In a nutshell
Nong Khiaw is a charming little town in Laos that is not strictly on the main tourist trail but is still well worth a visit.
Why go to Nong Khiaw
The town is located on the lush banks of the serene Ou River in Laos and is also close to the jagged limestone mountains to the north of Van Vieng. With that in mind, it is easy enough to visit if you are spending time in wider area and you also swing by Nong Khiaw en route to other off-the-grid spots such as Muang Ngoi.
Still, if you just travel to Nong Khiaw on its own then you will still find a number of things to do such as explore the little villages that lie around the town as well as spend time checking out the clutch of attractions like the eerie caves that are part of the wider mountain range.
When to go to Nong Khiaw
Compared to the rest of Southeast Asia, Laos has two main seasons which fall into wet or dry. The dry season lasts from October to April and the wet season runs from May to September. Unlike the wet season in many other countries in Southeast Asia however, Laos does not have a coastline so the rainy season is not particularly harsh and it usually only rains for a few hours every day.
With that in mind, you can visit Laos all year round and you won’t have to worry too much about the weather spoiling your travel plans.
Where to stay in Nong Khiaw
Nong Khiaw is not a particularly well known tourist destination in Laos so surprisingly it has a rather good range of accommodation options.
These are mostly in the budget bracket however but there is still a lot of choice and you can get rooms from USD 5 for a room or bungalow with a shared bathroom. The cheaper guesthouses may have Wi-Fi in communal areas although it is rare to find a good signal in the rooms, but most have hot water if you pay a little extra for a room with a private bathroom. These are usually around USD 10 although in the low season you can usually get a good deal if you are prepared to bargain.
If you have a larger budget then you can try some of the mid-range hotels in Nong Khiaw which have rooms from between USD 30-50 per night.
Where to eat in Nong Khaiw
In addition to a wide range of accommodation options you will also find a huge selection of restaurants in Nong Khiaw. These include a number of local eateries that will serve you up local Laotian favourites including mango sticky rice and the national dish called laap. This is basically a salad of minced meat which is then mixed with fresh lime juice, herbs, chilies and local spices.
There are also a number of Indian eateries in town where you can get toothsome curries as well as freshly made flatbreads which make a great breakfast.
Surprisingly, you will also find a selection of international restaurants and cafes in town which serve up Western dishes like sandwiches and burgers. In the evenings there are also a clutch of local cafes which sell Beer Lao, the local tipple in Laos, which you can enjoy while looking out over the river at sunset.
How to get around Nong Khiaw
The centre of Nong Khiaw is very easy to walk around on foot, especially if you stick to the area along the river front. If you want to get out of the main centre of town then you can rent a bike at one of the guesthouses and get around that way. This is a good way of traveling around Nong Khiaw, especially if you are staying on the eastern side of the river as this is the location of a number of guesthouses and bungalows. To get back into town you can cycle or walk across the main bridge that crosses the Ou River.
How to get to and from Nong Khiaw
You can take a bus to Nong Khiaw from Luang Prabang which costs around USD 5 and takes around 4 hours. There are several buses that make the journey daily which usually leave from Luang Prabang at 9 am, 11 am and 2 pm. There is also a local minibus that leaves from Luang Prabang at 9.30 am and also costs around USD 5. In the other direction buses leave Nong Khiaw for Luang Prabang at 9 am and 11 am and minibuses make the journey at 8.30 am, 10 am and 11 am.
You can also get a bus to Nong Khiaw from Udomxay which run every day at 9 am and 11 am, although they usually wait until there are around 4 passengers before they depart which means that you may experience delays. Tickets cost around USD 5 and the journey takes 4 hours.
There are also indirect buses to Luang Namtha, Muang Khua and Vieng Thong but you will need to change buses en route and many of them arrive at their destinations in the late evening.
It is also possible to get a boat from Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi Neua which leaves at 11 am or 2 pm and costs USD 2. The journey takes around an hour up river, although the service may not run in the low season so it is best to check in advance.
Is Nong Khiaw a safe place to visit?
Take care around the main bus station in Nong Khiaw. Many of the drivers here can be aggressive about getting fares as they are paid on commission and may hassle you to get into their bus or minibus as quickly as possible.
Due to the confusion there have also been reports of pick pocketing in this area, or of guests leaving their bags unattended to buy tickets and then returning to find that they have been stolen.
With that in mind make sure that you stay vigilant when you are in the bus station and do not leave any items unattended at any time. Also try to buy your tickets in advance to avoid being hassled at the bus station.