Nong Khiaw is a small town, but Muang Ngoi Neua, or simply Muang Ngoi, is even smaller. The main street, just a dirt track with small houses, guesthouses, a few shops and little restaurants alongside. There is no other way to reach the village than by boat.
Getting to Muang Ngoi
So we found ourselves squashed between other people on a narrow wooden boat that was so heavy, the river water nearly came over the edge. The landscape around us was beautiful as we were going along the brown Nam Ou river. Steep cliff faces rising up on either side of us.
But it was hard to enjoy the boat ride, as we were watching our bags and the water level anxiously. Luckily it didn’t take too long to get from Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi and we were relieved when we saw the small pier of the village.
After getting off the boat and recovering our backpacks we started walking along the main street. We gave the first few guesthouses that seemed kind of busy a miss and continued on. Soon enough we found a place that rented out little bungalows with a view on the river and the mountains and we decided to stay there.
The rest of the day we spent exploring the few streets of the village. With cows grazing and roosters and geese scurrying around it was picture perfect rural life in Laos. That evening we found a beautiful outdoor restaurant at the far end of the main street and sat between the plants and enjoyed Lao cuisine by candle light. And as night set over the village and the mountains, stars appeared in the dark sky and we listened to the quietness in the warm still air.
Dancing with the butterflies
The next morning, after breakfast at our guesthouse, we set out to explore the surroundings of Muang Ngoi. We took a dirt track that lead us out of town and eventually we got to a cave. The cave itself wasn’t very spectacular but we found something much more interesting just next to it. A crystal clear spring came from inside a smaller cave and made for a perfect swimming spot in the midday heat. We were accompanied only by hundreds of butterflies that swarmed to the spring for the fresh water.
Further into the mountains
After a few hours of refreshing dips and dancing with the butterflies we finally decided to continue our hike. The track led us further into the mountains and through a spectacular scenery of bright green rice paddies. When the sun was already getting quite low we finally made it to one of the small villages that surround Muang Ngoi. It was like going back in time.
Little piglets and naked kids where running around, small houses stood along a few dirt roads and it was quiet except from the sounds of animals. There were no scooters, no shops, no signs. We walked through the streets and saw an older man hanging out of his window. He waved for us to come closer so we walked up to him and he smiled a toothless smile and showed us a little book. The pages of the book were filled with simple illustrations and english words and he tried to pronounce the words to us. And for a few moments we had a connection with this old man from Laos and we smiled together and read out the words. Then we said our goodbyes and waved and we were on our way again, back to Muang Ngoi, with a smile on our faces.
Our walk back to Muang Ngoi was magical, with the evening sun shining its rays of pure gold over the bright green rice paddies and the incredibly shaped mountains changing from hues of green to the softest blues and purples as the sun dipped lower between them to finally disappear behind the horizon.
Although Muang Ngoi is getting more and more popular with the backpacking crowd, this beautiful rural village is still more than worth a visit. There are plenty of guesthouses to chose from and little restaurants to eat at. Our favourite was Bee Tree Restaurant. With good food and cocktails and a beautiful setting, it was the prettiest place we had had dinner at during our whole trip. Small shops, that are basically people’s living rooms, are available to buy the essentials.
Do be careful with your valuables, as always while travelling. Somebody tried to come into our bungalow in the middle of the night so we were glad that we had locked everything well.