100 waterfalls trek with Tiger Trail, Laos Laos

WIT: Nong Khiaw Viewpoint & Other Things You Can’t…

Nong Khiaw Viewpoint helps you to appreciate the beauty of this sleepy, authentic, and incredibly peaceful Laos town. Nong Khiaw (also referred to as Nong Kiau or Nong Kiew) is the perfect place to get away from it all for a few days and discover rural Northern Laos.

Nestled on the banks of the Nam Ou, this rustic riverside town is by no means undiscovered by tourists, with a number of adventure tour operators, guesthouses and restaurants serving dishes to cater to western holiday-makers and backpackers alike.

But fear not – this is no Chiang Mai. Nong Khiaw has managed to retain its local, daydream charm and relaxed vibe, and the viewpoint alone makes it worth the bumpy journey on any Laos trip.

Getting There

Around 150km away, Nong Khiaw is around 3-4 hours by road from Luang Prabang, and you can arrange your bus transfer through your hostel/guesthouse or one of the many travel agencies dotted around the centre. The mini-bus we took cost 70,000 kip per person, which was the cheapest we could find. Most buses leave around 9.30am from Luang Prabang North bus station. We’ve attached the timetables below (accurate as of November 2018):

AIR

There is no airport in Nong Khiaw. We’re biting our tongue typing that. You’ll understand why when you arrive.

The view of the mountains near Nong Khiaw, Laos
Spectacular views on the 100 Waterfalls trek
BUS

The bus from Luang Prabang North Bus Station will drop you at Nong Khiaw bus station, which is around 1km from the centre of town. Tuk –tuks will charge 10,000 kip per person (although it does state on the ticket booth this should be 5,000 kip) for a ride to the center. Alternatively, it’s a 10-15 minute walk.

WEE TIP:  You’re in for a BUMPY ride. Much of the dirt road is destroyed during the wet season, with potholes a-plenty throughout the journey. It is also common for drivers to over-fill the buses with too many passengers (we even had live ducks in plastic bags on our return journey!) and they will also stop along the way to pick up/drop off locals.

We paid 70,000kip at a travel agency around the corner from Sunrise Hostel and got picked up there and dropped at the bus station for the ride to Nong Khiaw. It’s possible to just turn up at the station in Luang Prabang and you’ll probably get a cheaper ride. There’s also a public bus, but we couldn’t find exact information about it when we were in town.

BOAT

Sadly, huge levels of Chinese investment in hydro-electric energy means that dams are being built all over Laos. This is having a massive impact on the rivers, particularly in Nong Khiaw, where many have dried up and travel by boat simply isn’t available anymore. Annoying for backpackers, but devastating for the locals that depend on these rivers for daily life.

Picture of new chinese dams which are affecting Laos rivers in Nong Khiaw, Laos
The new dam infrastructure is causing a lot of disruption

What to Do

Nong Khiaw Viewpoint (360 Viewpoint & Sleeping Woman Viewpoint)

There’s actually more than one viewpoint in Nong Khiaw, and you can’t leave without at least one of them.

It’s a little bit confusing. The original viewpoint is Phadeng Peak, Nong Khiaw 360 Viewpoint on the southern side of the bridge. The lesser-known second viewpoint is the Sleeping Woman Viewpoint.

360 View Point

The 360 Viewpoint requires an unavoidable 20,000 kip entrance fee which goes back to the local community and helps with restoration projects on the path. This is a tough climb of around 45 minutes (the locals will, however, insist that it takes 1.5-2 hours) through beautiful jungle terrain.

It’s well-signposted with halfway resting points, and it’s impossible to get lost. We sadly ran low on time and had to choose only one of the climbs. We chose this one and started the climb at 9.30am before our 1pm bus…with disappointing results as you can see below!

A cloudy view from the 360 viewpoint in Nong Khiaw, Laos
An hour too early

We spoke with other backpackers in Nong Khiaw who started the hike at 16:30 (in November) and unfortunately missed the sunset. We’d therefore recommend that in November you don’t start the hike any later than 16:00, and don’t start any earlier than 10:30.

Having said that, on our descent, the clouds cleared began to clear. It was a pretty awesome view from halfway down – the view at the top must be spectacular. As we reached the main road again just after 11:00, we were a little irritated, to say the least.

Sleeping Woman New Viewpoint

The starting point for the new Nong Khiaw Viewpoint hike is on the Northern side of the bridge. The entrance is next to Hive Bar, (free). This walk is slightly easier than the 360 Viewpoint hike and apparently also takes around 45 minutes.

The local recommendation is to climb this new viewpoint for sunrise, and the original for sunset. Since all of the sunrises in November seemed to be cloudy, we skipped this one.

100 Waterfalls Trek

So once you’ve had enough of your Nong Khiaw viewpoint of choice, there are still plenty of other things to see!

Another thing you can’t miss is the 100 Waterfalls Trek. We arranged our hike through Tiger Trails (booking office is next door to Delilahs Hostel) with a group of 8 others. Starting at 9am, there is a boat transfer to the small village where you begin the hike. Around 20 minutes in, it’s time to get into the (ankle deep) water.

It can, of course, be slippy (so wear appropriate footwear, i.e. not flipflops!), but the guides are on hand to help with any tricky bits with lots of hand-holding and pulling up.

It takes around 1 hour to get to the top with breaks and you have lunch on top of the 99th fall – where you can also jump in for a quick shower! The views at the top are sensational, but know that it’s not really a swimming spot, so don’t expect to be diving into any natural pools.

Incredible views of Laos countryside from the 100th waterfall in Nong Khiaw, Laos
Spectacular views from the 100th waterfall

The path down takes you parallel to the way up – the views are breath-taking! Once we arrived at the bottom we celebrated with a shot of Lao Lao whiskey and some insight into how it’s made (spoiler alert: crazy quick and dangerously easy).

Backpackers live cheap in Nong Khiaw, but even we didn’t buy any of the $1 bottles.

Production of lao-lao whisky in a local village near Nong Khiaw, Laos
The jug on the right is full of lao lao whisky within 10 hours
Other Tours

There are plenty of options for day trips (including kayaking, waterfalls and multi-day hikes) in Nong Khiaw available for backpackers on budgets. You could easily spend at least a week working your way through the tours. Unfortunately, we only had time for one tour.

Here’s a list of some of the other tour options available through Tiger Trails:

A photo of all the tours Tiger Trail offer in Nong Khiaw, Laos
There are many different types of tours offered by Tiger Trail
Pha Thok Cave

If caves are your thing, this is worth checking out. This cave was used as a ‘safe place’ bunker during the war, and people lived in the darkness for weeks at a time. There was even a hospital set-up in the alleyways and tunnels.

We visited this at the end of our trekking tour. However, it is also possible to visit this by bike from the centre. To be completely honest it was pretty underwhelming to us – but others in our group enjoyed it. Maybe we’d just seen too many caves. 

Mong Niaw

Most backpackers we spoke to seemed to be heading here for a few days after Nong Khiaw and lazing around with outrageous scenery, hiking tours and cheap accommodation! As you’ve already guessed, we didn’t have time to visit this place but heard amazing reviews from everybody we spoke to.

You can visit on a day-tour (it’s only one hour up-river) or transfer there and dedicate a bit of time there. Never enough time huh.

Alternative Nong Khiaw Transport

On our last night in Luang Prabang we got a ton of amazing information from the staff at Sunrise Hostel, who gave us an incredible alternative route to Nong Khiaw, easily achievable for backpackers. The idea was to rent a scooter, drive to Nong Khiaw, and drive back a different way when we were all finished up (because you need to return to Luang Prabang anyway). Spaced-out-Canadian-Steve drove this loop and raved about it.

We planned to leave half our bags with the hostel and share a scooter there and back. When we asked to leave our stuff though, they very strongly advised us not to take a scooter there and back – we found out later that this is because it’s against the law to take the local ‘scooties’ long-distance: they’re supposed to be used for urban travel only.

So! If you’re going to drive yourself to Nong Khiaw from Luang Prabang (and if you’re confident and able on a semi-automatic, we recommend that you do), make sure that you hire at least a semi-automatic.

It made even more sense to us when we were on the roughest bus journey of our lives; there’s no way a scooter would be able to survive the pot-holed roads. We can drive semi-automatics now, but we couldn’t at the time, so it wasn’t an option for us.

For other backpackers trying to get to Nong Khiaw though, we’d highly recommend this!

A google maps screenshot of a Luang Prabang - Nong Khiaw circuit
The loop we wanted to try, from Luang Prabang – Nong Khiaw and back

Don’t come back the way you came either – head SE for Muang Meuy, but turn off before it and head south for Pak Xeng and back to Luang Prabang. Spaced-out-Canadian-Steve’s photos were pretty incredible and he definitely convinced us that the views on the way back were amazing, though the road through the mountains took some care to drive.

If you have a tent you might want to split up the journey and wild camp halfway back on the last leg.

Where to Stay

Pho Sai Guesthouse our choice

A cheap sleep with river views near the bus station…this budget guesthouse is a good base for backpackers exploring Nong Khiaw. It’s around 10 minutes walk to the bridge along Main St. Try to get one of the upstairs rooms with hammocks.

50,000kip for a double room breakfast not included.

Delilahs the hostel option

The only real ‘hostel’ in Nong Khiaw, Delilah’s offers an affordable option for solo backpackers, with beds in a 6-bed dorm from 35,000kip. They also offer doubles from 60,000kip. However, we would advise checking out the TripAdvisor reviews before you book for this one. We ate here once and definitely agree that the atmosphere is a little suspect.

Dorm bed from 35,000kip

Sunrise Guesthouse the backpacker option

Many backpackers end up in this affordable guesthouse as it’s right in the centre of Nong Khiaw, next to the main bridge. Rooms have a balcony looking onto the river and the onsite restaurant has a popular happy hour for a sunset Beer Lao. Rooms start at 50,000kip for a basic room and beware that it only has squat toilets. 

50,000kip for a basic room

Sengdao Chittavong for the location

A friend stayed here and was really satisfied with his stay. He turned up and got a bungalow room for 80,000kip per night. We later found out that it’s recommended in Lonely Planet too.

80,000kip for basic bungalow

Where to Eat

DEENS INDIAN

It’s not the best curry you’ll have in your life (and certainly not as good as a friend told us) but Deens is something different in Laos and more importantly – extremely cheap.

DELILAHS

The hostel café prides itself on its home baking, promising a slice of home. It’s a decent option for breakfast if you’re craving some Western options like fried egg and bacon.

COCO HOME BAR & RESTAURANT our choice

With river views and a tasty menu, this is a great spot to grab something to eat along Main St. We would recommend the Red Thai Curry, just maybe not the night before hiking (it had a kick). Even as backpackers we can be a little food-fussy, but we thought this was the best value for money meal in Nong Khiaw.

HIVE BAR cheap drinks with backpackers

Most people on our tour were meeting in Hive Bar for a few cheap drinks after our hike. We stayed in and worked on the blog like a couple of lame backpackers, but everybody that visited said the bar was probably as good as it gets in Nong Khiaw.

So we hope our Backpackers Guide to Nong Khiaw helps you plan your trip! Let us know what you thought of the place in our Comments below, and if you need any information for Luang Prabang, read our WIT for things to do here.

Nong Khiaw Summary

Example Plan:

Day 1

  • bus from Luang Prabang, organise accommodation
  • organise tour in the afternoon and have a quick walk through the town
  • take in sunset from Nong Khiaw 360 Viewpoint

Day 2

  • enjoy the day trip to 100 Waterfalls and Pha Thok cave
  • have dinner at Coco Home Restaurant
  • have a few drinks in Hive Bar with other backpackers

Day 3

  • up early to hike to the new viewpoint for sunrise
  • catch the bus at 1pm to head back to Luang Prabang
Accommodation:
  • Pho Sai Guesthouse
  • Delilahs
  • Sunrise Guesthouse
  • Sengdao Chittavong
Restaurants:
  • Coco Home Bar & Restaurant
  • Deens
Cafes/Bars:
  • Hive Bar
  • Delilahs Cafe

Nong Khiaw Budget Breakdown

Getting There:
  • Luang Prabang North Station – Nong Khiaw Bus Terminal
  • 09:30 – 13:00 with agency around the corner from Sunrise Hostel
  • Mini Van
  • 70,000kip pp

Total: 140,000kip ($16)

Accommodation:

Pho Sai Guesthouse

  • Triple room
  • 80,000kip price per night

Total: 160,000kip ($18.50)

Attractions:
  • 100 Waterfalls Day-Trek 160,000kip
  • 360 View Point Entry Fee 20,000kip

Total: 360,000kip ($41)

Moving On:
  • Nong Khiaw Bus Terminal – Luang Prabang North Station
  • 13:30 – 16:30
  • 50,000kip

Total: 100,000kip ($12)

Total for 3D/2N: 760,000kip ($88)

The above budget is for x2 people. However, food and drink is not included.

This budget breakdown isn’t meant to be an exact record of what we spent, but should give you a rough idea of what you’re likely to spend.

*all currencies accurate at the time of writing

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