Nong Khiaw: rural Laos at its best

Nong Khiaw: rural Laos at its best

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Not many people find their way to Nong Khiaw. Why this small town in the north of Laos isn’t on every tourist’s itinerary is a mystery to us. But we’re sure happy about it! Because this means that you still get a chance to experience rural Laos at its best.

There aren’t a whole lot of things to do in Nong Khiaw. It’s a quiet town, separated in half by the Nam Ou river.

On one side of the bridge, you’ll find the restaurants, guesthouses and travel agencies. This is where most people find their accommodation and spend their days. This is also where you get the most spectacular views of the river and the surrounding mountains.

Breakfast from our balcony in Nong Khiaw
Breakfast with the best view!
Sunset view in Nong Khiaw
The village of Nong Khiaw with the karst mountains in the background

The other side of the bridge, however, is where the magic really happens. This is the part of the village where the Laotians themselves live, eat and work. This is where you’ll find children cycling on the unpaved roads and swimming in the river, women taking their baskets of produce up the river in small paddle boats and young girls getting their hair done in one of the many salons.

Nong Khiaw
Most streets in Nong Khiaw have no asphalt.
Boy swimming in Nam Ou river
A boy swimming in the Nam Ou river.

Spend some time walking the streets of Nong Khiaw and you’ll undoubtedly fall in love with its rural charm.

Getting to Nong Khiaw

Nong Khiaw is most easily reached by minivan from Luang Prabang. It’s a three to four hour drive and costs about 65.000 to 80.000 LAK, depending on where you book. We always like to use to book our bus tickets.

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The road follows the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers and there’s some very nice scenery along the way. However, there’s also a part where the road gets really bumpy. The Chinese are in the middle of constructing a new road to support the huge dam they’ve built in the river.

Once at the bus station in Nong Khiaw, you can take a tuk tuk into town for only 5.000 LAK. Otherwise, walking to your accommodation will take you anywhere from 10 minutes (beginning of town) to 30 minutes (backpacker area across the bridge).

Things to do in Nong Khiaw

The main thing to do in Nong Khiaw is just lazing around and soaking up the village life and stunning scenery. However, if you must keep yourself busy, there are a few things to do in the surrounding area.

Take a waterfall tour

The 100 waterfalls tour seems to be the most talked about. This hike will have you walking through the river up a continuous waterfall for about 2 kilometers.

Another option is a combined boat / hike / kayak trip, which is what we did. The trip starts out with a boat trip up the river, with visits to two tribal villages.

River boat on Nongh Khiaw tour
Our boat wating to take us to our next destination.
Shop in village on Nong Khiaw tour
Lovely ladies at the local shop
Child in village on Nong Khiaw tour
The children in the villages are so happy to see you!

From the second village, we hiked for about one hour to a waterfall. The waterfall is fairly small, but has a nice swimming hole at the bottom.

Hike to the waterfall near Nong Khiaw
We start our hike from the second village.
Waterfall tour in Nong Khiaw
Cute little waterfall with a refreshing swimming hole at the bottom.

After lunch, we hiked back to the village, making a coffee stop on the way. From there, it was a 2-3 hour kayak back to Nong Khiaw. All in all, this is a great way to spend an active day in the beautiful nature of northern Laos!

Kayaking in northern Laos
It was an easy paddle down the Nam Ou river.

Sunset or sunrise at a viewpoint

There are two very nice viewpoints near Nong Khiaw. The most popular one is Pha Daeng Peak Viewpoint. It takes about an hour to reach the top and the views are truly spectacular.

We recommend that you visit this viewpoint at sunrise or sunset for the best views. Don’t forget to bring a torch though!

Nong Khiaw Viewpoint at sunset
Amazing sunset views!

The second viewpoint is called Sleeping Woman Viewpoint. This one is on the other side of the river and less high up. You can actually see the viewpoint from Pha Daeng Peak. We’ve heard the views are equally spectacular, though the path is a bit harder to climb.

Other Nong Khiaw Activities

  • Grab some drinks and watch the sunset with a view of the river. We found a great spot at Ban Lao Sunset Guesthouse and Bungalows, but there are many more places with river views.
  • Rent a (motor)bike and explore the surrounding countryside and villages. Ask around at the travel agencies for a bike and tips on where to go.
  • Enjoy a wonderful Indian meal at Deen, the most popular restaurant in town. A great alternative to the endless rice and noodles of Southeast Asia.
  • Visit the caves around Nong Khiaw. The Pha Tok cave is the most well known and easily accessible cave. Pha Kuang is a lot more challenging as it involves squeezing through a 30cm x 75cm hole! Both caves were used as bomb shelters during the Secret War.
  • Take a boat trip to Muang Ngoi. Even smaller, even more remote and even more relaxing than Nong Khiaw.
Nong Khiaw Cave Pha Kuang
The entrance to Pha Kuang cave provides a great photo opportunity 🙂

Whatever you decide to do when you’re in Nong Khiaw, we’re sure you’ll have an amazing time. It’s one of our favorite places in Laos and visiting Nong Khiaw was one of the best experiences we’ve had in Southeast Asia so far. We hope to be back here some day!

More Laos? Check out our blog post on the Gibbon Experience and read about our 3-day adventure ziplining through the jungle and sleeping in a treehouse!

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