Laos is remote and takes a long time to travel around in. Northern Laos (north of Luang Prabang) is remoter than remote and takes a few years to get anywhere. The mountainous destinations of Luang Namtha and the Nam Ou River are absolutely stunning and promise adventure, but you’ll want to tack on a few extra days to your Laos itinerary to visit them.
Luckily, there’s somewhere not too far from Luang Prabang that only involves ramming yourself into a seat that’s much too small to you for a short 4 hours. (You might still have to wait an extra two to three hours to actually get on the bus, but that’s just the way it is in Laos).
I’m talking about Nong Khiaw, a charming riverside town nestled amongst mountains in Northern Laos. It really is as lovely as it sounds.
The best things to do in Nong Khiaw include hiking to viewpoints, hiking to remote villages and hiking to waterfalls. So basically, hiking in Nong Khiaw is the thing to do.
But how does one go about hiking in Nong Khiaw? Can tourists go trekking in Nong Khiaw independently, or is with a guide better? I’m here to answer all of your questions, so hold tight.
Hiking in Nong Khiaw: Where to Go?
So, there are a few different places to go hiking in Nong Khiaw. These include:
- The viewpoint overlooking the town
- The 100 waterfalls circuit
- Around the local villages on the Nam Ou River (boat required)
I’d only recommend trekking to the viewpoint independently – and even when going to these, be careful. Laos is the most bombed country in the world per capita, and lots of UXO still remain in the countryside. Nong Khiaw is no exception.
Hiking to Nong Khiaw’s Viewpoint
Phadeng Peak is 1-2 hours hike from Nong Khiaw – the difficulty of the hike depends on how much it has been raining, but it’s not too challenging, albeit uphill all the way. You’ll be grateful by the end though, as you’ll have the chance to enjoy vistas over the entire region. It’s a great spot for sunrise – just do be careful hiking up in the morning and make sure to stay on the path, as there are still UXOs (unexploded ordnance) in this area.
The 100 Waterfalls Circuit
Probably the most famous of the hikes in Nong Khiaw is the 100 waterfalls circuit. It used to be known as one of the ‘undiscovered’ hikes in Laos, but now does see its fair share of tourists. But it’s still worth going to – the waterfalls are really impressive and there are stretches of the hike where you won’t see any other tourists!
You can book in with any tour operator in town. There are lots of offices providing tours and they’re all a similar price. Just walk around when you get to Nong Khiaw and see which you like the best!
Local Village Tour
If you only have time to do one tour or one of the hikes in Nong Khiaw, I highly recommend that it be this one. I booked in with the tour agent next to Delilah’s (I can’t remember the exact name, sorry!) for a 2D1N tour, which cost me 600,000 kip.
This includes everything: two lunches, one dinner and one breakfast, an English-speaking tour guide, boat transfers, Lao Lao whiskey (which you might not want to be included – I was let off due to my protests of ‘I’m on antibiotics!’), drinking water and a night’s homestay accommodation. I thought that was quite a decent price, especially when compared to other tours in Asia.
The tour I took was with a small group of five others and took us through several of the dynamic landscapes of the Nong Khiaw area. On day number one, we hiked through rice fields, walked through local villages, visited Muang Ngoy and boated along the river.
Trekking in Nong Khiaw: Day One
The trekking on day one was pretty easy and very scenic. There weren’t any huge inclines – the only incident was when we had to take an alternate route through the fields due to a village being closed off to outsiders – something which can happen often in these areas.
I was a little concerned about the ethics of visiting local villages, but it is done so in a very non-intrusive way and the tourists do benefit the local people; a percentage of the money goes to them for their food and accommodation services. We, unfortunately, didn’t have that much interaction with the locals (apart from a group of lads who tried to convince me to have a BeerLao and join in their techno music party at 8pm) but everyone who we did speak to was very sweet and smiley!
Eating on the Nong Khiaw Hiking Tour
The food was cooked in standard Lao style and was pretty good; there were veg options which, as always, was much appreciated. The tour also included free LaoLao – Lao’s delightful whiskey. I was unfortunately on antibiotics so I didn’t get the chance to sample some of this, something that I was absolutely heartbroken about. Our guide was insistent on everyone taking the shots in even numbers, meaning my tour mates racked up about eight shots!
Nong Khiaw Hiking Tour Homestay
The homestay was simple but fine – there was a standard drop toilet, a shower (which I didn’t see or use, so I can’t comment on it) and several beds in a room, all with their own mosquito netting. It wasn’t the comfiest sleep I’ve ever had, but after trekking around I was happy to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow!
Nong Khiaw Trekking Day Two
The next morning, we had another great spread cooked by our homestay host, and then we were on our merry way once again. The village we stayed in was very rustic and rural, but even here tourism has had some impact. Lots of people had fabric shops open for tourists. If you’re interested in buying some Lao fabric, I would recommend purchasing it from somewhere like here, as it directly supports the locals.
Day two was a jungle trek – the difficulty of which that I underestimated greatly when I decided I could carry my water bottle in my hand and subsequently only had one had to heave myself up steep inclines! Luckily my friend kindly put my water bottle in his bag. After hiking through the jungle, we went to a waterfall to cool off and eat lunch.
Kayaking in Nong Khiaw
The hike concluded with kayaking back to Nong Khiaw from Muang Ngoy. I hadn’t kayaked since I was about 8 years old, but it was great fun – although I’d highly recommend anyone kayaking in Nong Khiaw to remember waterproof sun cream – my legs were beetroot red!
Other things to do in Nong Khiaw
As well as its dramatic scenery, Nong Khiaw is famous for steam baths. It’s basically a steam room that you sit in, come out and drink some ginger and lemongrass tea, and then go back into. It’s a pretty nice experience and a great way to chill out after a hike! There are places to get a steam bath all around the town – just look out for the advertising signs.
Pha Tok Cave
Nong Khiaw’s caves are well worthy of some exploration, and while these don’t quite make the hikes in Nong Khiaw list, they are a nice little add on to another adventure. Pha Tok Cave is about 2km from the centre, so can be walked, biked or tuk-tuk-ed to.
There are massage places all over Laos – and all over South East Asia, for that matter – but getting a traditional Lao massage is definitely one of the best things to do in Nong Khiaw after a hike!
Viewpoint Hotel and Resort
You can stay here, but if you’d rather stay in town, just head here to enjoy the view and grab some dinner or a sundowner.
Nong Khiaw is a really beautiful spot, a perfect place to just chill out by the river, enjoy a Beerlao, and reflect in nature. Take the time out, you deserve it!
Where to Stay in Nong Khiaw
Hostel: there is one hostel called Delilah’s in town, which also has an attached restaurant serving some of the best food in town. Dorms are very cheap (just 35,000 kip) but they do not take reservations and are often full.
Guesthouse: Sythane Guesthouse is decent and a great price. Rooms have their own en-suite with a shower (it’s traditional over-the-toilet like elsewhere in Laos, but it’s ok!), double beds and their own little outside area, some with hammocks. Click here for rates and to book Sythane Guesthouse.
Where Else in Laos?
I’ve travelled the full length of Laos and I’ve got some great wisdom to impart on you all.
- Laos itinerary for one month in the country
- 3 days in Luang Prabang itinerary
- Why I didn’t party in Vang Vieng
- How not to go hiking in Vang Vieng
- What to do in Vientiane
- Is Kong Lor Cave worth the trip?
- How to do the Thakhek Loop with no motorbike
- Things to do in Savannakhet
- Things to do in Pakse & Champasak
- Things to do in Don Det & the 4000 islands
- Everything you need to know about backpacking Laos
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