One of my most memorable travel experiences in Laos was the village hopping I did with my travel buddy, Alexandre. It was really fun and those sweet memories are still fresh in my mind.
We went to many local villages located in some of the country’s remotest areas. And we also stopped by a small touristy village called Nong Khiaw.
Located in the Luang Prabang province of Northern Laos, Nong Khiaw is an ideal location for travellers looking to rest among scenic surroundings and towering limestones.
Exploring Nong Khiaw village
Initially, Alex and I wanted to go to another village which was farther from Nong Khiaw. Since Alex isn’t a fan of touristy places, he was a little skeptical about spending the night in Nong Khiaw. But I managed to convince him to make the stop. I was sure that we would find something we both could enjoy together: exploring nature!
Although Alex’s foot was still injured (after we had an unfortunate fall near the Laos-Vietnam border), he was really excited about climbing some of the limestone mountains in the village. I was excited, too.
We already climbed some beautiful limestone mountains in Vieng Xai. You can read more about it at Exploring Laos: 5 Unforgettable Moments On the Road
We went looking for a cheap place to spend the night. As expected, the guesthouses were all quite pricey. It took us about 15–20 minutes to find something that was suitable for our budget. We managed to get ourselves a 2-night stay at the Bamboo Paradise Guesthouse. I don’t remember how much we paid for our room, but expect to pay approximately 50,000–60,000 kip.
Not long after we checked into the guesthouse of our choice, we went out for a quick exploration. We sat and relaxed at a nearby river where we saw a local man bathing happily. I wished I could do the same, too. Maybe next time.
It was nice to unwind in nature. Tranquility was immense. The village seemed very quiet and peaceful, too. It was definitely different from how I expected it to be. Apparently, the main attraction of the village is its hiking tour. When we arrived at Nong Khiaw, most of its visitors were still hiking outside. Apart from hiking, the village also offers other activities such as kayaking, cycling, rock climbing, and ziplining in the jungle.
At night when all of the travellers returned from their activities, the village became lively.
Although we didn’t do much in Nong Khiaw, we still thought that it was a nice place. There’s a spa and massage centre there called Sabai Sabai. We tried their full-body massage. It wasn’t painful at all. In fact, I find Laotian massage very nice and relaxing. The staff at Sabai Sabai were also friendly and welcoming.
There’s a lovely local restaurant where Alex and I had some good, cheap meals. We only paid 40,000 kip for a bowl of curry, which was served with rice. It was amazing! I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant. But I don’t. I’m not sure if it has got a name! All I know is it was a small restaurant on the corner of the street — right after the main bridge of the village.
When we were about to leave Nong Khiaw, we came across a French girl at the guesthouse where we were staying. She told Alex that there was another village not very far away. The conversation eventually led us to Muang Ngoi Neua, a small riverside village accessible by boat. A trip to Muang Ngoi Neua wasn’t on our plan at all. But we can’t always plan everything, right? We decided to change our route and make our way to Muang Ngoi Neua.
During the high season, boats travelling from Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi Neua travel regularly from 9:30 am until 3:00 pm. The ticket is about 25,000 kip per person. But during the low season, travellers can only catch boats travelling at 9:30 am and 2:00 pm.
Although not easy, we travelled with our motorbike by boat. Getting it out from the boat was very challenging for Alex. Thankfully, some travellers were helping us out.
Despite losing a lot of petrol when our motorbike was laid down on the boat, we managed to save some of it using our water bottles. We drank every drop of water from the water bottles we had to make space for our petrol. The boatman also helped us with that. Unfortunately for him, he accidentally drank from one of the bottles containing petrol. We felt sorry for him and promised to buy him a nice cold beer upon arriving in Muang Ngoi Neua.
Our boat journey from Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi Neua didn’t take long. Along the way, we saw a herd of water buffalo swimming in the river. Our journey went smoothly until our boat suddenly stopped working. All of us waited patiently for it to get fixed. The boat trip was supposed to be less than 45 minutes, but it ended up taking longer than that. While the boatman was fixing the boat, some of the passengers were feeling disgruntled already. Well, there was nothing much that could be done other than staying calm and hoping that the situation would get better.
We survived. Of course we did. My first impression about Muang Ngoi Neua — what a beautiful place! And there were limestones everywhere. Most of the guesthouses looked pleasant. We checked into Rainbow House. There, travellers can expect to pay for rooms under USD10. It’s a pretty decent guesthouse. Our room was clean and spacious. We liked it, even though it had no river views. There’s a small restaurant just outside of the guesthouse. From the restaurant, we were able to watch travellers waiting for their boats at the pier.
Exploring Muang Ngoi Neua
After we checked into our guesthouse, we relaxed on the stairs near the pier to catch the sunset while sipping on our cold, refreshing drinks. Then we walked around the village to see what else it had to offer. We paid a visit to a small temple where we saw a few monks praying and some stray dogs lying down on the ground. We also saw a sign with a rather bizarre spelling of the word “shoes”.
The next day, we woke up early to start our full-day exploration. We were so excited about it. We left our helmets behind. We figured that as long as we weren’t in the city, there wouldn’t be any police to come and give us a fine. For security reasons, always take your helmets when riding a motorbike. Alex and I took the risk of not taking ours. Should anything happened, we would only have ourselves to blame!
We came across a beautiful cave called Thang Kham Cave. According to the locals, it used to be a hideaway for war survivors. Many local families took shelter in there during the war. The cave is quite small, but big enough to make people lose their way if not careful. Other travel blogs have also mentioned the same thing. I even read a story by another blogger about how she and her friends tried to find their way out of the cave. Alex and I nearly got lost, too! What’s funny was I didn’t even have a headlamp with me. I had to ask Alex to light the way each time I moved forward. It was annoying. But that’s what happen when you get into a cave without actually planning to enter it in the first place! I better take my headlamp with me wherever I go next time.
After visiting the cave, we went to an open field where we saw a herd of water buffalo again. I tried to get closer to them. I wanted to have a better look at them. They were so adorable.
Then we hopped into our motorbike, and rode further until we reached a dirt road. That was our adventure of the day — riding our motorbike on a STEEP. DIRT. ROAD.
Discovering new places and people
We came across a river and rode across it. Our shoes got totally wet. But it didn’t bother us. We continued riding to wherever we liked. Nothing was planned. And we rode further until we arrived at a small village. We had no idea what its name was. But we were sure about one thing: the local villagers were very nice, warm and welcoming. We were surprised to see a small guesthouse there. We waved our hands at the travellers we saw there.
We got off our motorbike and explored the village. We stumbled upon a cute brown puppy. It was following us the whole time. Alex and I decided to give it a name. We named it Fonzy.
When it was finally time for us to leave, we said our goodbyes to Fonzy. We even thought of taking it with us, but we decided not to do that. What would happen to Fonzy at the end of our trip?
As much as we wanted to take it with us, we did what we thought was best for it. We went off without him. Fonzy ran after us as we rode away. That little creature really moved our hearts!
Watching Fonzy running after us was heartbreaking. When Fonzy couldn’t keep up with us anymore, it stopped chasing us. That was the last time we saw it.
We continued our journey and rode further until we bumped into two French travellers. They were on their way to the next village. Like us, they were out there seeking for adventures, too. The French girl showed us the location of the village (which was 3 hours away) she and her friend were looking for on Google Maps. She wasn’t even sure if the village actually existed.
They invited us to join them, too. We thought if we did, we would definitely reach there before them. Alex was up for it, but not me. However, when we were halfway through our journey back to Muang Ngoi Neua, I changed my mind. I decided to go to where the French travellers were heading. I thought it would be fun.
When we arrived at the village, we learned that there was nothing much to see there. We couldn’t even find a proper restaurant to dine in. We went to a grocery shop to buy instant noodles and boiled eggs. I asked the shop owner if we could have our lunch there. She said we could, and we did.
After lunch, we headed back to Muang Ngoi Neua. We met the French travellers again. They told us that they decided to stay at another village, which wasn’t far from the village they initially wanted to go. They only paid 10,000kip for a night stay in one of the local houses. That was cheap. When the local kids saw us, they seemed very excited.
We arrived in Muang Ngoi Neua before dusk. After we took a short rest at our guesthouse, we headed out again for beers and sunset by the river.