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Luang Namtha

Blessed with a mountainous tapestry, a vast protected area, and diverse ethnic villages, Luang Nam Tha is synonymous with culture, adventure and trekking for most travelers, although much of the province is wildness, the infrasture to explore it is some of the best in Laos. Guided exploration into the magnificent Nam Ha National Protected Area, a 2224-sq-km area containing some of the most densely foreted regions (96% primary forest cover) in Laos, can be complimented with independent travel to small villages surrounding Muang Sing, Luang Nam the and Vieng Phoukha.

The provincial population is 145,000, made up of 39 classified ethnicities (the largest number in the nation), including H'mong, Akha, Mien, Samtao, Thai Daeng. Thai Lu, Thai Neua, Thai Khao, Thai Kalom, Khamu, Lamet, Lao Lourn, Shan and Yuonanese. As in Udomxai Province, the Chinese presence is increasing rapidly with the arrival of skilled laborers from Yunnan.

The capital of the province, Luang Nam Tha is a quiet, ordered town where a grid pattern of streets reveals ever-so-quietly humming businesses and residences. It's a lovely spot to dull out for a couple of days before or after a trek into the Nam Ha NPA. The town is surrounded by a patchwork of rich rice paddies and ethnically diverse villages, and exploring them would be a highlight of a trip to the area. It's also a transport hub for buses from all directions, including China, and consequently attracts a transient population of traders and travelers, all of whom add to the melting pot.

The original town, which was always prone to flooding, was virtually destroyed during the Second Indochina War, and the administrative centre was consequently moved 7km north in 1976. The newer town centre sits on higher ground, and is close to where the high- ways come in from Muang Sing, Boten and Udomxai. Most visitors spend their limited time around the main street of this northern district, but the older southern district is mostly residential and, in general, much more interesting. Locals often refer to the southern centre as meuang (city-state) and to the northern centre as thwaeng (province).

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