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Muang Ngoi: An Idyllic Village in Northern Laos

Muang Ngoi: An Idyllic Village in Northern Laos

Before my current trip to Laos I’d spent about 6 weeks in the country and hadn’t even come close to seeing everything I wanted.  Muang Ngoi (also known as Muang Ngoi Neua) was one of the towns I reluctantly skipped last time, so I decided to make it the centrepiece of this 2 week trip.

To say Muang Ngoi is laid back is a huge understatement. It’s the very definition of a sleepy Southeast Asian village, complete with playful dogs, roaming chickens and curious kids. I was in Muang Ngoi in September, so it might be a bit busier in high season, but I’m sure you’ll find peace whatever time of year you visit.

Where tourism and tradition collide (peacefully)

Tourism has definitely reached this corner of Laos, but it’s a far cry from Vang Vieng and similar places in Thailand (Pai seems like it might have once been like Muang Ngoi). There are plenty of businesses aimed at tourists, from an Indian restaurant to a cocktail bar with a 2 for 1 happy hour. The village recently received 24 hour electricity and the day after I arrived had finally hooked itself up to the internet. Some people will bemoan that the outside world has come to Muang Ngoi, but I’m sure the locals who call it home are happy about the changes.

We as tourists often arrogantly expect things to stay “authentic” or “as they’ve always been”, but why shouldn’t the Lao locals be able to join the changing world just as we have? I overheard people saying it was a shame that these changes were occurring in Muang Ngoi, just as I overheard someone complaining about power lines during my Tiger Leaping Gorge trek in Yunnan, China. Just because people live somewhere that tourists want to visit doesn’t mean they should stay in the past just for our benefit (that’s enough of the ranting!).

water buffaloes in Muang Ngoi, Laosboats in Muang Ngoi, Laos

Hammocks and Mango shakes

The September heat in Laos is pretty extreme, so I spent a lot of my time in Muang Ngoi lying in (or is it on…) the hammock outside my bungalow, which overlooked the Nam Ou River. There are also plenty of restaurants lining the river which have amazing views – NingNing restaurant definitely had the best view (and the best mango shakes) and was also the first to offer free wi-fi.  The food in Muang Ngoi is slightly more expensive than most places in Laos but I offset that with a 30,000 kip ($4 USD) room (which was actually really nice and even had hot water).

I had planned to go for a bike ride one day but ended up playing cards and drinking beer Lao with some people I’d met the night before. If you’re there in September (I think it’s probably hot most of the year though) it’s best not to be in too much of a rush, as the heat has a habit of breaking your plans.

Muang Ngoi restaurant, LaosMuang Ngoi Laos, river view

Villages and caves

After a few hours out walking I got talking to an Australian guy. Between sheep shagging jokes and discussing the history of the pineapple (he was reading a book about it) he commented that I looked too dark to be from New Zealand. I think I darkened a few shades after walking around the area – it was probably the hottest place I’ve been in Southeast Asia. The villages, caves and general scenery outside of town are definitely worth the effort though.  Everywhere you look is a new photo opportunity, and if you go in low season you’ll have what feels like kilometres of road all to yourself.

I tried walking to one village, but after crossing 2 rivers and dozens of pools of mud I gave up. I was wearing my jandals (flip flops) which broke half way through the walk – I managed to pop the strap back in but it would come back out every minute or so which became extremely frustrating. The next day I took the easier road and ended up in Bana Village (I think) which was even more laid back than Muang Ngoi. There are a couple of restaurants and a guesthouse you can stay at – I’d recommend it for people who think pretty much everywhere in Southeast Asia is too touristy – as you can’t get much more “local” than that village. There are a few small caves on the way to the villages which are worth a look at – and you’ll get entry to everything by buying a 10,000 Kip ticket.

Bana village near Muang Ngoi, LaosA bridge near Muang Ngoi, Laosrice fields in Muang Ngoi, Laos

Getting to Muang Ngoi

Laos is full of idyllic villages, but Muang Ngoi might just be the best of the lot. It’s completely surrounded by mountains and you can only reach it by boat, which gives it an “end of the line” kind of feel. The countryside is stunning and the locals are laid back and friendly. The boat ride there is also an experience in itself, so if you’re travelling in Laos I’d recommend getting the 3-4 hour bus ride from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw, and then the 1 hour boat ride to Muang Ngoi (read a full post about that journey here). This area was heavily bombed by the Americans during the Vietnam War but you won’t see much evidence of it these days, except for the bomb on display outside one of the guesthouses!

Further reading: Want more information on where to stay in Muang Ngoi? Check out this travel guide over at Travelfish!

The road out of Muang Ngoi, Laos

Have you been to Muang Ngoi, or does it sound like somewhere you’d like to go? Let me know!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.

Vivian T

Tuesday 12th of March 2024

Hi, I recently visited Muang Ngoi village with a local tour guide and every thing you described on your post is what I saw however what most of the tourists missed is to learn about the school dorms that provide shelter to kids from remote villages. My tour guide decided to show me and I was shocked of what was there. These kids are living in dorms 5to 8 in small dark room, no mattress, no electricity, they have to find their own food from the nature and river. They mostly eat rice and water. I couldn’t imagine going to school with not eating proteins or only rice . They have to cook for themselves and some of the kids do not go back often to see their families because they have to walk 6 hours in the jungle. I had to say that I cried and get very emotional, couldn’t leave them without offering some help. The tour guide helped me to set a deal with local restaurant and I paid for three kids hot lunch to be provided for a month. I think we as tourists should ask when visiting poor communities how could we help kids or disabled families. Not just having good time traveling but also support locals.

Jon Algie

Wednesday 3rd of April 2024

Hey Vivian, I agree it's great to give back. It can be hard when travelling, especially long-term through developing countries, to know what to do, who to support etc, especially if you're on a tight budget yourself. And just travelling in these countries is definitely supporting locals -- pretty much all the money I spent in Laos was at small, locally owned businesses. Enjoy your travels!

Reynolds Taylor

Monday 29th of February 2016

Hi, there!

I have really enjoyed reading your post on Muang Ngoi, as well as the one of Nong Khiaw. I am currently on an open ended trip around the world. My sister will be meeting me for about 2 weeks in Laos at the end of March, and we are very interested in spending a few days north of Luang Prabang. Do you by chance have specific guesthouse recommendations from your time in Muang Ngoi and Nong Khiaw?

Thank you for sharing your adventure with the rest of us! So inspiring!

Jon Algie

Monday 29th of February 2016

Thanks! I don't remember where I stayed in either of those places but in Nong Khiaw it's better to stay on the opposite side of the bridge, a few minutes walk from town. In Muang Ngoi just make sure you get a good view!

The Brave Dame

Thursday 18th of September 2014

Never been to Laos, but seeing this post reminds me that I have to go!

Great photography also! :)

Jon Algie

Thursday 18th of September 2014

Thanks, it's a great place to travel!


Wednesday 17th of September 2014

I have been to Muang Noi in 2009 and your pics make me wanna go back. I loved all of Lao, especially going by boat (I did the 2 days trip from the thai border as well to luang prabang), but Nong Khiaw and Muang Noi are my big love. And I am surprised it didnt change that much. I think people where talking back then about a big street from north (china) to bring chinese tourism to lao. did you hear about that?

Jon Algie

Wednesday 17th of September 2014

I went to Nong Khiaw 2 and a half years ago and it hasn't changed at all - you might notice it in Muang Ngoi in the high season though. There is a road going somewhere, there's no option for bus travel or anything like that though. Apparently the road is pretty rough and I'm sure it'd be easier for the Chinese to just fly.