Muang Ngoi Neua is a small riverside village in Northern Laos with permanent electricity as of April 2013. Prior to 2013, Muang Ngoi had no road access. In the last few years it has become part of the Banana Pancake Trail with rapid construction of tourist infrastructure in response to the increasing influx of visitors. Nevertheless, it remains a low-key destination in a stunning location. Interesting treks can also be done to tribal villages in the area. The locals here are known to be somewhat less friendly than in neighbouring places like Nong Khiaw, and service is often poor especially during the low season.
There are 1-hour public boats from Nong Khiaw (daily 10:30 and 14:00, 25.000 kip) or Muang Khua (daily 09:30, 110.000 kip). Show up at least 30 minutes early, as boats can leave early and boarding can be chaotic.
In April 2013 Muang Ngoi got a small road. If you have your own vehicle you can reach Muang Ngoi by road but as the trip takes 2.5 hours from Nong Kiew, the boats are the obvious choice for transporting people. It is rumored that a more direct road to Muang Ngoi may complete construction in 2015 thus reducing driving time.
What to see in Muang Ngoi Neua
- Traditional Herbal Sauna: At the end of the main walk last street to the right. Free tea, hot shower included, 15,000 kip run buy a Lao woman and her Swedish husband. Open in beginning of Dry season.
- Nam Ou Beach: At the end of the dry season when water is low, take a cool splash in the Nam Ou or sip from a cocktail on a bamboo stretcher
- Phetdavanh Book Exchange: Change your old books for new ones at this 2 for 1 book exchange with more than 300 titles. Note that many of their books are mildewed and smelly, though.
- Tham Kang cave and Tham Pha Kaew cave - east of town, about 40 minutes by foot and can be found without a guide. Follow the dirt/gravel road from the main boat landing and continue as it intersects the town's main road and exits the town. Continue until you reach the Tham Kang cave, which is situated on the left side of the road. These caves used to be a bomb shelter during the Vietnam War era.
After a few twists and turns (aprox 100m in total) in the Tham Kang cave by using the flashlight from your mobile phone you should get to a very small waterfall. Guide yourself by the sound of the falling water. Just before the cave there is an entrance fee of 10,000 kip to access the caves and villages.
You now have to pay for pretty much everything you see/do, usually 10,000 kip. Goes to the 'community' although can't see where. Certainly doesn't go on anything to make navigating the area easier for tourists, signage, trail markers or keeping paths free from overgrown trees/vines/etc.
What to do in Muang Ngoi Neua
- Visit surrounding villages, Bana, Huay Bo, and Huay Sen. To Bana, walk around 30 minute past Tham Kang cave on the same dirt road ( where there are some local spots here for food, nicely situated on the river and next to the rice paddys). After fording the shallow river, you'll see three small wood signs for various guesthouse and there will be a fork in the road. Head right on the larger road that goes uphill to reach Ban Na. The village is clearly visible from the road and will be on your right side. To reach Huay Bo, you have two options; first, you can walk through the Bana village and find the dirt motorbike path on the southern end that exits the village (the easiest way to find it is either ask villagers or circumnavigate the town counterclockwise until you find it), crosses a shallow stream, and leads to Huay Bo. The total time to ride a bicycle to Huay Bo from Muang Ngoi is around 1 hour. A second route is described below in the description for Konesavanh Guesthouse that is more suited for people travelling on foot. There are guest houses in all 3 villages, costing 5,000kip to 20,000kip for a bungalow.
- Live the rural life: Homestay in a rural village (Ba Na or Huay Bo) and interact with locals, hunt in a jungle with ancient rifles, fish in the stream with a fishing net, create fire by burning a plastic bottle, cook, and eat what you catch afterwards. Worth seeing are micro hydroelectric plants: villagers use creeks around the village for powering small turbines and producing electricity for some of the houses.
- Find the swimming hole: There is a local swimming spot on the smaller clear running stream on the way to Tham Kang cave about 15min walk out of town, look for motorbikes parked under a big tree on the right, follow your nose.
- Hike to a viewpoint: There are three viewpoints overlooking the town of Muang Ngoi. The one on the southern side of town is extremely steep and can be muddy and slippery even in the dry season. There are two viewpoints on the north side of town. One is reached through a gate along the eastern (inland) side of the temple; the second gate you'll reach is open from 8am(ish) to 5pm, 10.000 kip. The other viewpoint is reached by walking past the eastern (inland) side of the temple then onto a path that branches off to your right through a teak grove. The gate is open from 8am(ish) to 5pm, 10.000 kip. The trail is well-maintained, but the last 25% is quite steep and involves lots of walking and scrambling on rocks with uneven footing; ladders have been placed to help you up and over the roughest parts. The view over town is stunning from this one, but there's no view upriver.
- Visit the Ban Sopjam weaving village: 30 minutes upstream from Muang Ngoi. It's possible to put kayaks into a motor boat, ride up the river to visit the weaving village, and then kayak back downstream to Muang Ngoi for 1.5 to 2.5 hours, stopping at beaches to swim along the way. This non-guided "tour" is offered by Rainbow Guesthouse (150.000 for the boat, plus 50.000 per person kayak rental in Feb 2018) and by Lao Student Travel on the main path up from the boat dock (prices are listed on a board out front; varied by number of participants, but was roughly 100.000 kip per person in Feb 2018).
Where to eat in Muang Ngoi Neua
- Riverbeach Restaurant: Located on balcony overlooking the beach and nam ou river, close to the temple. Serves great food and western cocktails.
- Phetdavanh Buffet Place: In the beginning of the main street there is a Swedish guy and his local wife running a buffet restaurant. Besides from the good food they also serve fabulous cocktails and play nice music. Buffet breakfast (7:30 - 10:30am, 30,000 kip - May 2017) with a lot of fruits, sweets, tea & coffee, muesli, shak suka, eggs in all variations. Not anything special but cheap for the quantity. The same place offers dinner buffet for 30,000 kip with a good choice of local foods. Excellent food despite the dirtiness, they are currently developing the premises as the owners are moving to their other location at River View Bungalows.
- Ning Ning Restaurant: Left of the Boatlanding stairs take the path passing the boat office. Big open-air terrace overlooking the Nam Ou, best view in town. Open all year.
- Lattanavongsa Restaurant: Immediately left of the Boat landing, overlooking the jetty. Solid and clean. Boasts big wooden balcony and marble table seats on the grass. Open all year. Excellent and cheap place for breakfast, especially before boarding the ferry.
- Aloune Mai: Located halfway through the mainstreet on the right hand. Good Lao food and cold beer Lao.
- Veranda Restaurant: Halfway down the main road, cheap and cheerful. Handwritten menus include reviews and tips from past travelers, occasionally helpful since the menu isn't always up to date on what's included in terms of pricing and ingredients. Good value for lunch and dinner; pricing isn't as good on breakfasts.
- Vita Restaurant: Located after Aloune Mai on the right side of main street. Good mango shakes and a solid chicken suzi.
- Bee Tree Restaurant: beautifully located on the very end of the main street (5min from boatlanding). Serves amazing authentic versions of Lao and local food with fresh ingredients and free from MSG. The chef is young, passionate and a very nice guy. Menu includes explanations on the various dishes. There's a happy hour on all real cocktails everyday and they are the best in town. Prices are the same as anywhere else but food and service is much better than at the moneygrubbing "riverside" lodges along the boatlanding.
- Meen Indian Restaurant - Indian and Lao food: On the main street, not far away from Aloune Mai, there is in the evening a local merchant selling take-away delicious home-made pork sausages, sticky rice and spicy pepper sauce packed in banana leaves.