Laos: Down the Nam Ou River

Day 1: From Hat Sa to to Muang Khua

Just a few short days in the north, but it was time to leave. It looked to us that we may be able to get to Luang Prabang by boat, so we thought we’d give it a go.  After all, we already knew a road trip back south would be a very long one.  The road network in northern Laos is still not up to the standard of neighbouring countries, so many people still travel by boat. Road building is progressing at a fast rate so it won’t be long before more people abandon this fantastic way to travel.

We caught the bus from Phongsali to Hat Sa (around 6 hours) as we were told a boat would leave at around 9.30 to take passengers to Muang Khua.  There is a faster boat that roars down the river but the slow boat is much more relaxing and also cheaper.  To our dismay there were 2 other tourists doing the same thing. This turned out to be quite handy though as there was no-one else to take the slow-boat, and they won’t make the journey unless there are enough people. Because there were only 4 of us we had to pay 175,000 instead of 120,000 kip but that was still a bargain. The scenery is spectacular and you pass many small villages on the way. Every now and again you see a kingfisher sitting on a branch, looking over the waters. There are some sections of minor white-water that the boatman expertly navigated. This is definitely the way to travel.




Day 2: Muang Khua to Nong Khiaw

At Muang Khua was noticed there were more tourists around than we had been seeing during much of our trip around Laos. There were 9 of us wanting to take the boat to Nong Khiaw in the morning, which was handy as the boatman was reluctant to move with fewer people. We set off around 10 am armed with our cameras and feeling very much like tourists on our boat of falang.

The river journey was much the same as the previous day but no less enjoyable. We had fewer areas of white-water and there were also fewer villages to pass by. As we moved south we noticed it was getting warmer. At last!

Around 6 hours after departure we reached Nong Khiaw. This place is hailed as the ‘new’ Viet Vieng of Laos so there were plenty of backpackers around and tours and activities on offer. We found a place to stay with hot water showers and relaxed. The bridge that crossed the Nam Ou has a very nice view. A few shots from the bridge in the next post.






  1. Paul Taylor

    Loved the shots of life on the river. But did you really want to ahve the two boys with fishing nets in virtual silhouette?

  2. carono (Post author)

    Hi Paul, These were taken in 2008 so not sure what the intent was. I remember it being tricky to shoot from the little boat, and that the light in the middle of the day wasn’t the best. My guess was that it was unintended, but decided to keep it. There are plenty of photos posted here that are more ‘memory shots’ rather than images i’m proud of. But that’s ok, it’s great to look back and remember the journey. I’d love to go back and have another go at photographing these people/places; I think i’d approach it differently if I could, and actively look for opportunities, rather than just snapping here and there.

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