Muang Ngoi is a tiny, remote village on a Nam Ou river surrounded with a splendid karst landscape. It is accessible only by boat and you wouldn’t see any traffic on its single road. Half of the buildings in the village serve as cafes or guest houses. The locals weave on the looms in front of their homes and sell their products on the spot. It’s difficult to find more tranquil destination in Laos.
Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi
Unable to travel to Luang Prabang from Nong Khiaw, we decided to risk taking a trip upriver instead. It turned out we weren’t the only ones who had the crazy idea of travelling up the fast-flowing, debris-strewn river to an isolated hamlet on a tiny, narrow boat. Both tourist and locals were on-board.
Within just a few days, the river had swollen significantly, submerging the pier. We had to wade through the water to embark. The boat had rather uncomfortable sitting arrangement: two very low, narrow planks of wood laid along the boat’s sides.
Despite the fact the boat was so tiny, we felt safe. The driver was maneuvering successfully between the entire logs of trees and other debris. Only once we had to stop to remove some plants tangled in the propeller- otherwise the journey was smooth.
We could see from up- close huge chunks of the bank plonking into the river with a loud splash. We were passing by picturesque karst rocks throughout the journey so we felt extremely lucky it wasn’t raining that day. The green hills were shrouded with mist which only added more charm to the whole scenery.
Muang Ngoi on a budget
Muang Ngoi was noticeably cheaper than Nong Khiaw. As soon as we landed, we were intercepted by one of the guesthouse workeers who showed us a very cheap basic but clean bungalow with a balcony and a hammock. It was located maybe 5 meters away from the river. Sadly, the powercut didn’t spare Muang Ngoi either but there was still enough water to have a shower. The shared bathroom had solar panels which meant we could even indulge in a hot shower.
There are lots of hippie style chilled out restaurants serving a huge selection of Lao dishes as well as Indian and Western fare. Unlike in Nong Khiaw, there are also a few stalls with cheap skewers, noodle soup, fried bananas, etc.
Muang Ngoi would be a perfect place to stay for a few days. Despite its small size, there are plenty of places to explore, such as 3 viewpoints and 2 caves- all within the walking distance from the village. Those attractions are marked on the signs and on maps.me. The neighbouring villages (where you can find incredibly cheap homestays) could give a glimpse of traditional Laotian way of life.
Sadly, the paths outside the village were all far too muddy to trudge on. We started walking in the lush scenery but had to turn back promptly.
We were roaming around the village when w witnessed a cock fight right in the middle of the main road. It definitely wasn’t the kind of entertainment I’d approve of.
In the evening we took our torches and walked through a candle-lit village, searching for a place to eat. The villagers were barbecuing outdoors, chatting with each other. We went into a restaurant where a group of locals was sitting but apparently no light meant no food. All the restaurants were closed for the visitors. We had to survive on some snacks from a shop that night.
A lucky escape to Luang Prabang
Our financial resources were dwindling so we didn’t have much choice but to leave the following day. We joined a Japanese guy who was desperate to get to Luang Prabang. He was prepared to pay 900 000 kip for a private boat charter to the dam and a minivan hire from the dam to Luang Prabang but was still searching for people to share the cost. We didn’t even have that money in cash but we agreed we could give it back to him after reaching the city.
First, we got the boat tickets to Nong Khiaw. The water level in the river increased again so there was no use of the jetty- we jumped on the boat directly from the banks. As we were nearing Nong Khiaw, we saw that one of the guesthouses was already submerged in water.
It was our lucky day. The road was still destroyed but it was possible to take a minivan to Luang Prabang from another section of the road, just before Nong Khiaw. The boat driver offered to take us there for free. We could clearly see from the boat the chunk of the road which collapsed to the river.
We were positively surprised we weren’t charged anything extra for the van (considering the circumstances). Nevertheless, we had to borrow some money from the travel companions for the remaining journey. As soon as we reached the city, we took the money from the ATM and paid off the debts.
How to get to Muang Ngoi?
The only way to get to Muang Ngoi is by boat. It’s just a 1.5 hours journey upriver from Nong Khiaw or around 5 hours journey from Muang Khua. The boat from Muang Khua leaves every morning in the dry season and once in a few days (whenever sufficient group gathers) in the wet season.
The boat from Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi leaves twice a day, while in the opposite direction just once, (only in the morning). It is OK to just turn up at the pier and buy the ticket around 30 minutes before the departure.
Prices [in Laotian kip as of September 2018]:
50 000 a hut with a bathroom and a river-view terrace
25 000 boat Nong Khiaw- Muang Ngoi
20 000 lunch at the restaurant
10 000 viewpoint entrance
10 000 cave entrance
5 000 one melon