I love cities but I also enjoy exploring small towns and villages. Some towns make me want to leave immediately while others enfold me with their endearing ways and delightful charms. The sleepy town of Nong Khiaw, Laos won me over with its unexpected rustic and yet delightful charm so much so when I left, I was feeling wistful, wishing I had stayed more than a night.
Located three hours north of Luang Prabang towards the Vietnamese border and situated in between limestone mountains on the banks of Nam Ou (Ou River), Nong Khiaw took me by surprise for a few reasons. Firstly, the rustic town is one of the most photogenic spots in Laos; secondly, there are many guesthouses and restaurants catered for backpackers but surprisingly, the town is not plagued by traffic, parties and excessive boozing; and thirdly, there are a lot of activities that visitors can do in this small town.
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So, if you’re planning a trip to Laos, make sure you spend time visiting this part of the country, for here are five amazing things to do in sleepy town of Nong Khiaw:
Take photos on the concrete road bridge – at sunset
When I mentioned that Nong Khiaw is one of the most photogenic spots in Laos – this is one of the places. Straddling Nam Ou is a large concrete road bridge from which you can take plenty of photos of the river, the limestone mountains, the boats and kayaks that glide on the ochre-coloured Ou and the beautiful light as the sun sets behind those mountains.
You won’t have to worry about traffic on the bridge as it is almost non-existent, however, do look out for a truck or two, or a moped when crossing the bridge to take photos of either side of the river.
Go on a boat cruise on Nam Ou
Go on a flat-bottomed wooden boat cruise on Nam Ou especially in the morning around 9.00am, for you will see clouds and mists surrounding the limestone mountains, giving Nong Khiaw a mystical feel to it. During the cruise, you will stop by a village called Ban Muong Ngoy – you can take a break here to stretch your legs and explore the village a little bit or perhaps to have a cup of coffee/tea at one of the cafes.
There’s only one access to Ban Muong Ngoy which is via boats on Nam Ou. That said, I was surprised to find several guesthouses for foreigners in this village as there is nothing much to do here compared to Nong Khiaw but I assume, if you want to be in the back of beyond for a few days, Ban Muong Ngoy could be a place for you.
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Hike to Phadeng Peak viewpoint
If you are inclined towards strenuous activity in Nong Khiaw, then hike to Phadeng Peak viewpoint for a wonderful 360-degree view of the surrounding valleys – to be above the clouds. I’m not much of a mountain-climber but the other travel blogger friends went for an early morning hike (while I went for the boat cruise) and they said it took them about an hour or two to reach the peak – and the views are spectacular as evident in this photo below.
Explore Pha Thok and Pha Kuang Caves
Pha Thok and Pha Kuang Caves are caves that were used as hideouts during the Indochina war in the 1960s and early 1970s. For years, these caves were home to over three hundred people (probably even more) and inside the caves, areas were separated into sections for homes, hospitals and so on.
During the war, the American government had dropped over two million tonnes of bombs between 1964 and 1973 as part of the military operations to flush out communist sympathisers. Many parts of Laos especially in these areas are still riddled with bullet pockmarks and unexploded bombs. As it so happened during our climb up to Pha Kuang Caves, our guide from Trails of Indochina found old bullets!
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Kayak or cycle around Nong Khiaw…or just chill out
You can kayak on Nam Ou or cycle around this intriguing town. If I had stayed one more night in Nong Khiaw, I would have hired a bicycle to explore the countryside. But if you are not keen to do any of those, then just chill out, have beer Lao and enjoy the picturesque views of the mountains and river.
Where to stay
While there are plenty of options of budget accommodation in Nong Khiaw such as guesthouses or homestay, there are not many 5-star or luxury hotels.
I stayed at the Nong Kiau Riverside which is as luxurious as this town can get but I really like the spacious bungalow huts equipped with a large double bed, mosquito net, AC and a fan, hot showers, tea/coffee facilities and a private balcony to lounge around and delight in gorgeous views of the mountains and Nam Ou. WI-FI connection in the hotel is spotty, so if you’re planning to stay here, I would suggest that you take this opportunity to go on a digital detox!
For reviews on Nong Kiau Riverside, click here.
*My trip to Nong Khiaw was sponsored by Luang Prabang Tourism, Mekong Tourism and Destination Mekong. All opinions shared in this post are my own.
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