Nong Khiaw is a stunning, lazy little town in the northern part of Laos. It is situated on the Nam Ou (river) that runs all the way from Vang Vieng up to Nong Khiaw and beyond. Many people only pass through Nong Khiaw on their way to Muang Ngoi but do not let this gem go unseen. There is something about Nong Khiaw that captures travellers to stay to enjoy a town that technically should not be more than a pit stop. Nong Khiaw is on the Route 1 which is the way to Sam Neua and Vietnam. However, decent, inexpensive accommodation, friendly locals, a relatively wide range of restaurants and most important of all, a stunningly beautiful scenery, makes Nong Khiaw a favorite among visitors to Laos, why, even south east Asia. Perhaps because almost 300 meters of Nong Khiaw’s riverside consists of lush vegetation, forest and mountains and offers plenty of possibilities for long walks, hikes or photo expeditions.
The city of Nong Khiaw is divided by the bridge and most residential housing is on west side where as most guest houses are on the east. Busses from outside of Nong Khiaw arrive a ten minute walk to the west of the city and the boat pier (for those arriving on the river) is located in the centre of the city.
Nong Khiaw used to be a remote village that lacked ATMs as much as it lacked spaghetti bolognese on the menus, but as the backpackers started finding their way here, the town has adapted, fortunately without loosing it’s genuinely. It now has an ATM, (Nong Khiaw, Laos branch) plenty of pasta options and 24 hours electricity service. Nong Khiaw is still very small, you will be able to understand its geography after your first walkthrough but much of the beauty of Nong Khiaw lies outside of the city center. As many cities in Laos, Nong Khiaw has caves, waterfalls and endless dirt roads to explore.
The 100 waterfalls outside of Nong Khiaw, Laos, was opened for tourists as recently as 2008 and has enjoyed great reviews from people since. It is not actually 100 waterfalls but rather a continuous waterfall and the way to explore it is by going on a tour. Make free inquires here!
The caves are another attraction outside of Nong Khiaw. Rent bicycles or walk around 40 minutes to get there. The history about the caves of Nong Khiaw goes that locals used them as housing while the heavy bombing intended for Vietnam fell over Nong Khiaw in Laos. Remaining UXO, or hopefully only evidence of it, can be found in the fields surrounding the caves.
Ethnic minorities in Laos are plenty and Nong Khiaw Laos is no exception. If you walk or bicycle outside of Nong Khiaw, you will find both Khmu and Hmong villages. Other minorities that you might come across, not necessarily in Nong Khiaw but elsewhere, are Yao, Akha and Lu among others (Laos has around 47 different minorities). Most of them have kept their own customs, dialects and traditional dress. If you are planning on heading to Luang Prabang, be sure to check out the Traditional Art Ethnology Center for more info about that.
However, Nong Khiaw offers things to do, obviously not in the abundance Luang Prabang does, but bring a book, enjoy a beer by the Nong Khiaw riverside and realize how fortunate you are to visit a place where the tranquillity does not mean absolute remoteness. Nong Khiaw can be your perfect mix of beauty, genuinity and comfort!
Share your Nong Khiaw experiences with us, write a comment below!
Nong Khiaw Travel Tips
Getting there and away
To get to Nong Khiaw from Luang prabang travel tips
Nong Khiaw is 3-6 hours north west of Luang prabang. Let’s specify, it is technically 3 hours away but due to either your driver’s good will towards lonely farmers or other hitchhikers, or the time of the year you’re travelling, the journey to Nong Khiaw can take upwards to 6 hours (and then some… Do we have any records out there? Leave a comment please at the bottom of the Nong Khiaw travel tips page.)
During the rainy season (late April to late September) it is a sad reality (not so much for us tourists as the people actually dependant on the road) that roads up north, to Nong Khiaw, get washed away. This would mean that you are better off travelling there late dry season or early rainy season to allow some time to let the roads to Nong Khiaw to get reconstructed after the rain stopped. However, the roads are being kept after during the rainy season as well. An important Nong Khiaw travel tips is to bear in mind is that mudslides are a highly real risk in Laos (as well as other parts affected by rain seasons).
With all that said, travelling by road to Nong Khiaw from Luang Prabang during the dry season is a great, easy and inexpensive way to get there. The Nong Khiaw travel tips is to take caution when choosing time of the year to do so.
There are minivans (buses) and private cars trafficking the route to Nong Khiaw. Some will say that booking through a travel agency or your hotel will hike up prices but our experience tells us differently. Normally, booking through an agent will increase the prices (logic means that it has to) but that does not seem to be the case in Laos (at least as much). Another perk can be that you usually get picked up at your guesthouse if you book from an agency. This can in fact save you the kips that would differ on the actual ticket. So our Nong Khiaw travel hint is to check your hotel and a couple of travel agencies and then book through them.
The other way is to take a tuk-tuk to the northern bus station (just say you’re heading for Nong Khiaw and the driver will know where to take you) and sort out your ticket there. However, if you don’t want to put the money towards a private car (which obviously is a relaxing alternative), take our Nong Khiaw travel tip and book through an agency or your hotel.
One wonderful thing about Nong Khiaw is the river and why not use it for travels? Many report that this has been the highlight of their travels in Laos, which is why this definitely will be our next Nong Khiaw travel tips. Arrange a private or public boat through an agency or your hotel. There are even reports on people sorting out travels by showing up at the landing boat landing docks close to the night market on the Mekong river, but this is not something we will give you as a Nong Khiaw travel tips.
The trip should take you about 6-7 hours and you will surely pick up less hitchhiking farmers but very well be delayed by uncooperative river debris, unrealistic optimism on the ratio between westerners-boat or streams with their own will. However, some have enjoyed their trips more by bringing pillow to sit on seeing as the benches (or whatever you’d want to call them) are everything but soft. Another Nong Khiaw travel tips is to bring ear plugs. The engines on the boats can sometimes drive a sane man (or woman) insane. Luckily the effectiveness of them are seldom too much to completely rob you of the pleasant background noise of water, driver’s happy chatting and fellow travellers’ commentary. The last Nong Khiaw travel tips is to bring snacks and water. You will be glad you did. Rivers and nature are so much more enjoyable to watch while crunching.
To get to Luang Prabang from Nong Khiaw travel tips
Go to the bus station the day you want to travel (some say they’ve been able to buy it in advance but that is not a Nong Khiaw travel tips that we can give) and buy your ticket. The busses (minivans) will usually leave at 09:00, and 11:00 but some leave at 12:30 as well, and cost 50 000 kip.
A Nong Khiaw travel tips to keep in mind is that some private cars will drive people to Nong Khiaw but not have returning passenger. As many may have notice, capitalism has not yet reached Laos fully (and let’s hope it won’t), why the lack of customers does not necessarily mean that the driver will drop their prices radically, however some room for discounts should be given.
Same goes for travelling to Nong Khiaw as travelling from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang. Boats are supposed to leave at 11:00 but check at the boat pier for seasonal changes. Same Nong Khiaw travel tips as above applies; pillow for buttons, earplugs for sanity and snacks/water for a happy mood.
To Luang Namtha, Muang Khua or Phongsali from Nong Khiaw, travel tips
Take the bus from the one and only bus station in Nong Khiaw, west of town, to Oudomxay (Udomxay) and catch the bus to Luang Namtha for that destination or Vieng Thong or Sam Neua for the other two. However busses on their way to Sam Neua run through Nong Khiaw.
Nong Khiaw travel tips and hints
Travelling in Laos is still considered off the beaten path in some ways, particularly when it comes to health care. There is a reason why laotian for “Go to the hospital” is translated to “Pai (go) Bangkok”. Nong Khiaw is definitely no exception. You are away from the city (Luang Prabang) that has best transportation to the city to get adequate life support (Vientiane) to buy you time to get you to the city where you can get actual help (Odon Thani or Bangkok). Get it? Our very important Nong Khiaw travel tips is to bring all your essential medicines, a first aid kit and other tablets that can come in handy after tasting delicious but is-it-supposed-to-be-mouldy-green-soup, dehydration due to forgetting to drink water because the fellow travellers were sooo interesting or sunburns because you don’t photograph well in a hat. Whatever happens to you, count on being on your own away from comforting hospitals. Assume the worst and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Or at least alive.
Check out the map below for things to do in Nong Khiaw laos. Enjoy!
1. You’re most likely to arrive in Nong Khiaw by bus and at the bus station, west of the city center/bridge. Walk ten minutes or bound on a tuk-tuk (they’ll be waiting for you when the bus gets in) into town.
2. Seeing as you’ve probably traveled far, consider starting out by filling up on sustenance at Nong Khiaw’s Delilah. (yup same Delilah as in Luang Prabang).
3. They are in the same facility as the Tiger Trail office. Check out and make inquiries about Nong Khiaw (and other) tours here.
4. While you’re on this side of the bridge, walk down to the boat pier and embrace the feeling of luck for not having to sort out boat tickets for onward travels quite yet. However, you’ve now seen the place where you book your boat tickets if that’s your preferred style of traveling.
Have it be noted that some people arrive in Nong Khiaw by boat, and for you guys, just follow the map backwards, you get it
5. From the boat tour, head up to the main road again and cross the bridge. Don’t forget the mandatory “A-ww” upon seeing the stunning limestone mountains. Camera charged? Use it! Nong Khiaw is beautiful, right?!
6. On the other side of the bridge, you’ll find a lot of guest houses, hotels and restaurants. We wish you all the best with finding you riverside, hammock infused, kind-of-noisy but all together wonderful bungalow. This is a place to bargain, accommodation in Nong Khiaw is usually cheap.
7. Once you’re settled in, it is time to enjoy a drink and the beautiful Nong Khiaw sunset on one of the riverside bars.
8. Dinner time! Head to Coco Home on the west side of Nong Khiaw and enjoy a movie screening while indulging on delicious food.
9. Head to Hive bar to the left of the road that runs across the bridge. They’ll give usually give you a free shot and another shot at DJing during the night. This is your chance at broadening the not so rich variety of music usually played at bars. Use it well.
10. Head home (or not) so that you can wake up early, rent a bicycle and explore the surrounding areas. Many places offer bike rentals and once you’re equipped, follow the dirt road east of the river. It will take you north out of town allow to visit a cave, another cute little village and the waterfalls.
11. Head back into town and continue to go south towards the mountains. Enjoy the spectacular views and practice Lao with the kids who will surely come running to you on your ride.
12. This will probably take the better part of the day and you have now earned the right to enjoy a delicious dinner at the Riverside Resort. And while you’re at it, enjoy a nice glass of wine (or beer). You deserve it!