DestinationsLaosSoutheast Asia

Nong Khiaw: A Quiet Corner of Laos

“But Jon, isn’t pretty much everywhere in Laos quiet?” Yes, but quiet isn’t always created equal, and while you might find plenty of laid back places in Laos, none are likely to be in a more scenic location (and provide you with more travelling comforts) than Nong Khiaw. Sure, you could rent a motorbike and ride to a far off village where no one speaks English and you are treated like a rock star – but for those of us with slightly smaller egos, Nong Khiaw provides the perfect balance of tourist facilities, friendly locals and some great scenery.

It’s far from being overrun with tourists, but there are enough hanging around to bump it from the “off the beaten path” list into what I’d say is my favourite category: “places that are kinda known but not many people go there – where you can get good food and a decent room.” It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue (maybe you can come up with a catchier name) but these kinds of places are perfect to spend a few days in. You can walk around town without being hassled, nothing is too expensive and you have sites and attractions almost completely to yourself. The locals in this genre of tourist town also seem genuinely happy to see you, unlike the jaded greetings you often get in more popular places.

Getting to Nong Khiaw

Nong Khiaw is about a 4 hour bus ride from Luang Prabang, probably Laos’ most popular tourist spot. Luang Prabang is famous for its history, architecture and monk-tourism (what must these monks be thinking while tourists furiously snap photos of them?) You won’t get any of that in Nong Khiaw, what you’ll get is a picturesque river and a town surrounded by mountains. The town is split in 2, separated by a long bridge. On one side is the main town and on the other is where you’ll find the majority of the guesthouses. Most of these are your typical Southeast Asian wooden bungalows which overlook the river. Time slows down in places like this; just sitting out on the deck of the bungalow watching the languid pace of life is enough to forget the worries of the western world.

Nong Khiaw, a small town in Northern Laos

A wooden bungalow in Nong Khiaw, Laos

There are a lot of activities in the surrounding area if you want a bit of adventure. You can do some rock climbing, abseiling and kayaking, but one thing that sounds interesting (I hadn’t even heard of it until a little while ago) is the “100 Waterfalls” trek. The name alone is reason enough to do it; even if the waterfalls aren’t that impressive the sheer number of them will surely make up for it.

A great thing to do is just head out of town, either by foot or by bike, and into the countryside, which is full of rice fields, streams and wide open roads.I didn’t get to spend much time in Nong Khiaw (my visa was running out) so I didn’t explore the area too much, but what I saw made me want to go back.

The open road outside of Nong Khiaw, Laos

A mountain in Nong Khiaw, Laos

One attraction I did make a point of seeing was the Pha Tok Caves. These caves housed local Lao communist fighters during the Vietnam War (watch the movie Air America for a good insight into the secret war that was going on in Laos). I’m a pretty big cave fan so I always have fun exploring them, and the added history made this one extra special. It kind of amazes me more people don’t still live in caves – this one actually looked pretty inviting. I guess the spiders, bats and numerous other unlikeable animals that live in caves would ruin the experience pretty quickly.

If you have time to kill in Laos I’d definitely recommend checking out Nong Khiaw. The few days I spent there weren’t quite as relaxing as those spent on Don Det – an island seemingly build for unwinding, but they were pretty close. There are a lot less tourists and it’s nice to spend time in a town which isn’t solely devoted to tourism. You see just as many locals as travellers, which is sometimes a rarity in picturesque Southeast Asian towns (try spending some time in Pai, Thailand!).

Further reading: Need more details about Nong Khiaw? Check out this Wikitravel page

Boats in Nong Khiaw, Laos

Have you been to Nong Khiaw, or any similar “not quite off the beaten path” places? 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.
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  1. April 20, 2014 at 2:42 am — Reply

    This does look like a really nice spot. (Despite your struggle to categorize it. 🙂 )

    • April 21, 2014 at 1:28 pm — Reply

      Haha, maybe the best places can’t be categorised!

  2. April 22, 2014 at 1:27 am — Reply

    Great post. I think I would love the natural beauty and quaintness of this destination. I also love exploring caves. I never thought about living in one, but the temperatures do stay pretty consistent and would make a lot of sense!

    • April 22, 2014 at 2:21 am — Reply

      Thanks Angela, you’d love it there! Maybe it was an evolutionary mistake for man to move out of caves! I think a lot of people do still live in them in various parts of the world though – just a little more upmarket than these ones were.

  3. April 23, 2014 at 3:49 pm — Reply

    I think monks are so in peace with nature and themselves that they don’t notice all the rush and the fuss of tourists making photos staring at them and shouting loud.

    Beautiful place and beautiful photos.

    • April 23, 2014 at 10:35 pm — Reply

      Haha yeah, I guess that’s part of their charm.

  4. April 25, 2014 at 5:46 pm — Reply

    Nong Khiaw sounds great!! I love your category – “places that are kinda known but not many people go there – where you can get good food and a decent room.” It really does need a better term!! That is exactly the type of place I like to go to. Completely off the beaten track can definitely come with annoying consequences.

    • April 25, 2014 at 9:54 pm — Reply

      Haha, I’ll work harder on trying to coin a better term!

  5. April 27, 2014 at 11:36 pm — Reply

    I like your category of “places that are kinda known but not many people go there – where you can get good food and a decent room.” Having the basic services and an ability to feel like you are really exploring make the trip memorable.

    • April 28, 2014 at 12:21 pm — Reply

      Cheers Dave, too off the beaten path makes it pretty hard, it’s good to do every now and then though!

  6. April 27, 2014 at 11:56 pm — Reply

    Looks like I missed a great place in Laos. 🙂

    • April 28, 2014 at 12:21 pm — Reply

      You did, there are lots of great places in Laos though!

  7. April 29, 2014 at 3:29 am — Reply

    Nong Khiaw sounds wonderful – I love the balance that you described! It also looks absolutely beautiful. I’ve never been to Laos, but would certainly like to include Nong Khiaw in the itinerary when we make it there.

    • May 3, 2014 at 1:12 am — Reply

      Cheers Jen, you’ll love it!

  8. May 25, 2014 at 7:45 am — Reply

    We’re heading there tomorrow for a few days… Thanks for the tips! Did you get to the cave on your own or did you have to go with a guide?

    • November 10, 2014 at 10:25 pm — Reply

      Hope you enjoyed it! I just walked to the cave, wasn’t too far.

  9. March 12, 2015 at 2:25 am — Reply

    Next time you’re there take a boat ride up to Muang Ngoi Neua. It’s a sleepy little village on the river with some great hikes to nearby village and no roads (when I was there in 2011, there is now a small road but the river is still the fastest way to get there).

    • March 13, 2015 at 6:35 am — Reply

      I actually went there late last year and loved it, it’s even more laid back than Nong Khiaw!

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