Hooked in a bend of the Nam Ou River, with steep, forested slopes rising vertiginously all around it, the low-rise, red-roofed village of Nong Khiaw is a wonderful base from which to explore some of Laos’s most seductive scenery.
Three hours’ drive from Luang Prabang, Nong Khiaw is one of the most stunning locations in Laos (and consequently the world). Spread along both sides of the Nam Ou River, connected by a high bridge over chocolate-coloured waters, the village is surrounded on all sides by lofty limestone mountains rising vertiginously from the valley floor, so high that their jungle-covered heads are often hidden in the clouds above. It’s a view that just doesn’t get old, whether you’re looking at it from below, from above, in the morning mist, or at sunset – and we recommend you try all of them before you leave.
Travellers come here in search of adventure, and there’s plenty of it to be had. The surrounding mountains are riddled with caves where villagers sheltered from American bombing in the 60s and 70s and criss-crossed with hiking trails to waterfalls and Khmu minority villages famous for their bamboo and rattan weaving. If you’re after something a bit more fast-paced than walking, there are endless opportunities for biking, climbing, kayaking and caving. Over the past 20 years Nong Khiaw has steadily been developing as a tourist destination, so it has some really fantastic local guides. These are the people who know the mountains best, and they’re your ticket to the most breath-taking viewpoints, the most interesting villages, and the most rewarding treks in the region. Whatever your day holds, finish it watching the sunset over that incredible Nam Ou view (preferably with a cocktail in hand) and congratulate yourself on travel choices well made.