We had many great experiences in Cambodia and Laos, but my favourite was the time we spent in northern Laos, in the small villages of Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi. Coming from predictable, orderly Vancouver I enjoy the “chaos” of cities in SE Asia. However, the reality is I can only handle so much Bangkok, Phenom Penh, or even Siam Reap. The natural beauty and peacefulness of northern Laos made me very happy. Our visit to Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi was the perfect complement to a wonderful trip that was heavy on culture, history, and urban centres. Part I of my series on northern Laos features Nong Khiaw.
Nong Khiaw is firmly planted on the banana pancake trail (with a few of us backpackers from the 70s and 80s thrown in), yet it remains a tranquil place. Young or young at heart, the majority of visitors to Nong Khiaw come for its exquisite scenery and outdoor activities.
The village is beautifully situated among towering limestone peaks and straddles both sides of the Nam Ou—the west bank is home to the bus station, boat dock, and a couple of tour companies, and the east bank has more of the guesthouses. The bridge is a lively spot, particularly around sunset. I spent a ton of time on that darn bridge but didn’t get a good photo of the structure itself. The ones below, from a fellow blogger, are lovely and really convey the feel of the place.
Nong Khiaw has surprisingly good tourist infrastructure. There are plenty of guesthouses, an ATM, massage service, several restaurants and tour organizers. We stayed at the most expensive place in town—the Nong Kiau Riverside Bungalows (the town’s name is spelled several different ways). At $50/night (including breakfast and a glass of wine) it is very pricey compared to the basic backpacker bungalows, many with equally great views, but we loved this spot and its slightly quirky vibe.
We appreciated the cosy slippers that are supplied for guests at the entrance of the Riverside restaurant (it’s cool at night from December thru February). The fire pit, made from a Vietnam War era bomb casing, serves a useful purpose but is a sobering reminder of the hardship endured by people in this heavily bombed region—I’ll be writing more about this in upcoming posts.
There’s nothing like chilling in Nong Khiaw—gazing over the gorgeous vistas with beers in hand. But, with only a day and half, nature and activity beckoned us. There’s lots to do: hiking, kayaking, biking, village visits… We packed in as much as we could and it just wet our appetite for more time in this marvelous place.
We enjoyed a day of village visits, hiking to Tad Mok waterfall, and kayaking with local NK tours. I’ve got lots of photos so I’ll save this for a future post.
Nong Kiau Riverside Bungalows and several other places rent bikes. It’s a very pleasant way to explore the surrounding area.
By far my favourite activity in Nong Khiaw was hiking Phadeng Peak to the amazing viewpoint. I don’t want to short change this activity so it will be the subject of my next post.
How to get to Nong Khiaw (from Luang Prabang)
Nong Khiaw is about 140 km north and slightly east of Luang Prabang. A few years ago, you could travel there by boat from Luang Prabang, but with the construction of several dams this is no longer possible. Most visitors use tourist minivans that depart Luang Prabang bus station daily at 9:30 a.m, or whenever they’re full. Depending on whether you buy a ticket from one of the many tour companies in town or directly at the bus station it’s about 50,000-70,000 Kip ($6- $9) for the 3.5-4 hour drive. Don’t expect anything luxurious and beware that on occasion there are not enough seats. One poor Swiss guy in our van almost had to endure the bumpy ride sitting on the floor. At the last minute, the driver found a foot stool for him. It wasn’t a bad ride (easy for me to say) and we all got there in one piece.
Stay tuned for more on activities in and around Nong Khiaw and then on to idyllic Muang Ngoi.