If you are planning a trip to Laos don’t miss Nong Khiaw. In this guide, you can find useful info about what to see in this small town about 4 hours from Luang Prabang.
The first time I heard about Nong Khiaw was when I was planning my trip to Laos and was looking for something to do while in Luang Prabang (here my travel guide). Due to its remote location, you’ll have to spend at least one night there.
Best time to visit Nong Khiaw
The best time to visit Nong Khiaw is between October and February. The weather is not too hot (it can be actually a bit chill in the morning), and the humidity is low. It’s a great time for hiking, kayaking, and exploring the caves nearby. March to May are the hottest months of the year and monsoon begins in late July and lasts until September, with the city witnessing landslides and floods so I don’t recommend visiting during this time of the year.
How to get to Nong Khiaw
There aren’t really many options to get to Nong Khiaw. The starting point is Luang Prabang. It was possible to get to the village by boat, but after the construction of a massive dam, this is no longer a good option.
While still technically possible it will cost you a lot of money and time. You’ll have to take a boat from Luang Prabang to a location close to the damn, then you’ll have to take a tuk-tuk to a location further upstream and then take a second boat. I don’t recommend it.
The other two options are public buses (leaving from the Northern Bus station in Luang Prabang) or minivans. These are the pros and cons:
- Public bus: it’s cheaper and the seats are slightly more comfortable but it’s not possible to buy the tickets in advance and they are often sold out when you get to the bus station.
- Minivan: it’s slightly more expensive and uncomfortable but you can book it the day before through one of the many agencies and you are guaranteed to have a seat.
I recommend booking a minivan seat in advance on your way back to Luang Prabang, especially if you have to catch a train (here I wrote about some of the challenges when booking a train in Laos).
Where to stay in Nong Khiaw
I stayed at the Meexok guesthouse (booked via Booking.com) and it was very simple but clean accommodation. There are some more expensive and comfortable options if you want to. Don’t forget to double-check also on Trip.com to see if you can get some discounts. Since Nong Khiaw is a small village, pretty much all the hotels and guesthouses are a short walking distance from the main bridge where most of the restaurants and bars are located.
Top Things to Do in Nong Khiaw in 2 days
There are mainly three things that most people visiting this village do during a one or two-night stay: hiking the viewpoints, arranging a day trip to Muang Ngoy, and exploring some of the caves in the area. If you stay for more nights you can extend the day trip to Muang Ngoy and do a two or three days hiking trip to the surrounding area.
Booking the excursions it’s easy since there are many tour agencies along the main road and you can simply walk in a day earlier and book your tour for the following day.
Pha Daeng Peak
Getting to the top of the viewpoint takes about 1.5 hours and it’s a difficult hike. The best time to get there is at sunset. If you are lucky you can see the sea of clouds. I visited Laos at the end of February when the farmers in southeast Asia burn their fields and the sky was very hazy, so I didn’t really see any good sunrise or sunset.
There is a lower viewpoint where you can camp for one night but the view isn’t as good as at Pha Daeng Peak.
Day trip to Muang Ngoy
Muang Ngoy is a remote village that can only be reached by boat. If you join the one-day tour you’ll head there first, hike a small hill to have a panoramic view of the river and the village, and then visit a cave.
If you want you can stay there for a few nights since there are a few guest houses available. Actually, to be honest, the number of accommodation options is disproportionate compared to the number of local people living there.
The village is spread out along the main dusty road and there isn’t really much to do. Technically you could visit this village independently since there is a boat leaving every day from Nong Khiaw. The catch is that the return boat from Muang Ngoy to Nong Khiaw leaves at 9:00 am. This means you won’t be able to do a day trip on your own. Clearly, a move to discourage people from traveling independently and forcing them to join a tour. It’s this kind of scam that really pisses me off when traveling in Southeast Asia: they happen all the time.
After visiting Muang Ngoy, you’ll catch the same tour boat to visit another village: Sop Keng.
This village is poorer than Muan Ngoy and no guesthouses have been built yet, although I saw a few of them under construction. This is where you can see how people in the countryside are living in Laos.
This second part of the tour includes a one-hour-long hike to a waterfall where you can swim. After that, you’ll slowly head back to the boat and you can choose to kayak for the last part of the trip, back to Nong Khiaw.
A visit to the local market
I always like to visit local markets to see something new and Nong Khiaw is no exception. It’s actually not that different from some local markets around Yunnan (here my travel guide) since geographically they are very similar, especially in the southern part of Yunnan, in the Xishuangbanna area. The market is only open for a few hours in the early morning. Ask your guesthouse for the exact location.
Final thoughts about Nong Khiaw
After coming back from my trip I have mixed feelings about this small village on the bank of the Ou River. While most people try to sell it as an off-the-beaten-track destination, the truth is that it’s far from being a remote paradise with no tourists. There are plenty of accommodations and lots of tourists all doing the same tours. True, it’s a bit hard to get there due to the limited number of buses and minivans leaving Luang Prabang but Nong Khiaw is not an untouched place.
You’ll see plenty of backpackers everywhere despite being a very small village. You’ll also find bars where you can find cocktails and happy hour offers.
This being said I think it has its charm especially if you think that the village was almost completely wiped out by the USA during the Vietnam War and Laos became the country to receive the highest number of bombs per capita in the world. So tourism is actually a great way to improve the lives of the local people. Just don’t expect to be one of the few tourists to adventure here because this is simply not the case.
Here you can find some other pictures I took in Laos. Here my travel guide to Vang Vieng, in Laos.