Northern Laos Part I: Nong Khiaw


Looking up river from the bridge in Nong Khiaw—C.Helbig

We had many great experiences in Cambodia and Laos, but my favourite was the time we spent in northern Laos, in the small villages of Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi. Coming from predictable, orderly Vancouver I enjoy the “chaos” of cities in SE Asia. However, the reality is I can only handle so much Bangkok, Phenom Penh, or even Siem Reap. The natural beauty and peacefulness of northern Laos made me very happy. Our visit to Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi was the perfect complement to a wonderful trip that was heavy on culture, history, and urban centres. Part I of my series on northern Laos features Nong Khiaw.

Nong Khiaw

Nong Khiaw is firmly planted on the banana pancake trail (with a few of us backpackers from the 70s and 80s thrown in), yet it remains a tranquil place. Young or young at heart, the majority of visitors to Nong Khiaw come for its exquisite scenery and outdoor activities.


Guesthouses on east bank of the Nam Ou—C.Helbig


Boat launch on west side of the Nam Ou—C.Helbig

The village is beautifully situated among towering limestone peaks and straddles both sides of the Nam Ou—the west bank is home to the bus station, boat dock, and a couple of tour companies, and the east bank has more of the guesthouses. The bridge is a lively spot, particularly around sunset. I spent a ton of time on that darn bridge but didn’t get a good photo of the structure itself.  The ones below, from a fellow blogger, are lovely and really convey the feel of the place.


The bridge at Nong Khiaw:


View to bridge from Nong Kiau Riverside Bungalows:

Nong Khiaw has surprisingly good tourist infrastructure. There are plenty of guesthouses, an ATM, massage service, several restaurants and tour organizers. We stayed at the most expensive place in town—the Nong Kiau Riverside Bungalows (the town’s name is spelled several different ways). At $50/night (including breakfast and a glass of wine) it is very pricey compared to the basic backpacker bungalows, many with equally great views, but we loved this spot and its slightly quirky vibe.


View upriver from bridge with Riverside Bungalows on the right—C.Helbig


Peaceful Nong Kiau Riverside Bungalows—C.Helbig

We appreciated the cosy slippers that are supplied for guests at the entrance of the Riverside restaurant (it’s cool at night from December thru February). The fire pit, made from a Vietnam War era bomb casing, serves a useful purpose but is a sobering reminder of the hardship endured by people in this heavily bombed region—I’ll be writing more about this in upcoming posts.

There’s nothing like chilling in Nong Khiaw—gazing over the gorgeous vistas with beers in hand. But, with only a day and half, nature and activity beckoned us. There’s lots to do: hiking, kayaking, biking, village visits… We packed in as much as we could and it just wet our appetite for more time in this marvelous place.


Heading off for  kayaking/village visits—C.Helbig

We enjoyed a day of village visits, hiking to Tad Mok waterfall, and kayaking with local NK tours. I’ve got lots of photos so I’ll save this for a future post.


Exploring around Nong Khiaw—C.Helbig

Nong Kiau Riverside Bungalows and several other places rent bikes. It’s a very pleasant way to explore the surrounding area.


Phadeng Peak hike—C.Helbig

By far my favourite activity in Nong Khiaw was hiking Phadeng Peak to the amazing viewpoint. You can read about it here.

How to get to Nong Khiaw (from Luang Prabang)

Nong Khiaw is about 140 km north and slightly east of Luang Prabang.  A few years ago, you could travel there by boat from Luang Prabang, but with the construction of several dams this is no longer possible. Most visitors use tourist minivans that depart Luang Prabang bus station daily at 9:30 a.m, or whenever they’re full. Depending on whether you buy a ticket from one of the many tour companies in town or directly at the bus station it’s about 50,000-70,000 Kip ($6- $9) for the 3.5-4 hour drive. Don’t expect anything luxurious and beware that on occasion there are not enough seats. One poor Swiss guy in our van almost had to endure the bumpy ride sitting on the floor. At the last minute, the driver found a foot stool for him. It wasn’t a bad ride (easy for me to say) and we all got there in one piece.

Stay tuned for more on activities in and around Nong Khiaw and then on to idyllic Muang Ngoi.


Kayaking near Muang Ngoi—C.Helbig

Categories: Laos, Places | Tags: , , , , , | 36 Comments

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36 thoughts on “Northern Laos Part I: Nong Khiaw

  1. Pingback: Northern Laos Part II: Hike to Phadeng Peak Viewpoint, Nong Khiaw | Writes of Passage

  2. Pingback: Bangkok, Cambodia & Laos Trip Report: Reflections | Writes of Passage

  3. Pingback: Keep an Open Mind About Vientiane, Laos | Writes of Passage

  4. Pingback: High Expectations for Luang Prabang, Laos | Writes of Passage

  5. Lovely location!…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Caroline, We have been talking about a trip to Cambodia and Laos or Laos and Burma or other combinations since our brief trip to Vietnam and Cambodia about five years ago. Trouble is I always want to go back to the places I have already visited again AND new places. And we are bit stuck on Nepal at the moment. But Laos is definitely still on our list. Burma is meant to be stunning too.

    This sounds and looks like a lovely place and I like the activities you can do would be great. Yes the bomb casings…the museums you can visit in SE Asia covering the wars in the region are very sobering indeed. Re the Pancake trail, I have been told that one of the treks in the Annapurna region in Nepal used was referred to as the Apple Pie trail because of all the bakeries and of course there are lots of apples grown in the cooler regions of Nepal.

    I did get a giggle out of you not getting your own picture of the bridge but was glad a blogger could help you out. I read a professional photographer’s post about researching the type of shots you could take at a certain destination before you left and making a list of shots, if you needed to publish your photos. I thought it was a good idea. I do love the slippers. Louise

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh such tough choices about where to go to next! I can see by your experiences in Nepal why you are “stuck” on it. I’m sure you would find Cambodia and Laos fascinating, and throughout our travels we heard rave reviews on Burma/Myanmar. It appears to be a favourite for many and still not as as firmly planted on the “banana pancake trail”. Apple pie trail—that’s a good one too.
      Don’t get me going on photos I missed. As I’m sitting here trying to put these posts together I’m frustrated with myself. I’ve been explaining to my husband that sometimes for blogging it’s not always the beautiful, creative photos you need but also ones that tell the story. Clearly I forgot this on a number of occasions. Great idea about making a list of shots.
      Always good to chat with you Louise. Cheers, Caroline

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Northern Laos Part III: A Perfect Day in Muang Ngoi | Writes of Passage

  8. You have made me put Northern Laos on my to do list for the near future.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Looks idyllic! Looking forward to the next posts.

    Liked by 1 person


    Such a beautiful place. You’ve captured some really good landscapes. They look amazing

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Northern Laos Part II: Hike to Phadeng Peak Viewpoint, Nong Khiaw | Writes of Passage

  12. That shot of Phadeng Peak is so beautiful. Actually every frame is lovely including the bungalows. Thank you for the peek into a part of the world I am yet to get to.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I am impressive with the theme of your page and amazing photography skills. Definitely looking through your post from present through the past. Salute!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow, absolutely incredible scenery. I’m curious, why is it called the Banana Pancake Trail?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was wondering if anyone was going to ask me about that. Good question. The term is a metaphor used to describe popular backpacking routes in SE Asia. As routes get increasingly popular, eating establishments start to cater more to western tastes serving comfort food like banana pancakes. Even way back in ’91 when I backpacked in Thailand, banana pancakes were the big thing in cheap guesthouses/dorms frequented by travellers who were primarily relying on Lonely Planet for their route. I guess they could also call it the muesli or burger trail but at least bananas have some local connection. Cheers, Caroline

      Liked by 3 people

  15. Beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Mike Hohmann

    Beautiful, beautiful Caroline. I’d love to visit there one day. I was in Vietnam during the late 60’s and in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam the Hmong people assisted U.S. forces, risking their lives and the lives of their families. Many were citizens of south Vietnam, but many came from their homelands in Laos and Cambodia to help fight the Communists. Many U.S. GI’s made it back home alive because of these brave Hmong warriors who provided intelligence and force-on-force assistance to U.S forces.
    Many Hmong refugees escaped retribution in Laos and Cambodia (as well as S. Vietnam) and escaped into Thailand and other SE Asian countries, and spent years in (largely Thai) refugee camps, and even a camp in Nong Khai I believe, before finally escaping/resettling in the U.S. and elsewhere.
    Many Hmong refugees arrived in the Twin Cities between the mid-70’s and the mid-80’s. I believe the largest population of Hmong in the U.S. reside in the Twin Cities, with other large populations in the Fresno area, and as farmers/small business people in western Wisconsin.
    I assisted with the development of an Eastern Health Care Clinic in St. Paul in the mid-80’s (a merger of Eastern and Western medicine), at a time before any Eastern Care options were recognized by American insurers. Eventually there was big money on the table, and American insurers began offering coverage for some Eastern Care options. And the rest is history!
    Thanks for sharing the story of your trips!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Mike, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments—sharing your story and the history lesson. I’m ashamed to admit that I am quite ignorant about the details of the war in Vietnam. I feel a bit more educated having visited Cambodia and Laos. I had very little knowledge about the spillover effect in these countries. I am grateful for your comments about the amazing sacrifices of the Hmong people. Your work with the clinic in St.Paul must have been fascinating. I can just imagine the push back at that time (and even now) on Eastern medicine practices.
      Our entire trip was a great experience but learning about the fairly recent history of these countries in the 60’s/70’s is something that will really stick with me. Our visits to the Genocide Museum in Phenom Penh and C.O.P.E (Cooperative Orthotic & Prothetic Enterprise) in Vientiane were real highlights. Equally impactful was listening to personal stories of tuktuk drivers, hospitality staff, etc, and pondering the bomb casings in northern Laos that have been put to many creative uses.
      I hope you get to Laos. Between the personal significance to you and the beauty of the land and people I’m sure it would be a moving experience.
      Thanks again! Cheers, Caroline

      Liked by 2 people

  17. This looks like an amazingly beautiful area. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Rich. We weren’t quite sure what to expect because it’s slightly off the beaten path (especially the next town I’ll be writing about), but we just ended up loving northern Laos.


  18. Your Phadeng Peak photo is absolutely stunning! My oldest looked over my shoulder as I was scrolling and said, “Whoa, epic!” of the scene. When I told him it was Laos, he said that we needed to “seriously check out Laos when we’re done with this US. thing” 😀 I couldn’t agree more. I can see why you loved Nong Khiaw and its tranquil beauty. Wow, you weren’t kidding about the affordability factor; I think I’ve paid the same for a bad Motel 6 in a questionable part of town, lol. $50 for those beautiful bungalows with vittles and wine to boot? You’re putting Laos back on my radar in a big way!

    Liked by 2 people

    • There’s more of Phadeng Peak coming next so hopefully your son will convince you to check it out. I was chuckling when I wrote about the price. It is absurdly inexpensive compared to what we are used to, but of course the young backpackers were appalled about what we were paying in comparison to their $10 digs, some of which looked quite nice with the exact same views and hammocks on the decks to boot. Our best value place was in southern Cambodia at a whopping $45 (out of this world great)…don’t get me started on value at some of those North American chains…Cheers, Caroline

      Liked by 2 people

  19. Gorgeous! Especially the photo of the peak with the mist on your hike. Just WOW! Wish we had made it there, but at the time Ben was working for the UN, “nose to the grind” which is why we spent so much time in Luang Prabang. So thanks for taking me along.


    Liked by 2 people

    • Spending extra time in Luang Prabang doesn’t sound like too much of a hardship. I’m sure I would have enjoyed getting to know the town in more detail, and slowing down. Nong Khiaw is special, and WOW is just how I felt sitting at the viewpoint watching the mist rise…definitely a highlight for me. Cheers, Caroline


  20. What a gorgeous place! It reminds me of Vang Vieng where I wished we’d had more time. Looking forward to the next posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m very curious about Vang Vieng. Some folks claim it is even more scenic than Nong Khiaw and others find it too busy. I wish we could have checked it out ourselves but it came down to time constraints and making a decision between the two. Rough life! Cheers, Caroline

      Liked by 1 person

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