Northern Laos Part III: A Perfect Day in Muang Ngoi

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Muang Ngoi’s spectacular riverside location—C.Helbig

We were loath to leave Nong Khiaw (see Parts I and II) and wondered whether Muang Ngoi, just an hour upstream on the Nam Ou, could hold as much appeal. It did, and perhaps even a tad more. Like Nong Khiaw, its riverside location and mountain scenery are stunning, but Muang Ngoi is smaller and even more basic and laid back. Mike and I agree that our favourite day of our travels through Cambodia and Laos was in Muang Ngoi: relaxing, hiking, caving, kayaking, and shopping for weavings (well, that last one was more up my alley).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Boat dock and riverside entrance to Muang Ngoi—C.Helbig

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A new group of visitors arriving in Muang Ngoi—C.Helbig

Virtually all travellers get to Muang Ngoi by boat. Most arrive from Nong Khiaw, an easy, if a bit crammed one hour journey. There is now a road from Nong Khiaw but it isn’t serviced by public transportation and you can see why in the photo below (and this is dry season).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You need your own wheels for the road to Muang Ngoi—C.Helbig

Munag Ngoi’s main road is about 500 m long with a temple on one end and a river/mountain on the other. The town has a smattering of basic guesthouses (many with great views), a few restaurants, a good tour/trekking company (Lao Youth Travel) and plenty of locals who are happy to provide guiding or boating service. Currently there are no ATMs in Muang Ngoi so don’t forget to bring cash.

20170219_140452

Muang Ngoi’s main road—C.Helbig

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Breakfast buffet on Muang Ngoi’s main street—C.Helbig

P2190216.jpg

Muang’s Ngoi’s serene temple—C.Helbig

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Great view from our guesthouse in Muang Ngoi—C.Helbig

Muang Ngoi is a perfect place for chilling (but there’s Mike with his laptop!) If you have to be on the computer, the deck at Ning Ning Guesthouse is a primo spot with tremendous views, decent WiFi, and cold Beerlao. The guesthouse itself isn’t great value but we were sucked in by the views.

The photo collage above shows some typical Muang Ngoi scenes. It’s a simple, sleepy, peaceful, and endearing place. But, it wasn’t always so bucolic…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Reminders of the Vietnam War—C.Helbig

Muang Ngoi was directly in the path of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that served as a strategic supply route for the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. The area was heavily bombed and reminders of this time are found in the interesting though unsettling bomb shell “decor” outside guesthouses and eateries. Perhaps it’s the contrast with the serenity of the local people and landscape that made me feel sad when we came across these war artifacts.

Phanai Cave and Muang Ngoi Viewpoint

There are many caves near Muang Ngoi that played a role in the war sheltering villagers from bombing attacks. They can be visited independently or with a guide. Mike and I trudged off alone to Phanai Cave, just a 10 minute walk from the temple (there’s a 10,000Kip/$1.25 fee).  Don’t be put off by the big rock partially blocking the entrance. Once you climb around it, the cave is spacious and remains so for several hundred meters until you get to a chamber with many small Buddha statues. Actually, I have no idea how far or long we walked; the darkness and spookiness made me lose track. Except for my imagination playing tricks on me, there was nothing difficult about visiting this cave. Just make sure you have adequate light (one strong headlamp and a phone flashlight worked for us).

After visiting the cave, we continued along the jungle path uphill for another 15-20 minutes to the Muang Ngoi viewpoint. It’s not quite as spectacular as the viewpoint in Nong Khiaw but definitely worth a visit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

View to Muang Ngoi village—C.Helbig

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

View upriver—C.Helbig

Ban Sopjam Weaving Village and Kayaking

For our afternoon excursion, we hired a boat through Lao Youth Travel to schlepp us and a kayak about 30 minutes upriver to Ban Sopjam from where we would paddle back to Muang Ngoi. But not before we made a pit stop in this village known for its weavings.

As we climbed up the riverbank and onto the dirt road we were greeted by a tidy village where virtually every housefront displayed a dazzling selection of colourful scarves. I was in heaven! It was a bit intimidating at first: we were the only visitors there and at least a dozen local ladies were looking at me expectantly. Who should I buy from? Fortunately, the ladies were lovely and not pushy in the least. I laughed, and using hands and facial expressions I tried to convey that I was overwhelmed with all their beautiful wares. I think they understood. One of the ladies made Mike an omelette while I shopped and finally settled on six scarves (I should have bought more).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One road village of Ban Sopjam lined with weavings—C.Helbig

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Striking a deal with one of the lovely weavers—C. Helbig

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A colourful place for a little rest—C.Helbig

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Ban Sopjam weaver at work —C.Helbig

I didn’t think the day could get any better, but then, with scarves safely stowed in a dry bag, we paddled back to Muang Ngoi. It was unbelievably peaceful and beautiful. The scenery along this stretch of the Nam Ou, where the steep sided mountains seem to squeeze in the river, is even more spectacular than around Nong Khiaw, and there is less boat traffic. With a little swim stop, it took us barely two hours to get back. It may have been the best two hours of our entire trip and we were both feeling overwhelmingly happy and grateful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Peaceful paddling between Ban Sopjam and Muang Ngoi—C.Helbig

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The expression says it all—C.Helbig

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Many tranquil scenes—C.Helbig

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The mountains “squeeze in” the river in this section—C.Helbig

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our swimming stop—C.Helbig

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A final stop on the bank across from Muang Ngoi—C.Helbig

Nong Khiaw or Muang Ngoi?

That’s a tough one. Both are gorgeous. Nong Khiaw has more amenities and choice of lodging and restaurants. Muang Ngoi is simpler and gets less visitors. Try to stay in both for at least a couple of nights. If you want to stay put, it’s easy to visit Muang Ngoi and Ban Sopjam as a day trip from Nong Khiaw. You can do it as part of a tour, hire a boat, or catch the regularly scheduled boats between Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi. The latter squish you in like sardines, but they’re cheap (Mike doesn’t look too uncomfortable and it’s only an hour).

There’s much more on Laos coming soon!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Boat from Muang Ngoi back to Nong Khiaw—C.Helbig

 

Categories: Activities, Kayaking, Laos, Places | Tags: , , , , , | 25 Comments

Post navigation

25 thoughts on “Northern Laos Part III: A Perfect Day in Muang Ngoi

  1. Pingback: Keep an Open Mind About Vientiane, Laos | Writes of Passage

  2. Pingback: High Expectations for Luang Prabang, Laos | Writes of Passage

  3. Beautiful pics!…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love love this post! The photos are gorgeous…along the river, the view from your guesthousr. We did not get this far North in Laos, unfortunately, but am enjoying it vucariously through your posts now. The artisans in Laos do so much beautiful work.What a great idea to kayak there…

    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Places like the guest-house that allow you just relax while still haveing an incredible view in the background are the best… also the beers help too. Looks amazing

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post. I love this place. Love the weaving and scarf aspect of the town.I am suckers for nice shawls and scarves and I know the problem of having more than one expectant seller and being only buyer. The kayaking sounds great. I think I would have to do some training for that. I haven’t been in a kayak or canoe since i was in my twenties. I’m very fascinated by the verb schlepp. Not something you hear here. Thanks for the new word. Great photo of Mike in the kayak he looks so happy and relaxed. Louise

    Liked by 1 person

    • My “shopping” excursion was a beautiful and funny dilemma. Louise, rest assured that the kayaking we did would not require any special training. The crafts were big, beefy, stable things and the water was dead calm. The trip is not long and we paddled slowly, savouring every moment. If you’re thinking of kayaking, I highly recommend this stretch between Muang Ngoi and Ban Sopjam.
      Haha, schlep is one of my favourite words. I use it too often (and frequently misspell with two p’s). I just like the sound of it and it reminds me of my mother who says it best with a heavy German accent.
      I don’t have many good pictures of Mike. He usually puts on a goofy smile when he knows he’s being photographed, but this one is a keeper. Cheers, Caroline

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Paddling on the river looks idyllic. I love too that you had the opportunity to meet such lovely people in your travels.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Brian Foster

    Looks so marvelous being in the country and ‘back to basics’. Reminds me of our trip years ago going down the river from Chiang Mai. Super that you were able to rent kayaks. What a breakfast. Mike, leave the computer at home (take an iPad).

    Liked by 1 person

    • The kayaks were basic too. I wouldn’t have wanted them for more than a few hours but they did the trick. I’ve been keen to travel with an iPad for years…please talk to him! I was in northern Thailand in ’91 and it had a similar vibe to what we experience northern Laos. Expect it has changed. When were you there?

      Like

  9. Loving the series on Laos. Phanai Cave looks intriguing but dark caves are spooky, isn’t it? Adi refuses to go into them. When you have topped it with views such as the ones you showed us from Nong Khiaw, I can well imagine that you would have thought that whatever came later could not match up to that experience, but Muang Ngoi is so serene and beautiful too. Mike’s smile does say it all 🙂 And those weaves are colourful and gorgeous. If I could, I would reach through the screen and grab a few.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike is more spooked by heights than dark and enclosed places so it wasn’t tough to convince him on this one (I was the chicken). I’m glad we went to both places. Despite being so close to each other the two villages have quite a different vibe and there’s much to explore. I’d like to grab a few more of those scarves myself ( I gave away too many as gifts)!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is quite lovely when you discover two places in close proximity but with obviously different vibes. Adds the necessary bit of surprise to the trip. I am a bit chicken too when it comes to caves.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Exquisite Caroline! The tranquility and beauty just oozed from your photos and stories. Looks like you and Mike got near a state of complete Nirvana on this trip? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What a beautiful place! I could totally feel what a special time it was for you, especially the kayak down the river – so tranquil. Wonderful photos!
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Mike Hohmann

    Memories for a lifetime. Beautiful country, villages and people. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. There’s so much I love about this post, not the least of which is a chance to get a taste of the local village. There’s something endearing about that ‘hair wash’ sign, especially against those gorgeous weavings. As a knitter, I can happily relate to your joy over the weaving expedition–what a haul! Love that breakfast buffet photo (do I spy dragon fruit?)! Your spooky proclamation made me chuckle–Phanai Cave looks like incredible exploring, but that dark chamber with the Buddha statues creeps me out a little, too. 😀 Your love for Muang Ngoi shines through your beautiful photos and words. Between the views and paddling, I can see why this was your favorite day! Yet another pin to add to my Laos ‘someday’ board. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, I loved writing this post! The village has a ton of character and it was so fun just wandering along “Main Street” discovering little gems like the weaving place advertising hair washing. Yes that is dragon fruit. Our guesthouse had breakfast included but there were a couple of really cute places like the one in the photo that set up gorgeous breakfast buffets every morning. The weaving village still brings a smile to my face every time I think about those gorgeous fabrics and friendly folks. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: