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Squeezed between two towering limestone cliffs on the west bank of the Nam Ou River, Nong Khiaw has long been a destination for hikers in northern Laos, not far from the Vietnam border. A small rustic town, it’s managed to escape the influx of tourism that nearby areas have seen, and visitors can still take in the sights while enjoying the sounds of birds singing and cicadas chirping.

Nong KhiawIf you make the journey on a scenic boat ride from Muang Khua, you can visit the villages of the Khmu and other ethnic minority groups to get a glimpse into aspects of rural Laotian culture. We can also arrange trips for kayaking on the Nam Ou or cycling through town.

Though historically a hub for backpackers, Nong Khiaw has seen a few simple hotel and restaurant options pop up for those who are looking for more than just hiking provisions.

There is no shortage of scenic views in Nong Khiaw — and it starts with the journey there. If you’re arriving by boat, you’ll begin your trip in Muang Khua, meandering along the Nam Ou through ancient forests and past striking karst scenery. It’s also common to travel by car, driving into Nong Khiaw from Luang Prabang.

Once you reach Nong Khiaw, the town provides a comfortable and serene base for exploring rural Laos. With access to the road system as well as trails for hiking and cycling, visitors can get around with ease. Narrow footpaths wind through jungles and climb steep limestone cliffs to lookout points where hikers can view the serpentine path of the Nam Ou as it winds through the expansive range of limestone mountains. It also gives you a bird’s-eye view of the town, with the red-roof buildings stark against the intense green of the mountains.

Water buffalo in Nong KhiawIf you prefer an easy walk instead of a strenuous scramble up a mountainside, you can visit the nearby Phatok Caves. The caves were used as hideouts during the Vietnam War — for eight years the larger cave was home to more than 800 people. To reach the caves, you must walk over a makeshift bamboo bridge and around rice paddies. While climbing up the cement stairs to the entrance in the side of a cliff, be sure to look around and note the bomb craters in the rock.

While in Nong Khiaw, you can gain insight into how the locals live by visiting a Khmu village. The Khmu, a minority group indigenous to northern Laos, traditionally farm rice and are renowned for their bamboo and rattan weaving. While visiting, you may get to learn one of these skills from a welcoming local.

We can also arrange for you to take advantage of the calm river waters and relaxing atmosphere with kayaking trips and paddleboarding on the Nam Ou.

Best time to visit

Laos has a tropical climate, and it’s best to visit between October and April while the weather is warm and dry. Green season is between late May and October, when rain returns to the area. However, the rain showers are short and don’t impede exploration too much, though there are some hikes you’ll have to forego in the rain. During the green season, waterfalls begin to flow and the landscape becomes verdant, attracting more wildlife.

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Suggested itinerary featuring Nong Khiaw

This sample itinerary will give you an idea of what is possible when you travel in Nong Khiaw, and showcases routes we know work particularly well. Treat this as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Map of Nong Khiaw

Places & hotels on the map

    Places near Nong Khiaw

    Our expert guides to exploring Nong Khiaw

    Written by our specialists from their own experiences of visiting Nong Khiaw, these guides will help you make the most of your time there. We share both our practical recommendations and the best ways to appreciate Nong Khiaw at its best.

    • What to do in Laos: our highlights guide
      Mekong River

      What to do in Laos: our highlights guide

      What to do in Laos: our highlights guide

      Still very much untouched by mass tourism, Laos offers the visitor much to see and do, from watching monks perform daily rituals or taking a night safari in a national park, to learning to cook Laotian food or taking a relaxing cruise down the Mekong River.

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    Accommodation choices for Nong Khiaw

    We've selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Nong Khiaw. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.

    Ideas for experiencing Nong Khiaw

    Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Nong Khiaw, and which use the best local guides.

    • 100 waterfalls trek from Nong Khiaw
      Ou river scenery

      100 waterfalls trek from Nong Khiaw

      100 waterfalls trek from Nong Khiaw

      Walking through small streams and rice paddies you arrive at the bottom of the 100 waterfalls which were only first explored by non-locals in late 2008. The next few hours you will encounter only water and jungle and hear the sound of the waterfall cascades as you physically work your way up through the various levels which stretch upwards for around 1.2 miles (2 km).

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    • Explore Around Nong Khiaw
      Nong Khiaw, Laos

      Explore Around Nong Khiaw

      Explore Around Nong Khiaw

      Beginning with a leisurely boat ride up the Nam Ou to Muong Ngoi, a remote and extremely beautiful mountainous area north of Nong Khiaw, you then take a light trek through the fields and forest.

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