Nong Khiaw is easily reached by bus via Luang Prabang or Udomxay. From Luang Prabang, it takes about 3-4 hours. There are buses and minivans from Luang Prabang that will take you to Nong Khiaw for 40-000 – 55, 000 kip per person.
Like many backpackers, we went to Nong Khiaw because we wanted to go to Muang Ngoi – a charming village reachable by boat 1 hour away from Nong Khiaw. To be honest, we weren’t thinking of staying in Nong Khiaw at all. We arrived there after a 4 hour minivan ride from Luang Prabang and quickly had lunch at a small restaurant there before taking our boat to Muang Ngoi. After staying more than a week at Muang Ngoi and Huay Bo, we thought of catching the bus from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang, again, passing by and skipping Nong Khiaw.
But when we arrived in Nong Khiaw after our stay in Muang Ngoi and Huay Bo, we instantly changed our minds and decided to stay – 4 days in total. We arrived during the start of the nationwide water fight, that is, the Pi Mai Laos or the Laotian New Year. The village was full of people and there was a party atmosphere in celebration of the most important event of the year.
There are actually a lot of activities one can do in Nong Khiaw, we soon realized. There are a lot of guest houses and charming bungalows situated along the Nam Ou river. We stayed in one bungalow for 50, 000 kip on our first night (we forgot the name of the place) and then decided to move to Delilah Guest House on the main road.
There are also a few travel agencies that offer trekking and kayaking tours and other touristic activities which we didn’t do but we talked to a few backpackers who had positive experiences with them.
We arrived at the start of the Laotian New Year so the village was even more lively as they celebrate the most important event of the year. The New Year’s celeberation was enough to keep us busy without doing the tours and trekking activities.
People were out in the streets drinking and celebrating the end of the past year and the coming of the new year. In Laos, the New Year is celebrated officially in 3 days. The 1st day is to celebrate the end of the past year, the 2nd day is a “no-no” day which is neither the last or the first day (or a transition day) and the 3nd day is the 1st day of the new year.
There was a dragon boat race at the Nam Ou river which was participated by the nearby towns. There were lots of people from the nearby smaller villages that came to cheer for their teams.
There was also a big outdoor market and a fun fair built just for the New Year celebrations. There was music, food, drinks and a festive, happy atmosphere everywhere. Along the banks for the Nam Ou river were food and drinking stalls filled with locals and visitors. We did have a couple of Beer Lao and munched on some Laotian snacks while walking around.
All in all, we stayed in Nong Khiaw for a total for 4 days before heading to Luang Prabang to continue our celebration of the Pi Mai Lao.
Isn’t it kind of amazing that the Laotians celebrate their New Years for a week? In Canada, we celebrate it only for one night and then many go back to work a couple of days later! :s
Hope you will visit and enjoy your stay in Nong Khiaw! It is definitely a place worth checking out in Northern Laos especially if you are planning to go to Muang Ngoi or more remote villages in the region. Whether it’s Lao New Year or not, there will be something for you to do in this small village. It is also just a nice place to do nothing and appreciate the scenery around!
Happy Pi Mai Lao everybody!!!
Where we stayed: Delilah’s Guest House on the main road, 55, 000 kip for a double room with fan. There are a lot of guest houses right after crossing the bridge. There are bungalows right along the river for 50, 000 or even less. Negotiate.
Where we ate: I think one of the best local food we have ever eaten in Laos was at a family owned restaurant a few minutes walk towards town after the Nong Khiaw Bus Terminal. It’s located opposite a school. It doesn’t have a sign, but is recognizable with the big wooden board/menu infront of their house/restaurant (see picture above). There is a good restaurant with a river view at the boat station going to Muang Ngoi. Most guest houses will have a restaurant as well.
Activities: Songkran/ Lao New Year, eating cheap but delicious local food, trekking to the viewpoint and cave, kayaking, watching films for free at Delilah Guest House