Nong Khiaw. Up in the north of Laos. Only two buses leave Luang Prabang each day to this lovely city nestled up into the mountains. We took the 10:30 bus. We were collected at our Guesthouse in Luang Prabang, the Lotus Villa. The transport system in Luang Prabang works as follows: you are picked up at your guesthouse, get packed in a super small minivan with too many peole, too many backpacks and too less space, and are driven outside the city to the “actual” bus terminal to get your ticket validated and to change buses. First, we were confused as to how we are going to survive a 4 hour journey in a packed minivan but since we found out that this is not our actual choice of transport, we were relieved.
Try to get to the ticket counter as early as possible. If you are not traveling alone, split up so that one immediatley goes to the ticket counter and the other takes care of the luggage. The advantage is that once you get your ticket validated, you know which bus number is assigned to you (in the minibus that brought you to the terminal, people are going to different destinations). You can chose your seats first, if you were lucky to be one of the first people at the ticket counter.
The journey to Nong Khiaw is a bumpy and curvy ride but doable and actually enjoyable because the cenery is just so lush and the carst mountains are fascinating. On the way you will pass many villages. School was just over so we were driving amids crowds of Laotian students.
Once in Nong Khiaw, we chose to walk to the town centre (don’t worry, pick ups will be waiting for you, though) We chose a small and simple guesthouse, Riverside Guesthouse. It is located next to the school, walking distance to the bus terminal and to the restaurants in town (about 5 minutes walking). We payed 100.000 kip per night. You don’t need air conditioning in Nong Khiaw as it gets pretty chilly at night.
Nong Khiaw itself is a very, very small town, but its location is the reason why many travelers come there. You’ve got a river and enormous carst mountains. We can recommend an Indian restaurant. Cross the bridge and keep straight, it is located on the left side. They serve excellent Naan bread and curry.
For dinner, we ate at a restaurant directly opposite the Indian restaurant. Was reasonably priced but don’t try the pancakes, they are dry and burned.
Next morning, we woke up at 5:30 to climp up the mountain of Nong Khiaw. The trek opens at 6 am so we arrived on time. You have to pay an entrance fee and get a walking stick in exchange. We highly recommend you take the stick as the way up is steeeeep. Use the ropes that you will find on your way up- they will help you! This 1 1/2 hour trek was probably one of our challenging and exhausting treks ever. But it’s worth it. We were the first on top of the mountain and although the valley was still covered by clouds, the view was amazing.
Starving, we opted for a breakfast. We went to Delilahs Place since it was one of the few restaurants that were open and it got good reviews on Tripadvisor. We bought a Tuna sandwich, which was delicious, fried rice and another sandwich with chicken. Everything was delicious but – my Tuna sandwich was infected by salmonella which brought me into hospital later for 4 days…but that’s another story.
Nong Khiaw is worth it, even if it is only for one night. Definitely do the hike in the morning, since the views are amazing and it is not that hot. Back in Luang Prabang, we enjoyed a shower, went to the nightmarket one last time before we headed to Vang Vieng the next morning.