We had a bit too much time in Luang Prabang after deciding to skip Vang Vieng. We wanted somewhere close yet completely different – Nong Khiaw was perfect.
OK, so Nong Khiaw is not really remote. It has electricity, 3G and WiFi, unlike the smaller town of Muang Ngoi up the river which has only recently got electricity. But compared to Luang Prabang, it did feel remote. The town is small, very local and very quiet. And we didn’t want or need WiFi anyway. It was a great place to relax for a few days.
On the subject of Muang Ngoi, we were originally going to go there, but there didn’t seem to be a huge difference between the towns aside from lack of amenities. And there were a few too many reports of thefts from guesthouses in Muang Ngoi for our liking.
The trip to Nong Khiaw was very simple, if not the most comfortable. The bus company hugely overbooked the one minibus they had planned to use for the day. It seemed like they briefly considered trying to squeeze everyone (around 30 people) into one but luckily they found another bus. Unluckily, it was around 20 years old and extremely uncomfortable (the original was modern and comfy)
Still, the journey was only around 2-3 hours so we survived. On arrival we took a songthaew with some others and got dropped off at the accommodation end of town across the river. We looked for Meexai Guesthouse as it looked like one of the best choices in the area. For 60,000 kip (£4.40) a night, we got a basic, but clean and functional room, and more importantly, this view. Which was priceless.
Nong Khiaw is definitely still a traditional Lao town. There is the small area with guesthouses and a few restaurants, but the vast majority of the main area of town across the river is all local houses and businesses. There were virtually no tourists either, primarily because of wet season.
Apart from relax, there isn’t a huge amount to do in Nong Khiaw, but this suited us fine. Trekking would have been good had the weather been better but it was seriously wet when we visited.
We tried to visit the Pha Tok caves, where the Pathet Lao communists hid from American bombing and apparently housed their ‘bank’. After cycling a few km down the main road we saw the sign and thought we were there. Wrong. We then had to cross a fast flowing stream (we cursed the fact we hadn’t worn flip flops that day) then just when we thought we’d done it we reached this.
It doesn’t look that bad but without flip flops our choice was either get our hiking boots soaked or walk bare foot through unknown stagnant water with god knows what at the bottom of it. We chickened out, as we would have had to walk through a whole field to get to the cave, which would also no doubt have been flooded. Yeah we’re lame.
So we spent another day relaxing and admiring the inexplicably beautiful surroundings. It’s a hard life.
Nong Khiaw really isn’t off the grid in any sense. There is 24 hour electricity (though frequent power cuts, but then that happens everywhere in Laos) and 3G phone service. Most guesthouses offer WiFi though it is extremely slow. There are also 2 ATM’s so you don’t need to stock up on cash beforehand.
Tickets to and from Luang Prabang by minibus are 45,000 kip from the bus stations. We were hugely overcharged coming from Luang Prabang – we paid 90,000 each with our guesthouse. Max should be 60-70,000 including transfer to the bus station.
In low season when we visited the main problems was that there were very few restaurants open due to the lack of tourists so we found ourselves re-visiting the same places a few times. In high season this shouldn’t be a problem. There is one ‘minimart’ which isn’t a minimart in the traditional sense but does have essentials, and various local shops to buy water and snacks.
There was no nightlife of any variety when we visited – the one bar in town had closed down and Hive Bar, outside of town, was undergoing renovations when we went. Even in high season I don’t think this would be a party town but then that’s not the point! Grab a beer and watch the view from your balcony 🙂