Nong Khiaw has recently been billed as one of the main destinations to watch in Laos. In years gone by, tourists didn’t pay much attention to this part of the country, but now it is starting to establish itself as somewhere to visit if you want to get out of the main hubs such as Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
As Nong Khiaw is located amidst gorgeous limestone mountains, this is a wonderful spot to visit if you like hiking or if you just want to check out more rural areas of Laos.
If you are planning to visit neighboring Muang Ngoi, then try to also spend a few days in Nong Khiaw on the way over, as there is a lot to see and do here, both in the town proper and in the surrounding villages.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Nong Khiaw…
1. Explore the Pha Tok Caves
One of the main attractions in Nong Khiaw is the Pha Tok Caves.
These can be found some 2 kilometers outside of the town itself and the caves make up a section of the stunning limestone bluffs for which Nong Khiaw is famous.
These caves are also historically important as it is said to have been the hiding place of Pathet Lao at the time of the Second Indochina War.
Getting to the caves is an experience in itself as you will have to hike through emerald green rice paddies as well as tack through thick sections of jungle.
To get to the mouth of the caves, bear in mind you mind that you will need to ascend a steep staircase.
2. Have breakfast at a local bakery
As a former French colony, Laos is known for its delicious breads including toothsome baguettes which you can find all over the country.
This is also true in Nong Khiaw which has a number of fragrant bakeries selling bread, sandwiches and pastries which make for a delicious local breakfast.
One of the best spots in town is the CT Bakery which is also located next to the river so you can dine while enjoying the scenic views.
Another option if you are looking for a hearty breakfast to set you up for a long day trekking, is Delilah’s which has breads and cereal on offer and is known for not using any additives in its dough.
3. Go bamboo rafting
When you visit Nong Khiaw, there are a number of ways that you can experience the gorgeous Nam Ou River that cleaves through the center of town.
One of the most unique however is to sign up for a spot of bamboo rafting which, as the name suggests, means that you get to sit atop a raft made of bamboo which has been lashed together.
You will then get to float down the river and, as the rafts have open sides, enjoy unspoilt views of the surrounding countryside.
4. Try the local food
Laos is not as well known on the world food scene as other countries in Southeast Asia such as Thailand, which is a shame as it boasts a number of delicious local delicacies.
With that in mind, make sure that you don’t miss these when you are in Nong Khiaw, and sample plates such as the national dish of Laos which is called laap or laab.
This is made of meat which is finely chopped into a salad and then served with herbs, chilies and spices, usually with a side of the local sticky rice.
5. Visit Pha Kuang Cave
Pha Kuang Cave lies some 3 kilometers outside of the center of Nong Khiaw and is one of the most interesting caves in the areas as the inner chamber stretches for some 300 meters.
One thing to note is that the entrance to the cave is pretty narrow, as are some sections of the inner route, so you need to be prepared to scramble over some rocks and squeeze through some holes in the cave to get the full experience.
It is well worth the effort however, as the inside of the chamber is covered in stalactites and stalagmites as well as shimmering rock crystals.
6. Travel to the local villages
One of the great joys of Nong Khiaw is that you can spend time in the town itself, or venture out into the surrounding countryside.
One of the best things to do here is either rent a bicycle or sign up for a tour that will take you to some of the local villages on the outskirts of the town which are the home of the Hmong and Khmu local minorities.
Here you can see how the locals lives and work, and many of the villages sell traditional handicrafts or offer workshops such as cooking classes.
7. Climb Phadeng Peak
One of the reasons people rave about Nong Khiaw is for the chance to climb the Phadeng Peak.
Bear in mind that it takes around an hour and a half to walk to the top of this mountain, and the route in parts can get rather steep.
Once at the top however, you can enjoy the gorgeous views over the countryside around Nong Khiaw and you can even watch the sun rise over the peal if you get here early enough.
Another highlight of a trip to the peak is the walk back down as you will need to follow sections of the Nam Ou River which are studded with secluded beaches.
8. Try the Indian food
You may not expect to find any Indian restaurants in Nong Khiaw but actually the town has a small local Indian community.
One of the best restaurants in town is called Deen and is known for its amazing Indian flatbreads which are cooked in the traditional style in a wood oven.
You can also get toothsome curries and this makes a great spot if you are looking for a hearty breakfast in Nong Khiaw.
9. Go Zip Lining
Nong Khiaw is known for its idyllic jungle which encircles the town and which is one of the highlights of a trip here.
If you want to experience this firsthand however, then you can try one of the newest activities in Nong Khiaw which is zip lining.
There are a variety of different companies that now offer zip lining facilities, and the longest zip line in Nong Khiaw takes you some 400 meters through the forest canopy.
One of the best known companies is named Jungle Fly and the money that they make from the zip line experiences is used to pay for education of children in ethnic minority villages around Nong Khiaw.
10. Try mountain biking
If you are looking to get out of Nong Khiaw then consider renting a mountain bike and cycling around the town and its environs.
One thing to be aware of is that the landscape around Nong Khiaw is mountainous which is why mountain bikes are used, so you need to have a relatively good level of fitness in order to cycle around for an afternoon.
Some of the sights to check out as you cycle include the local villages which are the homes of the Hmong and Khmu communities as well as the gorgeous jade rice paddies and swathes of untouched jungle.
11. Sign up for a trek
You can trek in the local area around Nong Khiaw fairly easily, but if you want to go for a more comprehensive hike then you need to sign up for a tour.
Depending on your energy and fitness levels, some of these can last several days and will take you far out into the countryside that encircles the town.
One of the most popular treks on offers lasts for three days and takes you to Sop Jam Village where you can see a different side of rural life in Laos.
12. Go on a walking tour of the town
One of the nicest things to do on Nong Khiaw is spend some time in the town and explore on foot or by bicycle.
In the center of town you will find a clutch of small but ornate temples which are well worth a visit and are covered in colorful decorations.
Another favorite activity is to follow the Nam Ou River and walk along the leafy banks, taking in the local sights.
There are a few tours that have started up in Nong Khiaw that you will take you to some of the attractions in town but you can also go it alone as the center area is relatively small.
13. Have a herbal steam bath
Laos is famous for its massages and herbal treatments, which can come as a welcome relief, particularly if you have spent the day trekking to the mountains or caves around Nong Khiaw.
The traditional sauna experience in Laos is called herbal steam bath and you will get to luxuriate in a sealed room which is filled with steam and aromatic herbs that are said to help cleanse the body and alleviate fatigue.
Most steam bath experiences usually end with soothing body massage.
14. Hike to Sleeping Woman Viewpoint
Sleeping Woman Viewpoint is less well known than Phadeng Peak Viewpoint but it is no less impressive.
It takes about an hour to reach the summit, depending on your fitness levels and once at the top you can look out over gorgeous karst formations and take in the encircling mountains.
This peak also allows you to look out over the river where you can spot local boats chugging along the waterway.
15. Have a drink on the river
Nam Ou River is the main artery through Nong Khiaw and with that in mind this is where many of the local bars and restaurants are located.
This means that there is no better way to enjoy a sundowner than by heading for a local bar such as Hive Bar and grabbing a cold beer while taking in the sunsets over the water.
The local tipple here is Beer Lao and most of the bars and cafes also serve up typical snacks such as barbecued meats and sticky mango rice.