The spectacular town of Nong Khiaw in northeastern Laos is a little quieter during the wet season, but still offers travellers a rustic village-like feel, embraced by incredibly magnificent limestone mountains…
Booked the 6-hour minibus ride (105,000K) from Luang Namtha to Pak Mon with the Zuela Guest House, mainly as most companies in town sell tickets at around the same price.
The journey snakes through hours of hairpin bends and what barely rembles a road due to bumping over so many potholes. The road is just a small amount of roadbase splattered between hoIes.
This journey leaves you a little sore and checking that your rattled bones are all still in tack – not a comfortable trip at all!
At the small Pak Mon bus terminal, you wait for another minibus (a private taxi) to take you on the rest of the journey to Nong Khiaw. The price is a set fee so the more people in the taxi, the cheaper the price. Drivers will not leave unless it is worth their while. Instead, they would rather sit at the station for hours not making any money, than cut their price by even a few Kip (currency in Laos).
As it’s late in the afternoon, we manage to bargain the price down only a fraction to 100,000K for two people after a little hard bargaining, to travel the one-hour distance to Nong Khiaw. Very expensive but there is no alternative to get to the village.
Surrounded by sheer mountain peaks…
…makes this view especially spectacular in the town of Nong Khiaw, which is split north and south by the Nam Ou River. Think of the movie Apocalypse Now, which provides a better sense of the scenery in this isolated region.
What to see
Wander almost anywhere in the surrounding area of Nong Khiaw and around the town itself and it isn’t long before you’re taken aback by gorgeous scenery around every bend – sheer delight for a photographer!
In August 2014, the wet season’s mornings provide much heavy fog, further enhancing while curling over and enveloping the mountains in a mystical veil, to unfold striking photo opportunities.
If a little hill tribe trekking is not your desire, then you can indulge in cycling, long walks, and kayaking around Nong Khiaw.
Mountain View Point
If you’re feeling energetic, then walk out of town in a southerly direction and across the bridge for the 2-kilometre trek up the ‘hill‘. A guide is not needed for this trek.
The sign for the starting point displays 1.5 hours for the ascent and 45 minutes for the descent. The views from the top are said to be magnificent.
Sadly, the day before taking the trek up, slipping on a rock on the waterfall trek and hurting my shoulder and leg, adding to the already sore back, decide to forego this trek.
The torrential rain also makes the View Point track very slippery and with the last part of the climb quite tough, other muddy climbers lived to tell their tale and share their photos.
Set high on a limestone cliff, this cave, like others in Laos, sheltered villagers and Pathet Lao fighters during the Second Indochina War. Around 3 kilometres from Nong Khiaw, be prepared for a hot long walk unless you hire a bicycle or motorbike.
A sign on the road’s right announces the cave and you have to walk down a track, cross a knee-deep (in parts) fastish flowing stream, then walk across a paddock and up some steep concrete steps to get to the cave’s entrance.
At the time of writing, the entry fee is 5,000K but as this is the wet season, a ticket seller is nowhere to be found. We do bump into a couple of locals trying out their little scam that we already read about.
At the cave’s top of the stairs awaits a couple of young guys with a book, which has a list of names to make things appear legit.
The number ‘25’ is written at the top and this is the amount per person they try to scam from you. Don’t pay these guys and just enter the cave…the scammers soon disappear.
Don’t forget to be a torch. Unfortunately, we can’t go very far into the cave today as the rope is removed and the bamboo ladder to climb down with is also broken. Either the cave is closed or not maintained – disappointing.
Boat Trips and treks
The guide books’ promote many boat trips that whizz up and down the Nam Ou River. Make no mistake, these trips are on a well-worn trail.
Boat trip to Luang Prabang
Another great boat trip leaves from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang through some of the most spectacular scenery in Laos. But alas, Power China is building the ugly, monstrous, and contentious dam around 2 hours by boat from Nong Khiaw, which cuts this passage and the river in half.
Tour companies are charging more than 1,900,000K for a boat to the dam, then a 5-minute shuttle bus across to the other side, to then pick up another boat for the remaining journey to Luang Prabang. The whole river journey takes 6 hours although, by bus, the journey only takes 3 hours.
Nam Ou River day boat
This boat trip is a little different to the run of the mill trips and takes you to the dam along with some gorgeous scenery while gliding along the calm Nam Our River. More details: Trekking Around Nong Khiaw, Laos
Day boat and trek to villages and a waterfall
Another excellent day trip with fabulous scenery is taking a boat for an hour to the start of a trek to a local village, followed by a couple more villages and a waterfall. More details: Trekking Around Nong Khiaw, Laos
Where to sleep
Vongmany Guest House on the southern side of Nong Khiaw offers an amazing view from our room and balcony – just amazing!
The room itself is basic, clean, and not furnished expensively but the view makes up for any shortfalls. Have to mention that the staff here is also lovely and enjoy the feel of this place so much that we extend our stay to six nights.
The only problem is that although staff want the booking through Agoda and payment by card not cash, which is strange, we advise staff twice of extending our stay and paying via Agoda. But, on leaving, the owner asks us to pay for the extra couple of nights, which takes a lot of explaining until she understands that we already paid in full via Agoda.
Arriving at Nong Khiaw’s bus station to catch the Songthaew, the Vongmany owner and her son also arrive on a scooter after us, making a little scene about wanting us to pay. In front of everyone at the bus station, embarrassingly, we have to go through all the rigmarole of explaining that the payment went through Agoda, as she requested, and not wanting to accept cash. Very annoying.
Where to eat in Nong Khiaw
Food glorious Laotian food…
Across the bridge on the southern side of town is the Chennai Restaurant serves tasty Indian food at cheaper prices than the guidebook recommendations. In fact, if the guidebook recommends somewhere, then this is the place to avoid as 99% of the time, prices are more expensive and the quality isn’t as good.
A cheap breakfast at the Chennai includes 2 coffees, 2 Rottis, and 2 vegetable samosas for 35,000K, although there is much more on the menu. The service is good and the staff are friendly. Alcohol is not served at this restaurant.
Service and food are good but prices are a little high compared to some of the local restaurants. Prices in western local restaurants in Nong Khiaw are higher.
On the west side of the river, close to the post office and bridge, Delilah’s offers good filtered coffee. The chicken Panini is very appetising but as with all the western local restaurants in Nong Khiaw, the price is a little high. The service is good in a relaxing ambience.
This place also comes with a few very cute puppies, so if you need some doggy therapy, Delilah’s is for you.
In the guest house, which is across the bridge on the southern side of town, delicious authentic food at reasonable prices with a great view is on offer.
Sit and relax with a refreshing fruit juice after a hard trek and enjoy the sunset unfold over the alluring mountains and the placid Nam Ou River.
Evening meals are very authentic and tasty compared with other restaurants in town, which seem to cater to the tourist palate. There are several main dishes offered to suit every budget, although eating breakfast here one morning, proved average at best. The Chennai is much better and cheaper for breakfast.
Leaving beautiful Nong Khiaw
The next leg will be an interesting trip as Nongkhiaw Travel advises that we may be on either a 4-hour local bus, a minibus, or a Songthaew. Regardless of the mode of transport, the cost is 60,000K, but the company cannot confirm the type of transport. The vehicle bound for Luang Prabang should leave at 11:00am.
I am super excited but also apprehensive about this next destination as the last time I travelled here was in 1989! Sometimes it is better to remember a place as it was and never return…