After an interesting bus journey, we arrived in Nong Khiaw, a small village in Northern Laos. Forest clad mountains and the Nam Ou River make for a spectacular backdrop. We were dropped off at the busstation on the outskirts of town. From there a dusty road led towards the centre of Nong Khiaw.
Finding a guesthouse
The road had small houses on either side and behind the houses on the right was the river. Behind the houses on the left were a few more streets and then there were mountains. While we were walking a lady came up to us asking if we needed accommodation. At first we were a bit hesitant but we answered yes, we would take a look to see if we liked her guesthouse. So she led us past the local school to a row of small wooden huts, got out a key and let us in to have a look. When we walked in and opened the door to the balcony we realised we had hit the jackpot! The little bungalow had a balcony with an uninterrupted view onto the Nam Ou River and the mountains behind it. It was basic, but perfect for us.
Exploring Nong Khiaw
After settling into our bungalow we ventured out to explore Nong Khiaw. Walking further along the main road we came to the more touristy guesthouses where you can book organised tours, eat a western breakfast and watch movies. At the end of the main road there is a bridge that crosses the river and on the other side there are a few more restaurants and guesthouses before the road leads through fields and rice paddies and then further into the mountains.
Scooters are the most common transport in the village streets. Kids play in the street. Roosters and dogs scurry around. Nothing much seems to happen. The air was warm and dusty and made me want to slow down and enjoy the beauty of this quiet town and the mountains surrounding it.
Nong Khiaw from above
The next morning we set out to hike up a mountain to Nong Khiaw’s viewpoint. Across the bridge, walking away from the centre we found the start of the hiking trail. To use the trail, an entrance fee was asked but it was only a few cents and you even got a small bottle of water for free. Warning signs pointed out the importance of staying on the marked path as there are still unexploded bombs from the war in the area. The hike turned out to be quite a challenge. Bright orange mud stuck to our shoes and legs and made it easy to slip, mosquitos tried to attack us the moment we stood still and we were soaked with sweat from the humid heath in the jungle. But the view at the top made all discomfort disappear. Nong Khiaw was far below us, like a miniature village. The Nam Ou’s brown water flowed through the valley like a giant snake. Jungle clad mountains were all around us, as far as the eye could see.
Cave dwelling and cooling off in a stream
We liked Nong Khiaw and its slow lifestyle, loved sitting on our little balcony with a beer, enjoying the view and the evening sun. We enjoyed strolling around through the village. So we decided to stay another day.
We were interested to see more of the surrounding area so we ventured out of the village to visit Pha Tok cave. This natural cave, set in a limestone cliff, was used as a shelter during bombings in the second Indochina war. From the road we walked through bright green rice paddies to get to the cliff face. Steep concrete stairs led up to the cave so we climbed up into the dark. The cave was quite big and we explored it with the torches on our phones. It was impressive to see this place that kept so many people safe during the war.
Why you should visit Nong Khiaw
Because most tourists don’t travel further north in Laos than Luang Prabang, Nong Khiaw is still fairly quiet and untouched. There are guesthouses and restaurants but there are no trashy bars and clubs and there are no touristy souvenir shops. Village life seems to continue the way it always has and the villagers don’t seem to be bothered by the tourists that made it to Nong Khiaw. If you are looking for a place that has not completely been changed by tourism, a place to sit by the river and take in the sunset, a place where it’s totally quiet at night, Nong Khiaw is a great place to visit.