I can’t remember how I found out about Nong Khiaw. It was in the guide book but I somehow ignored it, and only discovered the village from other travellers. This was the last chance I was giving Laos. As I mentioned previously, I found Don Det a little dull, Pakse terrible, Vientiane lackluster, Vang Vieng good but excessively drunk, Luang Prabang quaint but nothing extraordinary. It sounds harsh, but between the female traveler issues and the personal loss of my grandpa while I was in Vang Vieng I only associated the country with bad memories.
So I decided to give Laos one more chance.
There are two options for getting to Nong Khiaw: bus/minibus or boat. I took the minibus option to the village, which was a very average option. However, the boat ride up the river is long but according to multiple accounts, stunning. So pricier and longer but likely the better option. If you arrive in Nong Khiaw at the bus station, know that it is actually a fair distance from the centre of the village. I would call it walkable but inconvenient, especially if you are staying in a guesthouse on the other side of the river (where most of them are located). The village is slowly gaining popularity and with that rise in popularity is an increasing number of guesthouses. I stayed in two guesthouses, a bungalow and an average guesthouse. It’s quite difficult to find very cheap accommodation in Nong Khiaw, so don’t be surprised if you can’t find anything cheaper than 5$ (as of November 2011).
There are multiple restaurants most offering a combination of Lao and Western food. But if you are in the area, I can highly recommend two restaurants in particular: Deen and Delilah’s. Deen is the most amazing Indian food I had in all of Southeast Asia. Slightly more expensive than other meals, 5$ got me butter chicken, rice, naan, and a soft drink/soda, but well worth it. Delilah’s on the other hand is something that you don’t usually find in Southeast Asia: it’s health food oriented. The options are fresh, many of them vegetarian, and the hummus and rice cakes are delicious (seriously amazing when you haven’t had hummus in nearly four months).
Most of the tourist activities in Nong Khiaw are centered on the outdoors, as the village itself is just a launching point for the surrounding area. Many people (not me) choose to do some hiking. Or if you are more found of a leisurely pace, welcome to the easy walk/boat ride to nearby villages. Through the tour company Tiger Trails in ‘downtown’ Nong Khiaw, I booked a village tour.
Our little group of three, plus a guide, left early in the morning for our walk upriver to the first of two villages. This is one of those cases where there wasn’t technically much to see, but lots to experience. We wandered through two villages and multiple fields along a dirt track. The villagers were friendly and the highlight of the walk was visiting a local school when all the children were on recess.
The day I did this tour also happened to be the day of my grandpa’s funeral back in Canada. So although my thoughts were half a world away, it was good to do something positive for the day.
In writing this post, Nong Khiaw doesn’t seem outstanding. But compared to the rest of my Lao experiences, it was incredibly positive. It was also able to provide a certain amount of personal peace in a rather turbulent time.
Have you ever been to Nong Khiaw? If so, did you love it? Hate it?