Anyone going by road or river between Luang Prabang, Udomxai, Xieng Khuang, Phongsali or Hua Phan Provinces stands a good chance of spending some time in Nong Khiaw, a village on the west bank of the Nam Ou in northern Luang Prabang Province. Rte 1, which extends west to east from Boten to Nam Noen (at the junction with Rte 6 in Hua Phan Province), crosses the river here via a steel bridge. Rte 13 north from Luang Prabang meets Rte I about 33km west of town at Pak Mong.
As travel along these roads has improved over the last few years, the village of Nong Khiaw has grown considerably, with an increasing number of guest houses. The, village now has electricity from 6pm to 10pm.
Sometimes Nong Khiaw is referred to as Muang Ngoi, which is actually the group of houses on the eastern bank, and sometimes it's called Nam Bak, which is actually 23km west of Nong Khiaw by road. Many people confuse this Muang Ngoi with the Muang Ngoi Neua about an hour north of Nong Khiaw by boat.
In addition to Tham Pha Thok, described following, there are other caves in the vicinity of Nong Khiaw, and a few Hmong villages within easy trekking distance as well.
Tham Pha Thok
As a few intrepid travelers have found, the wooded karst around Nong Khiaw means there's more to do in the area than just waiting for the next boat or bus out of town. A 40-minute walk will take you to Tham Pha Thok, a limestone cave where villagers lived during the Indochina War, and to a nearby waterfall. To find the cave, walk 2.5km east of the bridge along Rte I, then look for a clearly visible cave mouth in a limestone cliff to your right, about 100m from the road. Descend along a path from the road to reach the cave.
Places to Stay & Eat
Near the bridge and river landing are a number of rustic but charming and cheap guesthouses, Most of them are strung out along a short road that parallels the west riverbank.
Phayboun Guest House Rooms US$1.50. Phayboun Guest House consists or a few rooms in a two-storey wooden house in better condition than most of the others in town, at least so far. Each room has two beds, mosquito nets and fans. Toilet and cold shower facilities are shared.
Manypoon Guest House Rooms US$1.65. The friendly Manypoon offers rooms with mosquito net and shared bath downstairs. Its restaurant boasts one of the better local guesthouse kitchens.
Happy Friendly Guest House Rooms US$1.40. Basic rooms with shared bath are housed in this one-storey building just past the turn-off for the boat landing.
SSunset Guest House Small / larger rooms US$1.1512.30. This simple Lao-style wooden house on stilts stands on the east bank, a short walk from the bridge. After crossing the bridge, walk about 30m and then make a right. The guesthouse is another 70m or so down a dirt path. Simple rooms come with mattresses on the floor, mosquito nets and shared outside bath. There's a nice common sitting area with floor cushions where you can watch the sunset. Good Lao and Thai food is available.
Nong Khio Guest House Rooms US$1.15. Rooms in a two-storey wood and cement house are very basic – mattresses mosquito nets and shared facilities. There's a restaurant on the premises.
Phosai Guest House Rooms US$1.15. The Phosai is very similar 10 the Nong Khio, except it has no restaurant. These two are about the cheapest places to stay in the village.
Philasouk Guest House Rates US$1.40 per person. Crossing the bridge on Rte 1 coming from Xieng Khuang or Hua Phan Provinces, the first place you'll come to on your right is the Philasouk, a two-storey wooden house. Simple clean rooms have mosquito nets and two beds with hard mat-tresses. C1e:1Il bucket baths and toilets are at the back of the house. By all accounts the staff are not very friendly.
Bouavieng Restaurant Dishes US$1-2. Open 8am-8pm daily. This simple restaurant on Rte 1, not far from Philasouk Guest House, serves a variety of fairly good Lao rice and noodle dishes.
Getting There & Away
With improved road conditions along Rte 13, more people arrive by bus than by boat from Luang Prabang or Udomxai.
Bus & Sliwngthliew Sawngthaew bound for UdomxaL(US$1.70) leave from in front of Philasouk Guest House two or three times each morning - it's best to check with one of the guesthouses the night before you want to leave to make sure. You can also take one of the more frequent sawngthaew south-west to Pak Mong (the junction of Rte 1 and Rte 13; US$0.70), then change to another sawngthaew to Udornxai (US$1).It takes around four or five hours to reach Udomxai depending on the number of passengers and number of stops.
Sawngthaew or buses going to/from Luang Prabang take four hours and cost US$1.60 per person.
For information on' getting to Nong Khiaw from points east of the Nam Ou see the Phon sa van or Sam Neua sections later in this chapter.
Boat Boat travel along the Nam Ou south of Nong Khiaw has been eclipsed by travel along the improved Rte 13. See the earlier Gelling There & Away section for Luang Prabang for information on chartered river boats between Luang Prabang and Nong Khiaw.
Slow boats to Muang Khua (US$5) leave once or twice in the morning and take all day.