I will be in Luang Prabang in June with a few days to kill, and would like to travel to a more remote part of Laos. What would be a good off-the-beaten-path destination that would be feasible from Luang Prabang in 3 days? Some places I have considered are Sainyabuli or Muang Ngoi. Any advice or other options would be greatly appreciated.
#1 cbaumga2 has been a member since 17/2/2009. Posts: 9
Muang Ngoi is smack dab in the middle of the backpacker superhighway. Sainyabuli though less picturesque fits the ticket. There's a town close to the Mekong ferry crossing that I heard has a guest house and is on the way to Sainyabuli might be worth taking a look. Mountains on the road there were as big as any and the road goes over them.
You say 3 days, but don't say whether you need to return to Luang Prabang.
Maybe it would be helpful to indicate:
a. whether you need to return to LP, or can move in a direction to then move on from there (but if so, to where), and
b. the sort of things / activities / etc., that you'd like to undertake when you go 'off the beaten track'.
I do have to return to Luang Prabang (flying on to Bangkok). I may want to do some trekking. I was initially interested in Phongsali or Sam Neua, but I think I would need (or want) more than a few days. I have read that you can trek to other villages from Muang Ngoi. Could I get away from the tourist area by doing this? Is it something I could do on my own, or would I need a guide? I don't speak Lao, but I am fairly comfortable in unfamiliar places (assuming I can get a decent map of the area). Also, is there good hiking I could do directly from Luang Prabang that would be off the tourist trail?
#5 cbaumga2 has been a member since 17/2/2009. Posts: 9
Yes, from the far end of Moung Ngoi's soccer field and school house is a trail that leads past the caves and onward to Ban Na where there's a guesthouse. Takes about an hour to hike out there on a relaxing trail following a creek half way but once you get to the ricefields, not as easily to find the trail again.
If during the rainy season, the trail can get really muddy and you'll need to check your self for leeches.
There's also Ban Na 2, and Hoi Bo (back again on the same creek) which has another guesthouse and even homestay but there are also villages further out that requires an overnight stay. If you're going further afield, then it's bet to hire a guide in Moung Ngoi. You don't want to get lost like the Aussie who got lost in Khammouane Province last August and nearly died.
#6 seagypsy has been a member since 5/2/2009. Posts: 136
The comments by 'seagypsy' are helpful - especially if you can achieve the basic criteria you need (eg. maps, etc.).
I couldn't find any maps that had sufficient detail such that I'd use them for self-chartered trekking. And, as you don't have a lot of Laos language skills, I suspect you may find yourself having orientation troubles (ie getting lost, and not being able to get out). It is for that reason I'd suggest you entertain a guide.
There's another reason to entertain a guide (aside from injecting money into the local economy - which is a good reason), and that is if you can each communicate reasonably well, the guide ought to be able to give you an insight into the local cultural / environmental issues that you'd not otherwise experience.
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Remember also that it is a one day trip to Muang Ngoi - about 5+ hours via Oudom Xai by bus/boat, or 7 1/2 hours by boat along the Nam Ou.
So, that sort of takes care of about 2 of your 3 days.
Elsewhere on Travelfish, I criticised the Lonely Planet portrayal of the scenery along the Nam Ou from a riverboat. Despite what others have had to say, the purpose in making the observation was that I spoke to people who have read Lonely Planet on this topic and all have a romantic idealised version of this being one of the last 'magical' journeys of the world. The journey is pleasant, and I enjoyed it. I was trying to say that do the journey for the pleasantness, not to fulfil a skewed portrayal fed by a reading of Lonely Planet.
I'd also suggest that if one was going to do a return to Muang Ngo from Luang Prabang , at least do one leg of the journey by boat (advisedly, the 'to' Muang Ngo leg).
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You also indicate that you'd like to get away from the 'tourist trail'.
As Luang Prabang is smack dead centre of the 'tourist trail', there is no doubt you can do trekking from there. However, it's highly unlikely you'll get the 'I'm only one of a very few that's ever been here' sort of feel (assuming that's what your 'off the tourist trail' means).
You'll probably notice in Lonely Planet that it gives Nong Khiaw a poor rap. I found the place to be less 'touristy' than Muang Ngoi. I also considered the accommodation was about equal (the positives + negatives of each place were different, but overall sort of equated).
There is (what appears to be a good) 'Eco-trekking' office at Nong Khiaw, it may be that you can organise a good trek from Nong Khiaw. On this, Seagypsy may have better knowledge.
Thanks everyone for the invaluable advice. I am not necessarily looking for complete solitude (I found plenty of that during my summer in Alaska). I was just hoping for a place where you aren't assaulted by a tourist extravaganza. I also don't treat Lonely Planet as a travel Bible, so I am generally not too disappointed or surprised when its descriptions are a little off. I like to treat LP just for what it is, a guide to point me in the right direction, and I can fill in the blanks on my own. Anyway, I will probably head up toward Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi, and see what happens from there.
#8 cbaumga2 has been a member since 17/2/2009. Posts: 9
I agree with brucemoon that Nong Khiaw is worth visiting. However, I did think the trip on the Nam Ou was more than pleasant - I thought it was beautiful!
#9 smartlyndy has been a member since 7/5/2009. Posts: 33