The beautiful, remote village of Nong Khaiw (Nong Kiaw, Nong Kiew, Nong Kiau, or however you want to spell it!) is an absolute must visit for those heading to Northern Laos. Only a 4 hour bus away (albeit bumpy) it is a refreshing change from the lively and touristy cultural hub of Luang Prabang.
Sadly, you can no longer take the boat to Nong Khiaw as Chinese investors are currently building (at the time of our visit) the Ayaburi damn, designed to supply a hydro-electric power plant. As you can imagine, this is also causing all kinds of problems for the locals.
The one benefit of the damn is that it has necessitated an upgrade in the road between Luang Prabang and Nong Khiaw. Despite the improving access, though, Nong Khiaw is still fairly undiscovered and off the main backpacker trail. It won’t be this way for long, though.
A sleepy village set along the Nam Ou River with plenty of guest houses, restaurants and relaxing ways to spend the day and night provides a more genuine Laos experience than when visiting the capital or Luang Prabang.
Things To Do in Nong Khiaw
Watch the sunset
The sunsets in Laos are some of the best in the World and we soon fell into a romantic evening routine of grabbing a BeerLaos and watching the sky turn shades of bright orange, purple and pink from the riverside bars and restaurants. Spend a could of nights exploring the bars and you’ll soon find the best ones or a view of the setting sun.
Cycle to local villages
Along the Nam Ou River there are many small villages to cycle through and see the local children playing and men and women working in the land.
Most of the children love to shout out to tourists as they pass by and usually ask for some Kip (local currency), but we found them to be just as happy being given a couple of sweeties.
Tham Phatok (Phatok Caves)
Most of Northern Laos is peppered with limestone mountains, jutting out of the ground to form sheer cliffs rising above the calm green rivers. Due to the nature of limestone this means that areas of Northern Laos contain some staggering cave formations.
Just a 20 minute cycle from Nong Khiaw is the Tham Phatok cave, which was was used during the second Indochina war in the 1960s as a hideout during American bombings. The original bamboo ladder which was constructed to reach the entrance can still be seen, although there is now a modern wooden staircase.
Entrance to the cave is 5,000 kip (£0.40), with tickets being purchased from a lady just off the road, who will also keep an eye on your bikes. You won’t need longer than an hour exploring the caves, but they’re definitely worth a visit (take a head torch!).
There are a couple of day treks to various waterfalls in the surrounding mountains of Nong Khiaw. Sometimes the trek you take is dictated by how many other people want to go; tour operators have blackboards outside their offices listing how many people are going on each trek – they need to reach minimum numbers to run the tour and the price usually gets cheaper the more people are going.
As it happened, we joined a group taking a kayaking/hiking adventure day, rather than the more popular 100 waterfalls trek. This involved:
- A short boat ride to the village of HouaHoy for a quick tour and a visit to the school
- A hike through the Paddy fields and surrounding jungle
- Swimming beneath the waterfall and lunch in the jungle
- Kayaking back down the river to Nong Khiaw
Herbal Sauna & Tea
The Sabai Sabai restaurant has a simple little wooden herbal steam room where you can relax for 15,000 kip ($1.85) for as long as you want. Herbal tea is included in the price and available to drink in between sauna sessions, and you will leave feeling truly relaxed and cleared out of any congestion. Sabai Sabai also has a large variety of other spa treatments and makes a delicious mint and lemon juice shake.
One of the best pastimes in Nong Khiaw is simply to relax by the river in your own personal hammock retreat. Perhaps with a Beerlaos or two
Nong Khiaw is a truly beautiful place that gives you an authentic insight into Northern Laos…the children, the buffalo grazing on the water, the huts on stilts, the sculptured limestone backdrop…only a 4hr drive away from Luang Prabang it really is a must visit. But don’t take our word for it, check out the pictures and decide for yourself.