Muang Ngoi Neua
Muang Ngoi Neua is one of Laos’ most pristine countrysides, a place perfect for anyone who wants to unwind, relax, and take a break from all the rigors of traveling.
Located between a series of karst mountains, and the spot where Nam Ngoi and Nam Ou rivers meet, Muang Ngoi is a tourist destination where attractions are plenty and the activities — think of hikes to remote villages, cave explorations, kayaking down the river, fishing, and mountain biking — seem endless. As part of the Banana Pancake Trail, Muang Ngoi Neua has easily become the backpackers’ favorite for plenty of reasons — time is slow, the place is panoramic, accommodations and food are cheap, and it gives you a perfect excuse to just stay on a cozy hammock all day.
While still at the town center, Muang Ngoi Neua’s visitors should not miss local activities like indulging in a Traditional Herbal Sauna for LAK 15,000 (USD 1.8) or trade books at the Phetdavanh Book Exchange. Tourists who fancy water adventures during their trips should not miss Muang Ngoi Neua’s Nam Ou river — the river’s currently pacified waters makes it as a great place for leisure swimming. Just 40 minutes from the town center are two caves that every explorer should go and see — Tham Kang and Tham Pha Khew caves that were once used by villagers as a protective shelter from the bombs during the Vietnam War Era.
Since the construction of the dam, boat services from Luang Prabang to Muang Ngoi Neua are no longer available. If you’re coming from Luang Prabang, board a minivan — which leaves at 9:00 and 11:00 — for the 3.5-hour travel to Nong Khiaw. After arriving at Nong Khiaw, take the connecting boat ride to Muang Ngoi Neua. Boats leave at 11:00 and 14:00, and charge LAK 25,000 (USD 3) for the one-hour boat ride.
Aside from the connecting boat ride, tourists can also travel from Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi Neua via personal car thanks to the newly constructed road. Travel time for this option is 2.5 hours.
Laotian Kip or LAK, the official currency used in Muang Ngoi establishments, is available in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000. As of 2016, ATM services are not yet available in the area and the nearest town providing ATM services is Nong Khiaw. Though Thai baht and US dollars are accepted here for larger transactions, it’s encouraged that you exchange some of them for kip — you can find foreign exchange services in small huts by the main road. Make sure to consume your local money before leaving Laos for they can no longer be converted back to USD.
In most of Laos, the weather is usually warm and sunny except for the colder temperature in high-altitude areas. The dry season begins at October and ends in April while the wet season is from March to April. Best time to visit Muang Ngoi is between September and January when the weather is not too hot and rain showers are minimal.
Apart from the attractions that can be found in the center of town, tourists can visit other tourist destinations within an hour from the town proper. You can hire a tuk-tuk to take you around town. If you’re planning to visit the caves and its surrounding villages, walking would be the number one way to get there. Motorcycles for rent are also available in some areas.
Muang Ngoi may be small but it has several places where tourists can have a great dining experience. If you want value for money, head over to Phetdavanh Guesthouse where they serve buffets overflowing with teas, fruits, vegetables, shak suka, muesli, and different egg dishes for only LAK 30,000 (USD 3.60). Ning Ning Restaurant and Lattanavongsa Restaurant, on the other hand, offer panoramic views of the river while you eat. If you want to take a break from Lao dishes, order some pizza from Sky Restaurant, and authentic Indian meals from Meen Indian Restaurant.
Muang Ngoi Neua is a great place to visit to experience the Lao countryside, their culture, their way of life, and their history. When you visit this humble town, take the time to befriend and learn from the locals — Muang Ngoi is full of rich stories that can make your stay there more interesting.