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