Ben Howe
music, travel, video, photo and blog etc
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Travel, videos and music written, filmed and photographed by Ben Howe.

The Nam Ou River via Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi in Laos

The Nam Ou river starts in the far north of Laos, up near the Chinese border. It snakes it's muddy way south through Phongsali province until it joins the Mekong, just above Luang Prabang. It is one of the most important rivers in Laos, stretching almost 450km long.

There are few roads in this area, so the best way of travelling is via river boat. While they can be few and far between, the low slung blue boats are a relaxing and unhurried way of getting around. The river passes through almost untouched ancient jungle and below distinctive karst limestone cliffs. When the water is low there are pristine golden sandbars.

The videos featured below mostly focus on three small towns or villages along the river. The first two - encountered when travelling north from Luang Prabang - are Nong Khiaw (about 5-8 hours by boat) and Muang Ngoi (1 hour - boats more frequent). Both are well established traveller destinations. The third village is Muang Khua, which while not unpleasant, is harder to get to (by boat) and more of a transit point to the border with Vietnam. 

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photo credit: dirtykoala Nong Khiaw via photopin (license)


An excellent video in a series made by Rusty Compass is Along the Nam  River From Muang Khua to Nong Khiaw. 

This video includes handy tips on hitching a ride on a boat and also shows some of the most scenic parts of the river: remote dense prehistoric forests, sand beaches and karst outcrops. The ride takes around five hours, but in this video they must wait in Muang Khua for there to be 10 passengers to depart. 

Along the way they meet up with various locals working on the river. Mark from Rusty Compass speaks very good Vietnamese, meaning he can speak with most of the locals (even though they are in Laos). He asks good questions about what they are doing and why - something not always possible for the average traveller passing through. Along the river they also stop in the attractive looking backpacker favourite, the riverside village of Muang Noi.

Like all the Rusty Compass explorations in SE Asia, this video is very good. It looks great and the narrative is informative from both a practical travel perspective, but also about the people and regions visited.

The second video by Travel Life is a specific exploration of the river village Muang Ngoi. Situated north of Nong Khiaw, this village seems to be a sleepy, relaxed but picturesque sort of place. We see kids playing volleyball, barefoot monks, old tractors and weaving. There are walks in the nearby hills, views over the river, longboats and interesting looking caves. The Travel Life couple - Troy and Dorene - only spend a day there, but as they say, it looks like a place you should stay longer. 

The third video by Twobirdsbreakingfree is mostly a series of nice images around the village of Nong Khiaw. The music is a bit cheesy - unidentified piano and acoustic guitar - but there is plenty of nice flora and fauna, waterfalls, caves (with bats) and nearby villages. There is no narration, but the on screen text tells you what you are looking at - including latin plant names if you need them. 


Going In Focus has a nice blog about their 10 day stay at Muang Ngoi and also two nights in the nearby village of Banna - where their host was called "Mommy". Nice photos as well.

Another nice but short blog on Nong Khiaw is by Have Camera Will Travel, which as you'd expect, also has some nice photos. 

Probably the most useful and detailed blog about Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi is by Frugal Frolicker - this includes a map, detailed information about taking the boat upriver, accommodation and mountain bike hire/routes. 

Finally this blog by Roving Light maps out the route all the way up the river from Nong Khiaw to Muang Khua then onwards to Phongsaly up near the China border. Finding boats is sometimes unpredictable and clearly a little haphazard - this blog gives good info about this.

Apparently you can Kayak the lower part of the river - which sounds like a good option. Available via Green Adventures

There is a lot of discussion around the availability of boats on this route. The boat ride between Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi is quite regular, but rides both north and south can be less frequent. Unless you charter a whole boat you have to wait until there are enough people. Travelfish has some discussion around this here.

photo credit: christian.costeaux Laos via photopin (license)