New town Luang Nam Tha is best described as a stretch of road of about 1 kilometer, lined with buildings, mostly serving the budding tourist industry here. We stayed at the comfortable & central Manychan Guesthouse, in a huge room with air-con for the equivalent 4.8 Euros. On that ”stretch” making up the town are numerous restaurants, but we tried to give most business to the ladies on the markets, top quality food for 0.5 cents a meal!
Most travelers come here to do some trekking, rafting or kayaking in the Nam Tha NPA. These activities usually last from one to three days and include staying overnight in a remote minority village.
Before we set off on our two day trek, we explored the surrounding villages of Luang Nam Tha on a rented scooter, something we tremendously enjoyed. It was simply too hot to cover the distances on a bike. Along the sealed roads, we came across some very nice houses, wondering who they belong to. But with so many N.G.O.’s based here, there must be a market. Once you turn into dirt roads, however, it is only wooden houses on stilts, with the obligatory rusty satellite dishes right outside. Life pretty much centers on the river here, with children trying their luck fishing, others bathing or doing the laundry.
At one point, we passed through a village were a concerted effort was underway to get a truck out of a tiny creek. The drunken driver had missed the small bridge and landed in the ditch. A crane was trying to lift / pull it out. While we watched and photographed the futile efforts, a 40 kilogram iron hook from the extended arm of the crane came loose and missed the people helping down near the truck by a few centimeters. What stunned us what how unexcited most people remained, although only sheer luck prevented one of their neighbors from being killed. It was the third accident we saw in three hours, the two others were scooters that had crashed! So we took it very, very easy…
Twice we dropped in a restaurant owned by an English guy and his Lao wife. There we learned a lot about village life, local gossip and that even today people disappear in one of the 21 (!) re-education camps if they are too outspoken against various hot issues, like the many rubber plantations popping up, where once primary rain forest covered the hills.