Are you craving some off the beaten path travel in Southeast Asia? You should consider Nong Khiaw. Nong Khiaw is a small town in northern Laos, best known for its gorgeous scenery. When we were planning our recent stay there, we found it was difficult to find good up-to-date information on the town. We decided to jot down some our travel tips and tricks to help out other travelers.
We opted to take the 9:30am public minivan from the south bus station (includes pick-up from your guesthouse). You will see signs posted at every travel agent for public minivans with prices ranging from 70,000 kip to 85,000 kip – you should be able to negotiate down to 65,000 kip (~US$8) like we did. The minivan is air-conditioned, left right on time, and surprisingly only took the advertised 3 hours even including a toilet stop (ask your driver to stop halfway and he will).
There are tons of guesthouses here, most pretty basic but cheap. If you’re not fussed to stay at one of the few fancier options, you can just book a place when you get there. You will see that most of the backpackers coming off the public buses and minivans do this. The town is really small so there’s no such thing as a bad location here. Walk-ins often pay less than booking ahead. We wanted a river view so we had a reservation with Meexai Guesthouse (US$15/night) – it was basic but good, and our room had a killer river/mountain view. Ask for room 5 or 10 for the best view.
There are several good food options in town. We found the food was really good quality and surprisingly much better than what we found in Luang Prabang. The wait times can be quite long at many restaurants as meals are cooked-to-order and it’s usually just a one-woman show. Don’t wait until you’re starving to show up! Our favourite was Alex restaurant (go early for dinner b/c the wait will be very long when the place gets jam packed). Noymany is also a good option for breakfast (banana crepes and french toast done right!) and lunch – plus it has a river view. Deen restaurant for Indian food makes a nice change for dinner (the set menu is really good value).
Nong Khiaw has enough to see and do to keep you busy for a couple of days, or it’s also a great place to chill out for a bit. There are several tour companies in town offering full-day excursions that usually included kayaking, biking and hiking. Unfortunately, many of the tours cost 200,000 kip per person and up, so not exactly inexpensive. Plus, the price risk is on you. They will charge you more if they can’t find other people to join the tour you want to take.
There is only one place in town (surprising we know) that rents scooters. It is located just over the bridge on the east side. They seem to only have a couple of automatic scooters (the rest were manual) that they rented for 100,000 kip/day (or 70,000 kip for a few hours). If you want an automatic scooter, you need to go early in the morning to ensure you get one.
If you’re not into taking the public bus (takes 4-4.5 hours, costs 40,000 kip), the public minivan only departs NK at 1:30 pm. If you need to get back to town earlier than that (like we did), you can book spots on a 9:30 am shared minivan with NK Adventures. They weren’t willing to budge on price so we had to pay 80K kip per person. Still, a much better option than paying for a private minivan (~500K). The van was pretty comfortable, air-conditioned, and the driver stops half-way for a toilet break. It took just over 3 hours.
Enjoy your time in Nong Khiaw – the real jewel of Laos. It was the highlight of our trip to Laos.