Last Updated on May 19, 2013 by Jess
The lazy little river town of Nong Khiaw (also spelled Nong Khiew, Nong Kiew, Nong Kiau or Nong Kiao) might just be or favorite town in Laos. We love the laid-back vibe in this little village by the Nam Ou River, plus there is plenty of hiking, cycling and exploring to be done during the day, and even more ways to relax at night. We spent a few extra days in town checking out every single guesthouse and nearly all Nong Khiaw’s restaurants to create this comprehensive guide to Nong Khiaw. Including:
- Where to stay in Nong Khiaw
- Where to eat in Nong Khiaw
- What to do in Nong Khiaw
- Free wi-fi in Nong Khiaw
Despite being such a small village, there are plenty of guesthouses. These are mostly bungalows, and more are being built all the time. Set almost entirely on the east side of the Nam Ou River, most of the accommodation is in the budget range, but there are a couple of higher-end options if you’d like to splurge.
Meexai has several bungalows, and each one has a terrace with a hammock. The bungalows are basic, but the showers have hot water and the hotel assured us that the free wi-fi reaches the rooms. There is a restaurant on site (where the wi-fi definitely works) but the bungalows don’t have river views.
Price: 60,000 kip ($7.50) per bungalow
Nam Houn is also a collection of bungalows, and though a bit more expensive than most of the other ones, the quality looks no better. Nam Houn has hot water showers and terraces, some of which have hammocks.
Price: 90,000 kip ($11.30) per bungalow
Bamboo Paradise has bungalows and a new building with rooms behind them. The rooms inside will protect guests more from the elements (mosquitoes/bugs) but it is the bungalows that offer river views, plus terraces and hammocks. All rooms have a fan and hot water showers and there is a little restaurant on-site. You can also arrange tours, trekking and massages here.
Price: from 60,000 kip ($7.50)
Sunset has a row of bungalows right on the east side of the river, near the town bridge. The older bungalows are very basic, but boast great river views, and there are a few nicer, newer bungalows made that are sturdy and made of stone. These are definitely worth it if you are looking for a value for money mini-luxe night or two. All bungalows have a terrace with chairs and a table, hot water showers and the restaurant on site was busy.
Price: from 80,000 kip ($7.50) for the older bungalows, 100,000 kip ($18.90) for the new stone ones
Sunset guesthouse is also located east of the river and has bungalows right at the river. Sunset bungalows are less open to the elements than some of the other bungalows, with glass windows, for example, but we are not sure if they are worth their price tag. For example, the bungalows do not have wi-fi, but the restaurant does.
Price: 150,000 kip ($18.80)
Nong Khiaw Riverside Resort and Restaurant
The Riverside Resort and Restaurant is as luxurious as Nong Khiaw can get – for now. Spacious, well-built bungalows located right near the bridge (up a path behind the Sunset guesthouse) offer fabulous river views. Rooms come with fans, mosquito nets, hot showers plus big terraces that have hammocks. Wi-fi is available, but for now you have to pay for it.
Price: 350,000 kip ($43.80)
CT Guesthouse is located right behind the bridge on the east side of the river, and has rooms in two different buildings. We stayed here for a few nights, and found the rooms are spacious and clean, and hot showers were definitely hot. Try to get a room in the lower building, where rooms have a terrace and river views. The wi-fi, however, only reaches the rooms in the other building but is available in the restaurant.
Price: 100,000 kip ($12.50)
Phulisack is a small guesthouse with only five rooms right on the road on the east side of the river. The rooms are in a concrete building, not in bamboo bungalows. Here guests have hot water showers and a little balcony that has chairs and a desk. Even though it doesn’t have river views, the rooms are clean, the owners are very friendly and the price is nice.
Price: 60,000 kip ($7.50)
Sengdao is the only guesthouse that has bungalows on the west side of the river. These are basic, with mosquito nets and hot showers, and all have a spacious terrace with chairs. What made us leave was that our bathroom had no toilet seat. Whether other bungalows did or not, this should have been fixed. Sitting right on the river and right off the bridge, the location is great and the garden is home to some amazing birds and curious cats. The on-site restaurant attracts more locals than foreigners but the menu looks good and if you stay here you are closer to a few of the better restaurants in Nong Khiaw.
Price: 80,000 kip ($7.50) for a bungalow
The village itself is not very big, but there are plenty of things to keep you active and busy during the day, as well as great ways to relax at night.
Hike to the 100 Waterfalls
The ‘100 Waterfalls’, only a recent tourism development, is apparently one of the best hikes in Laos. Plenty of tour companies in town can take you on a 1-day tour. It’s an adventurous trek – expect to stay wet for hours and make sure to bring sturdy shoes – but the scenery is more than rewarding. Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler did it in 2009 and wrote about the 100 Waterfalls in Nong Khiaw hike here.
Hike to the caves
There are two different caves near Nong Khiaw: the Tam Phatok Cave south of town (east of the river), which can be reached in an easy walk (around 1 – 1.5 hours) along the paved road, or you can rent a bicycle in town and get there in 20 minutes. Entrance for the cave is 5,000 kip ($0.63) and another 5,000 for a flashlight – but we didn’t necessarily need one. The lady who sells the tickets will watch your bikes.
The other caves are also east of the river, but about an hour walk north along the unpaved road next to the river (the path starts by the Sunrise bungalows right by the bridge). At the beginning of the little village there is a ticket booth where you can buy tickets for 10,000 kip ($1.25) to enter the cave – some of the local kids will guide you there.
Rent a bicycle and explore the surrounding area
There are several places on both sides of the river that rent bikes – we opted for some mountain bikes from a rental place near Delilah’s (west of the river). You can either follow the dirt road east of the river north out of town and visit the cave, a little village and waterfalls; or ride on the paved road south towards the mountains. The ride can be rigorous in parts but the scenery is seriously stunning and the local kids from villages who come sprinting up to you will melt you heart. Bring some extra pens, as kids will ask you for ‘pens, pens’ often.
Relax in an herbal steam bath
We love this and can very highly recommend this very basic, very relaxing activity. The Sabai Sabai restaurant (opposite the temple on the east side of the river) has a simple little wooden herbal steam room where you can relax for 15,000 kip ($1.85) for as long as you want. Herbal tea, taken during frequent breaks, is included in the price, and you will leave feeling truly relaxed and cleared out of any congestion.
Get a massage
Sabai Sabai also offers massages – a 1 hour massage will set you back at 50,000 kip ($6.25) – just another great way to relax after a day of hiking or mountain biking.
Take in the sunset from one of the riverside bars
The best bars and restaurants to watch the sunset from are the CT restaurant right by the bridge, and the Sunset Restaurant, both east of the river. Watching the sun setting over the mountains and seeing the sky turn purple while sipping a cool BeerLao was our nightly ritual and we could never get tired of it.
Watch a movie at Coco Home
Coco Home (on the west side of the river) offers three daily movie screenings. You can enjoy your breakfast while watching a movie, or have lunch or dinner with a film. There is a big sign outside of the bar that says each day which movies are shown, so just decide which one you want to watch … or stay for all three. The food is excellent and reasonably priced, as are the drinks.
Take a day trip to Muang Ngoi Neua
One hour up the river (reachable only by boat) sits the remote little village of Muang Ngoi Neua, a tiny hamlet that still has the feel of past times when there were no cars, no phones and no amenities of the digital world existed. The village is, like Nong Khiaw, right at the shores of the river, and the simplicity makes the scenery all the more breathtaking. There is only one main road, but plenty of restaurants are set up along it and related paths. Here you can hike to several caves where the locals used to hike during the Secret War. The hikes are worth it for the scenery alone, walking through rice fields between the steep mountains. Guesthouses here are seriously cheap if you decide to stay over night. We paid 40,000 kip ($5) for a nice double room. There are no hot shower or wi-fi of course.
If you do choose to come for the day, you’ll need to hire a private boat, and the more people you’ll find, the cheaper it gets – we actually joined a group of 10 on their ride up and they had hired the boat (incl. driver) for $50. Public boats go once a day, making at least one overnight necessary. We would have gladly stayed a few more nights here.
There is no shortage of restaurants in Nong Khiaw and you can definitely spending a few days in town without having to eat at the same place twice. However, I am almost certain that you’ll pick a few favorites while there, just like we did…
This restaurant has the best Lao breakfasts in town. We came here quite a few times, and though you could try a new local breakfast dish every day of the week, once we discovered the Lao pancake, it was our go-to dish. If rice for breakfast isn’t your thing, you can also try one of the many German breakfasts. Spot on traditional, these German breakfasts are double the price, but still relatively cheap at 30,000 kip ($3.75, which for Germans is under 3 Euro) and worth the ‘splurge’! For lunch and dinner you can choose between a wide range of Lao dishes, Thai curries and Western dishes such as steak, sandwiches, spaghetti and garlic bread. They also have salads and most of the cocktails are only 10,000 kip ($1.25), with the most expensive cocktail is 15,000 kip ($1.85).
Deen’s Indian Restaurant
This is one of the – if not THE – cheapest Indian restaurants we’ve ever eaten at in Laos. The vegetarian dishes (of which there are over 30!) are all between $1.50 and $1.90, there are five different kinds of naan – all under $1, five kinds of Roti breads, poppadums and every classic Indian dish you can name. A big bottle of BeerLao is $1, which is the cheapest we found in Nong Khiaw. Foursquare junkies can happily check in here on Foursquare, as Deen has free wi-fi, doubling as an internet café (there are five computers against the back wall.)
Coco Home has a great raised outdoor area with low tables and pillows to sit on. The inside ‘tables’ offer an even better lounge feel, with comfortable beds to sprawl out on. The food is a mix of western, Thai and Lao dishes and while you pay a bit more for the Western food (30,000+ kip), you can get a delicious curry for 15,000 kip ($1.85). Wi-fi is fast, drinks are fairly cheap and there are three films on upstairs each day. A definite hangout spot on the west side of the river.
CT has a range of daily changing home-made cakes, muffins, donuts and pies all well worth trying. Drinks are inexpensive, as are food portions which are very generous. The service is slow and we did meet an older couple who got sick from eating here, but this still our top choice to watch the sunset.
Sabai Sabai serves Western-Asian fusion, and they have an extra vegetarian menu. You can get fruit shakes for 6,000 kip ($0.75), the cheapest we found in town, plus 2-for-1 cocktails during happy hour. Curries are 15,000 kip ($1.85).
Delilah’s is definitely a step up from all the other restaurants in town. Run by a pair of expats, the restaurant offers create fusion dishes, daily specials, homemade cakes and when we were there, they were building a stone pizza oven outside which means that, as you read this, you might also find Italian-style wood-fire pizzas on the menu. We had a delicious appetizer there that we still think about: dark sticky rice balls with a delicious dip – if you see it on the menu, give it a try and let us know how you like it. Delilah’s has great wi-fi.
- Sunset (at Sunset guesthouse)
- Meexai (at Meexai guesthouse)
- Vongmany (on the main road, east of the river)
- Songdao (at Songdao guesthouse, west of the river)
- Sunrise (at Sunrise guesthouse)
Where to find free wi-fi in Nong Khiaw
Although this little town offers the feeling of being very remote, Wi-fi is widely available in Nong Khiaw, much to our surprise. The connection is not always speedy, but we were able to upload pictures (slowly), send emails and do other work online.
The best spots for free wi-fi are:
Coco Home – Good connection (even reaches outside) and there are plugs inside
Delilah – Probably the best connection in town, we witnessed a successful Skype call while we were there.
Deen’s Indian Restaurant – again, doubling as an internet café, the wi-fi here works well.
CT restaurant – good connection, amazing views out over the river
Sunset restaurant (at Sunset guesthouse)
HoboMaps is the best for an overview of Nong Khiaw and most of the places named above can be found on that map.