Laos – Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi Neua, Luang Prabang province

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Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi Neua are great places to break journey’s between Luang Prabang and the north-east of Laos.  The area is very scenic, relaxing and is geared up to international tourists, catering for all standards.  I arrived at Nong Khiaw after dark, and extremely weary following  the long bus ride from Xam Nua. In the faint moonlight, I could see the silhouette of the mountains sweeping down to the River Ou.  

Hotels, guest houses and restaurants are on one side of the river – Ban Saphoun – and the towns main services, including shops, travel agents, are on the other side – Nong Khiaw.  Its confusing, but they are right next to each other.  I was exhausted and just started walking across the bridge over the River Ou, soon discovering I walked from Ban Saphoun to Nong Khiaw.  Lucky for me, a very helpful and bright (enterprising) young Lao pulled up on his scooter and asked if I needed help.  Within five minutes I was checked into his lovely guest house, the Nam Ou Riverside Lodge.  This was a very welcome sight!

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The next morning, I woke to the most amazing and peaceful view…

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Muang Ngoi Neua

After breakfast I made my way down to the riverside to wait for my boat for a day trip to Muang Ngoi Neua.

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I was joining some other backpackers and the journey was about one hour up river.  My guidebook describes Muang Ngoi Neua as “a small slice of utopia”.  The boatman skilfully made his way up river, negotiating all the twists and turns and passing day to day life on the river…

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 …more early morning mist on the mountains…

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About half-way, we had the (obligatory) stop at a local village.  As our boat approached, the “women-folk” of the village were singing on the riverside.  How nice I thought, a welcoming committee. Then I looked behind me and realised they were singing a traditional song to encourage the village boat team – a regatta was on that day!

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The village main street and tobacco laid out to dry…

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The village was only connected last year; these readings are 89, 107 and 225!

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After another 30 minutes travelling up river, we arrived at Muang Ngoi Neua.  It really is gorgeous. The main street …

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I went looking for the Phanai cave, which was apparently used by the Pathet Lao as a hospital, so followed a path inland.  After a few moments, I stumbled upon this basic, yet helpful “tourist map” provided by the ever resourceful Laotians…

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The path to the cave is through a small section of jungle which leads to the cave entrance…

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As much as I wanted, due to limited time I decided not to go into the cave and up to the viewpoint.  I was disappointed. So I retreated back to the village and for the first time, noticed Lao butterflies and how beautiful they are …

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Back in the village, I had a quick lunch at the Rainbow Restaurant. Not only was the food good, but the view spectacular plus the added excitement of a ringside regatta seat …

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After lunch I wandered back down to the riverside to check out the regatta atmosphere.  The whole village was out enjoying themselves, most of all the children.  They had very little to play with but still managed to have fun.  Making sand balls and racing against each other was quite ingenious I thought. Please note one cheeky fella looking up my skirt!

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A cooling swim was also popular, playing with empty water bottles …

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Soon it was time to head back.  Two hours really isn’t enough time to explore and absorb the delights of Muang Ngoi Neua. My recommendation is to stay here at least one night if you have time. Most of the backpackers decided to kayak the last few kilometres back to Nong Khiaw.  As for me and one other on-board, well, we just chatted and enjoyed the afternoon river activity and scenery. It was a very pleasant end to a lovely day out.

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Nong Khiaw

There isn’t a huge amount to do at Nong Khiaw – it is more a base for activities in the surrounding area, providing a very scenic backdrop and relaxing atmosphere for weary travellers.  I spent two nights at Nong Khiaw, but I would recommend three nights to properly explore both Nong Khaiw and Muang Ngoi Neua, slitting your overnight stays between the two.

Getting to Nong Khiaw

By road – several bus services during the day to and from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang (4 hours).  One bus a day to Vientiane (15 hours),  Luang Namtha (4 hours),  Phongsali (9 hours) and Xam Nuna (10 – 11 hours) – this is a bus from Luang Prabang. Tickets can be bought at the bus station in Nong Khiaw or vai a travel agent in town.

By river – boat service to and from Luang Prabang (7-8 hours) is offered only during the rainy season if there are enough people. Check with local agents .

Getting to Muang Ngoi Neua

Only by river.  There is a regular boat service in the morning and afternoon.  Times vary so check locally at any guest-house or travel agent.  The boarding point is close to the Nong Khaiw bridge.

Tours and tickets can easily be purchased locally – there are plenty of agents.  Do shop around if you have time

Where to stay

There is lots of choice in both Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi Neua. You can book in advance on most of the main booking sites, or just pitch up if you are going outside the main holiday periods.  I spent two nights at the Nam Ou Riverside Lodge80,000 kip a night.  I took this from the riverbank …

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Although a little out-of-town – down an alley behind the main school and a 1 km walk to the centre – this guest house is right on the river, the rooms were very clean and well furnished and it was a very peaceful spot.  The owners also run a tour agency and can sort out your sightseeing at a reasonable price.

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