I'm spending about 12 days in Laos this June. I'll be entering the country at Huay Xai and flying out of Vientiane. I'm planning to take the slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang and then spend several nights in Luang Prabang before taking the bus to Vientiane. I think I've got time for one other place and I've heard good things about both Nong Kiaow or Luang Nam Tha. Does anyone recommend one over the other?
#1 saigonredhead has been a member since 22/5/2012. Posts: 1
In June 2010 I took the morning bus from Huay Xai to Odomxai via Luang Nam Tha. I then had to stay overnight to get the 1 daily bus to Nong Khiaw. Then return to Huay Xai - that's a lot of travel - 4 days.My notes say 9.30 bus departs Huay Xai to LNT taking 5-6hrs. I guess you could go to LNT and back but only if you intend to do some trekking around LNT.
A more practical option timewise is to have a stopover at Vang Vieng between LP and Vientiane. If your not interested in the tubing there are other things you can do eg kayak trip, there's probably trekking available.
Anyway, if your sold on the slow boat, then Huay Xai-LP-VG-Vientiane would be the way to go IMHO
A bit of a backtrack to get up to Luang Nam Tha if you want to take the slow boat down to LP. You can get to Nong Kiaow in 4-5 hours from LP. When I was there, I just hung out around the town and took a short walk to the east on the road out of town to an old Pathet Lao cave. I don't know if there is much in the way of hiking opportunity, but I enjoyed just relaxing and hanging out in town. You can also take a boat back from Nong Kiaow to Luang Prabang and then onward from there. Though, as above, if you want to break up the trip down to Vientinne stopping at VV may be the way to go. Another option is a long bus ride (8hrs?) out to Phonsovan to visit the Plain of Jars and the UXO site there. Two nights there and then on to VV for two more would eat up a good chunk of your stay depending on how long you want to be in Vientiane.
Yes, LNT would be a backtrack if you're dead-set on the slow-boat from Huay Xai to LPB. LNT seemed like more of a crossroads town than an end destination, though the area has interesting culture influence from hill-tribes (Akha, Hmong, etc.) and nearby China.
If you're dead-set on the slow-boat Huay Xai to LPB, then Nong Khiew is a good 2 or 3 day side-trip, peaceful place with cliffs and caves. Another possibility would be taking the bus from Huay Xai to Luang Namtha (4-5 hours), spend the night there or near-by, take the bus from Luang Namtha to Nong Khiew (you have to switch to a small bus at the turn-off to LPB, bus station in Luang Namtha can help you with this), spend the night there, then slow-boat from Nong Khiew to LPB (a day's trip). I don't think the slowboat from Nong Khiew to LPB goes every day, so you'd have to check about this.
#4 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133
I haven't been to Luang Nam Tha, but have been to Nong Khiaow. I did look at the possibility of getting to LMT - and would definitely go when or if I make it back to Laos - but I would agree with the others and say stick with NK with only 12 days.
We went by boat upriver from Luang Prabang and went back by minibus. Its a beautiful area - we did a day trek through tribal villages and really enjoyed the rural lifestyle for the 3 nights we stayed. There isn't a lot do at night - have a meal and a couple of beers and go to bed - though one night did go to the NK cinema. This place rents out DVDs to watch in a concrete room with the film projected onto a screen while lolling on dusty (well filthy actually) cushions. Now that's nightlife.
How about Plan-B? Bus from Huay Xai to Luang Namtha, do some trekking, cycling, maybe rent a motorbike and go to Muang Sing. Then if you start early you can make it to Oudomxai, change buses to Pak Mong, and get to Nong Khiaw same day. Then get a 1-day boat down the Ou river that joins the Mekong down to Luang Prabang.
As towns go I like Luang Namtha simply because it doesn't attract a ton of tourists like LP (and now NK) but it still has modern conveniences like an ATM and paved roads and good restaurants. If you grab a bike and a free map of the area you can explore for days the rice fields and minority villages and temples in the vicinity. Non Khiaw has become the latest wunderkid on the backpacker circuit, and riverside bungalows are coveted territory. Striking natural setting with big views and nice self-guided treks, but some growing pains associated with gaining popularity. Theft from rooms has become an issue.