Laos is well-known among visitors for its wealth of natural and historical tourist sites as well as unique traditions, cultures and lifestyles which vary across the whole country.
Namtha town in Luang Namtha province in northern Laos is one such locale with a fascinating history including that during the Indochina war.
That Poum Pouk and Luang Namtha stupas are now its main attractions, and both have structures that are similar to That Luang in Vientiane but are smaller.
According to information provided by the Luang Namtha tourism office, a long time ago Sy Sod So Tammikarad, King of Xieng Sean (present-day northern Thailand) and Naleatafai, King of Chanthabouly (modern-day Oudomxay), built two stupas as symbols of friendship. The first is Poum Pouk stupa which is located on a hilltop in the northeast of Namtha Valley in Nam Ngaen village.
The second, Luang Namtha stupa, is also located on a hilltop on the other side of town, east of the Namtha river.
Everyone who comes to Namtha should visit these stupas because they are revered for their historical significance and, of course, their beauty.
It’s quite difficult to find precise information on these stupas’ origins, but a sign on-site says Poum Pouk is a Buddhist stupa built around 1628 between the Kingdoms of Lanexang and Lane Na by the Tai Lue, Yuan, Khao, Daeng and other Lao Buddhist ethnic groups. Poum Pouk is today one of the oldest temples in the province.
It’s a place where both locals and travellers to the region pray and pay their respects.
Poum Pouk stupa was largely destroyed on October 28, 1966, when an American war plane dropped a bomb on it. But visitors can still see the remains and a new monument exists besides the older, ruined stupa. The new structure was built in 2003 as a show of local people’s religious faith.
In recent times, it has become a place of historical importance and also a scenic highlight for tourists.
Local folk come together every February to host a colourful festival at the site and to show their respect.
Luang Namtha stupa is located next to Samakhixay temple. The old monument was lost to the forest years ago, but visitors can see a new one which was completed in 2004.
Because both stupas are located on hilltops, they are perfect places to catch sunrises and sunsets, but Luang Namtha stupa affords tourists a more unobstructed view of Namtha town and its surroundings.
Poum Pouk stupa is the better option for those keen to take in the green views towards town because rice fields and forest surround it. It is one of the most tranquil places as there are fewer visitors, and in the evening visitors can enjoy listening to insects and birdsong.
The new Poum Pouk stupa is striking, while the old ruins are a testimony to local history as well as enshrining artisanal techniques from centuries past.
While the new stupa is aesthetically pleasing, you can easily find similar monuments elsewhere, but the original structure will always remain distinctive.
Visitors wanting to delve deeper into Namtha district’s history should pay a visit to the Luang Namtha Museum. Other places to experience the local lifestyle and cultural traditions include the night market as well as the fascinating handicraft and textile villages of Phiengngam, Vieng Neua and Vieng Tai.