Muang Ngoi – The authenticity of Laos
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.
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.
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 view point. 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.
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 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.
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Have a nice trip!