Pak Nam Noy Market and the unexpected journey north-west.

Pak Nam Noy is a tiny village on the major crossroads leading north to Phongsali, south to Muang Xai and east to Muang Khua. It doesn’t deserve much attention apart from the market days, when colourfully dressed Akha women descend from the mountains. If you’re searching for a living, breathing marketplace which hasn’t turned into a tourist attraction yet, this is the place.

The view at Nam Phak river, brown and swollen in the rain season and the forested banks, taken in Pak Nam Noi.

Muang Khua to Pak Nam Noy

We got to know about the date of the market day in Pak Nam Noy from the tourist information centre in Muang Khua. We were very lucky as we only had to wait one extra day for it. We also got the up-to-date information about the bus departures there.

Muang Khua bus station is located 2-3 km outside the village. A tuk- tuk shuttle from the crossroads in Muang Khua to the bus station leaves exactly an hour before the bus departure but we preferred to walk that distance.

Pak Nam Noy tribal market

Pak Nam Noy was even smaller than Muang Khua: just a bus station, a few restaurants and guesthouses and a small market.

Market scene in Pak Nam Noi: a few simple stalls on the bare ground where Laotian women sell fruit to Akha minority women

I must say I imagined the market differently. I thought the ethnic minorities would come down from their villages to sell their produce to the ethnic Lao people while in fact it was exactly the other way round: the Akha people came to shop for cosmetics, tools and clothes. The fact there was just one row of vendors from the villages didn’t make the market any less interesting, though.

A row of female vendors and buyers from Akha Puli ethnic minority of northern Laos

The whole village was teeming with ladies dressed head to toe in their colourful, traditional attire. This particular group- Akha Puli- could be recognised by their unusual, conical headdress.

Akha women coming back to their village through a mountain path

It would have been easy to trace the ladies back to their villages up in the hills. A French solo traveler whom we met on the bus assured us her sister had done that before and was welcomed warmly. We felt tempted to try it ourselves but decided to leave such visits for more mainstream destinations.

Photo ethics

It felt rather awkward and disrespectful to take photos of the Akhas so I mostly took quick group shots from the distance. That was in a stark contrast to the Italian couple who suddenly appeared in a hired jeep with a driver and started sticking their expensive cameras right in the faces of the women. The ‘photo objectives’ were reluctantly bribed whenever they refused to be photographed.

Akha women selling their bracelets to Western tourists at Pak Nam Noi market

Quite a few Akha women tried to sell us bracelets but having read about ‘hefty prices’ in a random blog I kept on rejecting their offer. Judging by my later experience, I probably shouldn’t have been so categorical.

From Pak Nam Noy to Luang Namtha

The French lady we met that day convinced us to follow her footsteps to Luang Namtha. She told us it was a great place to explore the ethnic minority villages independently and there was another amazing market in a town nearby.

the front door to an old Laotian bus, slowly filling up

We bought a ticket for a 11am direct bus to Luang Namtha which arrived finally at 12.30 pm. We were glad we were skipping Muang Xai (Oudomxay) – reportedly a rather dull place. The bus was filled to the brim. The first leg of the journey I was sitting at a platform at the back of the bus, together with lots of luggage and 6 or 7 men. I had roughly one square meter for myself so I sighed with relief when some of the guys got off and I could finally stretch out my legs.

Inside a packed Laotian bus: Sayak sits in the aisle on a plastic stool

Sayak sat on a plastic stool in the aisle which actually proved to be more comfortable than a normal seat where he moved for the last hour of the journey. The views were quite spectacular but from our ‘seats’ we could barely enjoy them.

It turned out that the bus station in Luang Namtha was 10 km away from town, in fact, further than the airport! No wonder a truck to the centre cost exactly the same as a bus from Muang Khua to Pak Nam Noi..

PRACTICALITIES

How to get to Pak Nam Noy?
Pak Nam Noy is very well connected with the entire north of Laos. Buses from Phongsali, Luang Prabang and Oudomxay, Luang Namtha as well as the nearby Muang Khua all stop there.

Prices [as of August 2018]:
80 000 bus to Luang Namtha
20 000 bus to Muang Khua
15 000 light meal at a riverside restaurant

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