Laos is full of idyllic riverside towns and taking a boat between 2 of the most beautiful ones, from Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi, was one of my favourite experiences in Southeast Asia’s most laidback country. This stretch of the Nam Ou River is particularly stunning; the only problem is that the boats aren’t built with photography in mind – so it’s impossible to capture just how awesome the scenery is.
I was excited about the boat ride from Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi, but as with most transport in Southeast Asia the boat left about half an hour late – leaving us to either bake in the midday Lao sun or get on the boat early. We chose the latter – effectively adding another 30 minutes to an already uncomfortable journey (there’s no cushioned seats on these boats!). I was with 4 French guys and a local man with his young daughter. The locals spoke no English but the daughter seemed excited to be on a boat with foreigners.
The boat finally left the harbour (not really a harbour – just a floating bamboo platform) and the cool breeze made for a welcome respite from the heat. The first section of the journey is probably the best – there are jagged peaks everywhere and it’s about as wild as Southeast Asian scenery gets. We continued upriver until we came to what looked like a small, untouched village. On closer inspection I could see a huge group of foreigners in kayaks – a good reminder I was travelling between two tourist towns. The only other people I saw on the river were the occasional locals on boats (probably fishing) and families bathing, swimming and playing in the murky water.
We stopped for about 20 minutes while locals loaded stuff onto the boat. The heat was unbearable without the breeze, so we tied some clothes to the “windows” of the boat to block out the sun. I couldn’t stand the heat (or the uncomfortable seats) for long so I went for a walk and stumbled on a small village. It was really quiet, except for the sound of the Thai TV show the local women and children were watching.
It cooled down again when the boat started moving. The little girl sitting next to me was getting thirsty so I gave her some of my water and an Oreo and she was happy again. I showed her how to take a photo with my camera and we played some games, and before I knew it we were in Muang Ngoi. I thought Vang Vieng and Nong Khiaw were prime examples of Southeast Asian riverside towns, but Muang Ngoi might be the nicest of the lot. It’s completely surrounded by mountains and the town itself has a small collection of guesthouses and restaurants with amazing river views. Stay tuned for a full post on Muang Ngoi…
Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi: The Details
Nong Khiaw is a 3 or 4 hour bus/minivan ride from Luang Prabang, Laos’ most famous tourist destination. If you leave around 9am you’ll have a couple of hours to kill in Nong Khiaw. You’ll most likely have to pass back through it after visiting Muang Ngoi and it’s definitely worth spending at least a couple of days in each town. Even if you are running short on time I’d still recommend doing the boat trip to Muang Ngoi, even if you only spend 1 night there. The boat trip from Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi costs 25,000 kip, or around $3 USD.
Further reading: Heading to Nong Khiaw? Check out this travel guide over at wikitravel.com
Have you done the boat trip from Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi, or would you like to? What’s the best boat trip you’ve ever done? Let me know!
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