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Things to Do in Nong Khiaw, Laos
Nong Khiaw is a beautiful, laid-back town in northern Laos on the bank of the Nam Ou River. With its views of the river and stunning limestone mountains, Nong Khiaw (also sometimes spelled Nong Kiaow or Nong Kiau) is one of the most beautiful places in Laos.
This is a great small town to stop in during your travels through Laos or to use as a base for some rustic hikes around the mountains. If you stop here you’ll undoubtedly enjoy your stay and leave with some beautiful photos (if you’re a better photographer than I am, which isn’t a difficult feat).
Nong Khiaw for Tourists
Nong Khiaw is only just beginning to be a popular destination for tourists and backpackers. This means that it isn’t as crowded as some of Laos’s other tourist destinations, but there’s a growing selection of accommodations, restaurants, and tour companies.
For accommodations, you’ll be able to choose from a good variety of guesthouses, river lodges, and bungalows. Most of these are budget options, but you can find places with electricity, hot water, and Western-style toilets without a problem. As an added bonus, many of them have views overlooking the river.
To get to Nong Khiaw, you can take a 3-4 hour bus ride from Luang Prabang. You can also take a boat from Luang Prabang which is what I did for getting there. I used the minivan (bus) to get back to Luang Prabang. I thought it would be faster, but I was wrong. First, the minibus wasn’t on time and waited for an hour more to have enough passengers. It was a ‘typical’ ride, one person had a live pig in a ‘bag’ on board and had to make a lot of long stops.
Maybe it was just bad luck, but I missed my bus connection in Luang Prabang to Vientiane. Which got solved by getting on another bus (last one) and sitting/sleeping in the very uncomfortable bagage area downstairs, anyway that’s another Laos story. Memorable but maybe not for you when you are on a schedule.
It’s also just a short boat ride away from Muang Ngoi Mai, making it easy to visit both towns.
Pha Tok Caves
One of the most popular sites from Nong Khiaw is the Pha Tok Caves. This set of 2 caves is located about 2-3 kilometers outside of town on the Ou River across from the boar landing. After paying a small entrance fee of about 10.000 kip, you can take a scenic path to the caves set up high in a limestone cliff. Looking out from the cave, you can get a great view.
The caves themselves are also interesting; during the Second Indochina War, soldiers and villagers hid out here. There may be guides offering to show you the second of the two caves, but you can easily explore both by yourself by following the path.
Since the caves are not that big and the historical information would be fairly minimal it’s just not worth the money. You are better of spending that money to eat and dine at some local restaurant. So the caves are not that large and you’ll not get lost.
If you are looking for a place to hone your caving skills this is not the place. You can enjoy the cave atmosphere and maybe a headtorch can be handy in a couple of corners, but overall it’s very amateur friendly.
There are a couple of corners where you can go on hands and knees to explore a little further, but no real secret and difficult passages to other rooms. The second cave is also less accessible, no special stairway. It also also fairly small and definitely not a have to visit. Overall I enjoyed my afternoon stroll and exploring a little. Definitely not a have to, but fine when you’re in Nong Khiaw.
I just walked there during the day. I didn’t take any water or anything, although I didn’t really need it, it can be more pleasant to have a little food and something to drink with you especially on hot days in march-may. The walk is on a straightforward mostly paved road, but you’ll get a nice glimpse of the typical Laotian countryside and hills overgrown with some vegetation.
Hiking Near Nong Khiaw
The nearby jungle, mountains, and cliffs offer some great opportunities for hiking around Nong Khiaw. There are a number of organizations that run trips and activities such as trekking, kayaking, rafting, rock climbing, and cycling. Some of the best-known companies are Green Discovery Laos, the Tiger Trail and Fair Trek Initiative, and Phone Travel.
Depending on what kind of trek you choose, you may pass through rice paddies, jungle bursting with wildlife (although you should read my upcoming article on what people actually see on treks to not be disappointed), and beautiful waterfalls. You’ll be sure of finding stunning views along the way. One of the most popular short hikes, which you can do by yourself, is up to the top of Phadeng Peak. The trail takes about 1.5 hours each way, and you’ll have an amazing view of the countryside all around from the top.
Other Things to Do in Nong Khiaw
Nong Khiaw itself is very easy to walk around. If you want to venture outside of the town, however, you can rent a bike to do so. There are a few villages within biking distance of Nong Khiaw that are very pleasant to visit. If you’re looking for some rejuvenation following a hike, you can get a massage or enjoy an herbal steam bath at Sabai Sabai.
There is also a small temple right in the center of town. Beyond that, the best thing to do in Nong Khiaw is simply to relax. Take a stroll through town, and enjoy the river views from the bridge or from one of the small beaches along the river.
Have a meal or a couple of beers at one of the many restaurants in town. Many of the restaurants even offer beautiful river views.
You can find great authentic Laotian meals and Western-style food, all for fairly affordable prices. There are even a couple of full bars with a wide selection of beers, cocktails, and shots. However, don’t expect to party hard in Nong Khiaw. The vibe here is laid-back and relaxed, and after spending a few days in town, you will be too.