Nong Khiaw: the hidden treasure of Laos

Nong Khiaw: the hidden treasure of Laos

Nong Khiaw situated in Luang Prabang Province is one of the most fairy-tale-like destinations of Northern Laos providing limitless possibilities for all types of travelling. This cute, romantic village surrounded by emerald-coloured mountains captivated me at first sight.

It is the perfect place to enjoy the peace and tranquility lying in a hammock, while the sunset paints the magical Nam Ou river into thousand shades of gold.Nong Khiaw is getting more and more popular, not only among backpackers. It is still kind of a sleeping village, but not for long I guess. Unfortunately.

Anyway, we even had the luck to see this awesome, hidden treasure in all its glory and I collected for you some of the highlights of it.

Dive into taste of Laos

The gastronomy of Laos is very diverse, you can find the traditional Lao dishes on every corner, while each province has its own specialty. The meat-lovers and vegetarians alike can find heavenly good bites.

Nong Khiaw is relatively small village, but restaurants and street food can be found easily on both sides of the river. My very favourite restaurant was located near to the bridge, in a tiny, dusty street, owned by a local family. The restaurant not only with normal tables was furnished, but with corners full with colourful pillows: perfect for chatty nights, while tasting amazing Lao dishes, drinking beer and our beloved Lao Lao. But what should we try sitting between these rainbow-like pillows or walking in the maze of street vendors?

Dive into taste of Laos

The gastronomy of Laos is very diverse, you can find the traditional Lao dishes on every corner, while each province has its own specialty. The meat-lovers and vegetarians alike can find heavenly good bites.

Nong Khiaw is relatively small village, but restaurants and street food can be found easily on both sides of the river. My very favourite restaurant was located near to the bridge, in a tiny, dusty street, owned by a local family. The restaurant not only with normal tables was furnished, but with corners full with colourful pillows: perfect for chatty nights, while tasting amazing Lao dishes, drinking beer and our beloved Lao Lao. But what should we try sitting between these rainbow-like pillows or walking in the maze of street vendors?

Khao Niao – Lao Sticky Rice

I could definitely say: it is the very national food of Laos. The sticky rice is never missing from the table, means the very essential part of the dishes. In daily life of Lao people eating is a rather important social „event” sharing the „princess” of the meals between each other and eating it with fingers.

Tam Mak Hoong – Lao Papaya Salad

It is a mixed salad with green (unripe) papaya, nuts and pungent fermented fish sauce. It can be quite delicious, especially if you are real chilli-lover. I have to tell you: my salad was not seasoned according to my chilli-level. So I ate my salad in tears, hours long, but in the end I survived.

Khao Piak Sen – Noodle Soup

It is mostly clear chicken stock served with hand made rice noodles, germ, fresh herbs, green beans and lime. The other version of this soup is served with sticky rice. My local friend told me, it is one of the most important meal of the Lao people, mainly mornings in order to get something filling.

Mok Bppa – Lao steamed fish

One of my personal favourites is served in banana leaves and is steamed with different fresh herbs like lemon grass, dill, kaffir lime. This colourful dish is typical for Nong Khiaw accompained with sticky rice. If you like fish, it is a must to try this delicacy, such as the Ping Bppa – grilled fish – which is seasoned with lemon grass, garlic and salt. As the village is located by the river, unearthly good fish dishes are provided. Believe me, it would be a shame to miss it!

Khao Piak Sen – Noodle Soup

It is mostly clear chicken stock served with hand made rice noodles, germ, fresh herbs, green beans and lime. The other version of this soup is served with sticky rice. My local friend told me, it is one of the most important meal of the Lao people, mainly mornings in order to get something filling.

Mok Bppa – Lao steamed fish

One of my personal favourites is served in banana leaves and is steamed with different fresh herbs like lemon grass, dill, kaffir lime. This colourful dish is typical for Nong Khiaw accompained with sticky rice. If you like fish, it is a must to try this delicacy, such as the Ping Bppa – grilled fish – which is seasoned with lemon grass, garlic and salt. As the village is located by the river, unearthly good fish dishes are provided. Believe me, it would be a shame to miss it!

Try Lao Lao

I am trying to describe it briefly with – or without – my memories. First of all, Lao Lao is a very popular Laotian rice whisky , which is definitely the emblematic spirit of the country. I could write about the very healthy-classy fruit juices, Lao coffee or beer, but my best memories are connected – somehow – to this „magical” liquid.

It is one of the cheapest spirits all over the world, but it has a quite good quality, often “served” with cobra or scorpion in the bottle. Maybe I can attest: I personally did not have hangover. For more infos I should ask my dear friends…

Lao Lao can be found on every corner of Nong Khiaw, and in every small town or village. Better said, the more away we were from the cities, the more Laotian fun-drink we found. If you do not see it in proper bottles, no worries, you just have to ask for it. Mostly it can be purchased in different plastic or glass bottles from Coca-cola, western alcoholic drinks or water. I got my first one in a cute plastic mineral water bottle. I received it in Muang Khua from a French guy as a gift. It was kind of a question for dating, but anyway: it was a cool present.

Try the herbal steam bath

If you need something relaxing after a long day, trying the traditional herbal steam bath is the perfect choice. We tried it, and we loved it! It is possible to combine it with massage or to book the steam bath only.

It is a tiny wooden house for 5-6 people with two small benches. The refreshing, healthy steam was maden by one of the local ladies. The use of the steam bath was unlimited, but to be honest, 1-1,5 hour is more than enough.

To spend time here was a kind of social activity mixed with detox-relax treatment. It was a nice experience to listen to other travelers’ stories, memories, while slowly disappearing in the mesmerising steam of Laotian herbs.

Try the herbal steam bath

If you need something relaxing after a long day, trying the traditional herbal steam bath is the perfect choice. We tried it, and we loved it! It is possible to combine it with massage or to book the steam bath only.

It is a tiny wooden house for 5-6 people with two small benches. The refreshing, healthy steam was maden by one of the local ladies. The use of the steam bath was unlimited, but to be honest, 1-1,5 hour is more than enough.

To spend time here was a kind of social activity mixed with detox-relax treatment. It was a nice experience to listen to other travelers’ stories, memories, while slowly disappearing in the mesmerising steam of Laotian herbs.

Discover the waterfalls

Laos could be called as a small empire of waterfalls, which are often hiding deep in fabolous, lush rainforests. The more popular ones can be visited alone – like the Kuang Si Falls in Luang Prabang – but for getting into this marvelous labyrinth of the nature around Nong Khiaw I really advice to do it with a local guide.

One of the very best hiking trails leads to the 100 Waterfalls with fantastic view and several opportunities to take a dip into the turquoise blue water. Here I have to mention, that this tour is more accessible and easier to walk in the dry season, otherwise the flooding can make it extremaly dangerous.

We wanted something less touristy, so we did our trekking trail across small, traditional villages seeing the locals harvesting rice, visiting a small Zen cafe and fruit plantation with NO Wifi:

„Woooww priceless, I want to stay here!”

It was my first thought walking between the papaya trees.

Full with energy after drinking a nice Lao coffee we continued our way in shadows of the sky-reaching trees. After a short walk we reached the small stream, which shows the direction to the hiding Tad Mok Waterfall. Slowly getting to it I had the feeling, I arrived to the paradise: 2-3 other people were around (but not long) and nothing else. The tranquility and the music of the waterfall enchanted me. The lunch spent here – under the winding green lianes, listening to the pure nature – reminded me, that the very simple things are always the very best.

We wanted something less touristy, so we did our trekking trail across small, traditional villages seeing the locals harvesting rice, visiting a small Zen cafe and fruit plantation with NO Wifi:

„Woooww priceless, I want to stay here!”

It was my first thought walking between the papaya trees.

Full with energy after drinking a nice Lao coffee we continued our way in shadows of the sky-reaching trees. After a short walk we reached the small stream, which shows the direction to the hiding Tad Mok Waterfall. Slowly getting to it I had the feeling, I arrived to the paradise: 2-3 other people were around (but not long) and nothing else. The tranquility and the music of the waterfall enchanted me. The lunch spent here – under the winding green lianes, listening to the pure nature – reminded me, that the very simple things are always the very best.

Get lost in the emerald green mountains

The entire country is ideal and outstanding for those obsessed with hiking, but Nong Khiaw provides „all in”. I mean, you can immerse yourself in taste of Lao gastronomy, while enjoying the lush nature, falling in love with Nam Ou river or getting refreshed by the steam bath and massage.

You can book trekking for one or more days with a local guide, but fortunately, there are several trails, which can be explored on your own. The Sleeping Woman Viewpoint has a charming panorama for sunrise. By the way: sitting in the middle of nowhere I was admiring the rolling mountains, from wich, after a while, sleeping faces emerged everywhere. So if you are pretty observant, you can see, that the valley of Nong Khiaw is surrounded by mysterious sleeping beauties on every side. Regarding to the spots for sunset I need to mention, that you have to calculate your time well in order to get off the mountain safely. The other – not so back-breaking – hiking trail leads to the Phadeng Peak with fabolous views above the clouds.

It does not matter, what you will decide for, these miraculous creations of the nature full of adventures will not disappoint you.

Catch the sunset on the bridge of the village

Yes, we arrived to my adored part of activities: capturing the perfect moments of sunset. As I am an uncurable sunset-lover, I was seeking for the best sundown spots while backpacking in Laos. But actually, in Nong Khiaw I did not need to hunt for it.

If you stay in one of the bungalows by the Nam Ou river – as I – you have place like a king to admire the sunset. Especially rocking in a hammock, with a drink in your hands. But still, I preferred to look from the small bridge, as the sun paints the whole landscape in bronze and shining gold.

The bridge is not so crowded, so we can enjoy the twilight to the fullest, taking pleasure from the magical atmosphere of Nong Khiaw, while couple of small fishing boats are floating peacefully on the water. Every time I passed the bridge, I stopped and tried remembering to the smallest detail this hidden gem of Laos. I tried remembering the smiling faces, the shining – full of hope – eyes of the locals, the mesmerising scent of herbs, the sleeping mountains hiding secrets, the colours of Laotian sunset and the Nam Ou river, which was flowing silently under the stars.

Catch the sunset on the bridge of the village

Yes, we arrived to my adored part of activities: capturing the perfect moments of sunset. As I am an uncurable sunset-lover, I was seeking for the best sundown spots while backpacking in Laos. But actually, in Nong Khiaw I did not need to hunt for it.

If you stay in one of the bungalows by the Nam Ou river – as I – you have place like a king to admire the sunset. Especially rocking in a hammock, with a drink in your hands. But still, I preferred to look from the small bridge, as the sun paints the whole landscape in bronze and shining gold.

The bridge is not so crowded, so we can enjoy the twilight to the fullest, taking pleasure from the magical atmosphere of Nong Khiaw, while couple of small fishing boats are floating peacefully on the water. Every time I passed the bridge, I stopped and tried remembering to the smallest detail this hidden gem of Laos. I tried remembering the smiling faces, the shining – full of hope – eyes of the locals, the mesmerising scent of herbs, the sleeping mountains hiding secrets, the colours of Laotian sunset and the Nam Ou river, which was flowing silently under the stars.