Photo: Looking along the river.


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Muang Ngoi once held mythic status on the Southeast Asia backpacker trail as a gorgeous, sleepy village only accessible by boat, where there’s no electricity let alone ATM or Internet connection. While still gorgeous and sleepy, the modern world has arrived. Sort of.

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Muang Ngoi, also known as Muang Ngoi Neua, is located on the Nam Ou (Ou River), just an hour upriver from gateway town Nong Kiaow. While Nong Kiaow tries to please the masses with a mix of low to higher end accommodation, Muang Ngoi attracts backpackers with its bungalows and hammocks set along a stunning mountainous stretch of the Nam Ou. Mount Phaboom, a single jagged fang-like karst, looms over the village.

Typical river scenes. Photo taken in or around Muang Ngoi, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Typical river scenes. Photo: Cindy Fan

Muang Ngoi remains a modestly-sized cluster of buildings and it has seen nothing of the explosion in tourism like Don Dhet or other backpacker river Shangri-Las in Laos. 24-hour electricity did arrive some time ago and most bungalows/rooms sport a private bathroom with electric heated shower and a Western toilet. But there’s still no ATM and WiFi is iffy, so go ahead and enjoy telling friends and family you’ll be incommunicado. The rhythm continues to be early to bed, early to rise courtesy of those darn roosters. Relaxation and appreciating the view is the chief concern and once you bore of swinging in the hammock, there’s hikes to rural villages, lovely pastoral scenes, caves like Tham Pha Noi and Tham Pha Kaew and two impressive viewpoints including one on the aforementioned Mount Phaboom.

One to three day treks to outlying ethnic Tai, Hmong and Khmu villages can be organised through Lao Youth Travel; as of 2018, they are the only outfit based in Muang Ngoi. It’s one of the least expensive trekking you will find in northern Laos, and cheaper than booking in Nong Kiaow since there is no boat costs. A one-day guided trek is 210,000 kip per person, based on two people. They also rent kayaks (50,000 kip for half a day) and do boat/kayak trips (150,000 kip per person). Headed to Nong Kiaow? Boat/kayak all the way for 300,000 kip per person, a more exciting way to transfer to the next destination. Find the office and helpful English speaking proprietor near the boat landing

Meet downtown Muang Ngoi. Photo taken in or around Muang Ngoi, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Meet downtown Muang Ngoi. Photo: Cindy Fan

While the villages are best appreciated with the knowledge of a guide, it is possible to walk or bike to a few villages on your own by taking the road leading out of Muang Ngoi. After two kilometres, you’ll pass river cave Tham Kang (a pleasant place for a cooling dip) and cross a stream to find Ban Na, Ban Houaisene and Ban Huei Boe. When exploring, do stick on the literal beaten path as the region was heavily bombed during the war and the land remains contaminated with unexploded ordinance. As was the case in Nong Kiaow, locals would shelter in caves during bombing campaigns. Guesthouses use old artillery shells as garden art and flower planters.

With an hour to spare, an easy cave to check out independently is Pha Noi cave. Find the path behind Wat Okad Savaram temple, close to the trailhead for Muang Ngoi’s viewpoint. Stroll 10-minutes through the forest, pay 10,000 kip admission and climb up to a couple of entrances in the hillside—bring a torch. Continue climbing up the trail to the top for yet another viewpoint.

Beautiful Lao cloth. Photo taken in or around Muang Ngoi, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Beautiful Lao cloth. Photo: Cindy Fan

Travellers pressed for time or those who prefer staying in livelier Nong Kiaow can do Muang Ngoi as part of a multi-day trek or organised day trip from there. It is usually a quick stop on a tour that may include Ban Sopjam, a weaving village further upriver, hiking to Tad Mork waterfall or by request, a whole day can be devoted to exploring Muang Ngoi’s villages. It’s not advisable to do the day trip on your own using the public boats because there is only one guaranteed boat a day. At minimum, you’d need to hire a boat privately.

The boat office probably doesn’t want tourists to know this, but there is a dirt track that connects Nong Kiaow to villages along the Nam Ou: Ban Had Sao, Ban Sopvanh, Ban Sopkong, all the way to Muang Ngoi. As of 2018, work was underway in Nong Kiaow to expand it into a road which means ground transport may become an option in the future.

Looking downriver from Muang Ngoi. Photo taken in or around Muang Ngoi, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Looking downriver from Muang Ngoi. Photo: Cindy Fan

Development is an unstoppable force in this region and the evidence lies less than an hour upriver. It is a dam, one of a cascade of seven along the Nam Ou, a vital tributary that flows 450-kilometres from the Lao-China border down to the Mekong. On the scenic two-day boat journey between Hat Sa and Muang Khua, then Muang Khua to Nong Kiaow, travellers must work their way around two dams. For those travelling by public boat between Muang Khua and Muang Ngoi/Nong Kiaow, you’ll have to take a tuk tuk around the dam, which is already organised and included in the price of the ticket.

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Orientation As of 2018, there is no ATM in Muang Ngoi. Ensure you have enough cash as the closest ATM is in Nong Kiaow.

Nong Kiaow has a basic hospital but for medical treatment, you are better off heading to Luang Prabang. For anything more serious than stitches, you’ll want to get yourself to Thailand.

There have been persistent reports of theft from bungalows in Muang Ngoi. We suggest it’s best not to leave anything of much value in your shack.

Blocking the river to power another Thai shopping mall. Photo taken in or around Muang Ngoi, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Blocking the river to power another Thai shopping mall. Photo: Cindy Fan

The days of no electricity are over but as with any remote rural area in Laos, power outages are to be expected. WiFi is available in accommodation and restaurants but unreliable. 3G is also spotty.

Crowdsourced travel information online (especially accommodation and restaurant listings) often confuse Nong Kiaow, which is in Muang Ngoi district, and Muang Ngoi Neua. Adding to the confusion, sometimes they are incorrectly categorised under Luang Prabang town because Muang Ngoi is in Luang Prabang Province.

Like Nong Kiaow, nighttime temperatures during the winter months (approximately December to February) can be freezing, reaching single digits Celsius. Boat rides are also chilly, so be prepared.


What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Muang Ngoi.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda
 Read up on where to eat on Muang Ngoi.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Muang Ngoi.
 Read up on how to get to Muang Ngoi.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Muang Ngoi? Please read this.
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