Beyond Luang Prabang’s temples, alluring Kuang Si Falls and the ethnic crafts at the night market, there’s a world left to explore in the mountainous north. Outside of the famed city but still within Luang Prabang province are small, sleepy towns and villages for off-the-beaten track excursions and activities. Among them are picturesque Nong Khiaw (3hrs by bus/minibus from Luang Prabang) and Muang Ngoi Neua (1hr by boat from Nong Khiaw), both known amongst backpackers for relaxing and active pursuits.
Closer to Luang Prabang, there are also lesser-known attractions worth a day trip from the city. Combine a few of these activities over a few days for a more intimate knowledge of Laos.
GET TO KNOW THE PEOPLE
Appreciate the diversity of ethnic groups in Laos by seeing their day-to-day routines up-close. Homestays at ethnic Hmong and Khmu villages offer a deeper understanding of their culture and way of life.
Hours of trekking will bring you to villages where age-old traditions are still practiced. Accommodation may be as spartan as they come, but it’s an authentic experience you won’t find in the city. Guides can translate for you so you can get to know the locals better.
TREK INTO THE JUNGLE
Much of the countryside is undeveloped, which makes it easy to get away from manmade environs with just a short hike. The limestone peaks and rainforests of Laos provide an opportunity to commune with nature in a way that wide open plains don’t.
The famous 100 Waterfalls tour follows a continuous waterfall—certainly an adventure unlike anything you’ve done before. Viewing points like Phadeng Peak and Phou Nang None will inspire world-weary travellers, whatever the time of day or cloud cover.
EXPLORE THE CAVES
All around Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi Neua are dozens of limestone karst caves, some of them hundreds of metres long or even kilometres deep. Many river caves that flood during monsoon season and elevated fossil caves are still not fully explored but a good number can be visited with a torch. The best known cave is Nong Khiaw’s Tham Pha Thok, a series of cliffside caves used as hospital and military outpost during the civil war.
There’s no shortage of spelunking opportunities in Muang Ngoi Neua, among them the legendary naga (dragon) residence Tham Kang and the connected Tham Pha Keo. Tham Pha Kouang, once a bomb shelter and weapons storage during the war, and later bombed by the Americans, still has plenty of rubble from the explosion.
TEST YOUR ENDURANCE ON TWO WHEELS
Cycling in Nong Khiaw is usually offered as part of a multi-sport tour. The rough terrain calls for a mountain bike; be prepared to switch into high gear.
It is also possible to rent (or buy) a motorbike in Luang Prabang and Luang Prabang, allowing you to ride on sealed roads and off-road independently. Note that there are no motor vehicles in Muang Ngoi Neua and the rental prices are higher in Laos than in neighbouring countries. Make sure you have a valid international license and adequate travel insurance coverage before you ride.
FLOAT DOWN THE RIVER
The Nam Ou River sets the stage for your downstream discovery. Kayaking or tubing at sunset is recommended in the dry season.
A laid-back alternative to this is boating, which is a must-do in Laos. The country is famously chilled-out compared to the rest of Southeast Asia and being on a boat is a classic activity.
ZIP LINE THROUGH THE FOREST
One of the most fun ways to enjoy the jungle is to zip line across the forest. To complete the zip line course at Jungle Zipline, you will abseil down trees and cross bamboo bridges.
Closer to Luang Prabang, Green Jungle Flight is only hour-long boat ride away from the city. The exhilarating zip line course can be combined with trekking and a rope course resembling an Ewok village next to the pretty Hoi Khua Waterfall.
The more accessible Nahm Dong Nature Park is 10km by road from Luang Prabang centre. Aside from the zip line, this eco-tourism hub has organic food, farms and activities for a day out of the city.
After your adventures, all you really need is to laze on a hammock with a view of the river, a bottle of Beerlao in hand. Perfect.
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