Lahu Village, Luang Namtha, Laos, SE Asia
Peek-a-boo!

Both guys are excellent cooks and busily work with a sense of humour! Kong speaks English very well but the porter only knows several words and I really can’t remember how he spells his name…not great, I know. The porter is super keen to learn English and also wants to transition from a porter to a guide so he can earn better money.


Tonight we’re invited to a drinking session at one of the huts to celebrate the foreigners buying a chicken from the village. Check Part 2 for more on the Lahu Tribe Village and the continuation of the descent of the mountain on Day 2 of the trek back to Luang Namtha.

Visit my Nilla’s Photography Laos gallery for more images. More blogs on Laos.

24 thoughts on “Trekking in Luang Namtha – Northern Laos

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  1. Looking at the map, I realize this is very close to Yunnan where Doudart de Lagrée died of fevers. He’d been commissioned by the French government to find a passage to China going up the Mékong. He didn’y, but his expedition started at Angkor and his team later brought back the first photographs of Angkor…

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    1. Very hard. All members of the expedition got sick at one point, fever, malaria, dysentery. Some recovered, Doudart didn’t. I wrote about that in a couple of posts. I can send you the link if you like.

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  2. A special trek. Those kids are always, like I said, heart-breaking. Reminded me of a trip to Leticia I might have mentioned to you before. The “obligatory” stop along the Amazon to an “Indian village.

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    1. The trek was very special but as you say, heart-wrenching at the same time to see such poverty and not much future in the village.

      I remember you mentioned Leticia a while back as it’s not one of those places that many travellers visit, but I did go to the tri-border (Leticia, Tabatinga, Santa Rosa). What an experience! I don’t believe my post on the tri-border explained what this area is really like…

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    2. I think your post did convey well. This entire area is weird. Three countries around a river. Makes no difference to the people. They just cross the river.
      In the Indian village we stopped at, there were American laides handing out lollypops to the kids. My sister-in-law, a dentist, was furious, she said all it would do is generate cavities among the kids… sigh… (I’m sure the ladies meant well, but…)

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    3. I guess this is one of the problems when foreigners visit indigenous people – they think they’re doing well, but often they aren’t…there’s also the addiction that foreigners can introduce.

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    1. Thank you.
      The children had beautiful faces but then again, you know I love to take candid photos of people. it’s so tragic that they live in such poor conditions and because of the village’s isolation, the government doesn’t help.

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