Nong Khiaw Mountain Viewpoint
Nong Khiaw Mountain Viewpoint
After recently re-reading a post we had done about how Laos won my heart in 2016, I realized that I had never written about the Nong Khiaw Mountain Viewpoint. The hike up to the viewpoint, the actual views overlooking the countryside, and the entire experience was something we’ll not be soon to forget. Here’s our experience with this wonderful landmark.
After spending a week in Luang Prabang, we wanted to switch it up and see some more of Laos. We decided to travel north to Nong Khiaw on a whim of mine. Most people head south towards Vang Vieng or Vientiane, but we weren’t too interested in that. I didn’t know anything about the town, except that it was on a sleepy river and the landscapes were supposed to be fantastic. To be honest, the promise of a good landscape and area hikes are usually enough to sway me. I had heard about a Nong Khiaw mountain viewpoint hike that was supposed to be beautiful. And so, we packed our bags and booked the four hour mini-bus ride from Luang Prabang to the north.
One of the major attractions in the entire region is the Nong Khiaw mountain viewpoint. Billed as an easy to moderate hike, the summitboasts 360 degree views of the northern countryside of Laos. This was definitely something that I was very excited to do.
Cazzie might be the world’s biggest American football fan, and my plan to hike to the viewpoint overlapped with NFL draft day. There was absolutely any chance he was missing draft day, so we settled on leaving for the viewpoint after the draft ended. Around 11:00AM in Laos, we finally we were on our way.
But if you know anything about Laos, the heat can make most things much harder to accomplish. For those who haven’t been, the hottest months of the year are March through June. We just so happened to be here during May, and it was extremely hot and humid the entire time. As the day went on, it only grew hotter and those who were smart retreated into any shade and coolness they could find.
By 11:30AM when we were finally on our way to hike, saying it was hot was an understatement. If you’re planning on doing this hike, go early! We bought two giant water bottles and put them in our backpack, and although they were heavy, we were very glad to have them in the heat.
The trailhead is located on the one main road in Nong Khiaw, and is easily marked by signs stating “Mountain Viewpoint.” A little old man sits in the booth at the trailhead and collects a fee of 20,000 kip per person, or a little under $2.50USD. We should have known we were in for a challenge of a hike when he pointed at the sun and laughed at us a little. Everyone knows to go before the hottest part of day, except apparently us.
Making it abundantly clear to stay on the path, there is a giant Vietnam War era missile on display at the entrance. Laos was heavily bombarded by the United States and allies during the war, and the consequences can sadly still be found in the region. We made sure to heed its warning, but the path was well maintained so it was easy to not stray.
The beginning of the hike isn’t too strenuous and starts in a field setting that climbs gently into a green forested area. As soon as we were into the forest though, the real elevation change started. The trail gains 1,400 feet (428 meters) in a relatively short distance. To put it in perspective, we quite literally started our hike at the river seen in the pictures in the distance. Add the immense heat, and we were out of our league.
Cazzie’s face at one point was so pale, that we had to stop and rest for a while. I admittedly was ready for a rest as well, with my hair matted on the back of my neck in sweat. After drinking some water and plopping ourselves on a bench conveniently located along the side of the trail for about ten minutes, we were ready to start our journey again. The trail is actually really fun if you can get through the difficulty, with sections that have safety ropes to help pull yourself up. There aren’t many views throughout the trail, but the forest is extremely pretty to walk through.
As we approached the top, we were more than ready for the spectacular view that awaited us. When we finally arrived, we were not disappointed! There’s a small wooden hut at the top of the view point, so it provides some shade and a place to sit. It was quite enjoyable to relax surrounded by karsts and treetops at the top of the hike.
We stayed at the top of the mountain for almost two hours. The panoramic view was beautiful, with giant mountains of limestone rising from the ground as the Ou River snakes its way through the valley. The river winds through these megalith pieces of rocks, stretching on as far as the eye can see.
There was a dense haze that enveloped the area that morning, which made for a dreary day. Even with this though, the view was still very worth the climb. Popular times to embark on the hike are early morning or later at night. Be careful though and bring a flashlight if you plan on doing this. Without any sun to guide you down the steep path, things could get dangerous.
Finally, it was time to head back into town. The only thing that made us finally leave the hut at the top of the mountain, was our hungry stomachs aching for food. After climbing carefully down, we ended our hike with a giant meal at the Indian place on the main road by the river. This was a much needed meal full of flavor and hearty goodness, and we left feeling full and satisfied.
It was a wonderful day spent marveling at the beautiful limestone karsts that make up the landscape of northern Laos. They truly are magnificent, and even though the journey to the viewpoint was exhausting and sweaty, we were a part of a rare few that are able to see the beauty of the country outside of major tourist zones.