What’s Happened to Muang Ngoi Neua?

We were excited to experience staying in a real Lao village during our visit to Muang Ngoi Neua. Images of little river side bungalows, more hammock swinging while enjoying yet another Laos sunset over the surrounding karst mountains. Remote enough to have no incoming roads, ATMs, Wi-Fi or any internet connection, only having functioning electrically from 6-9:30pm, and only accessed by boat.

Muang Ngoi Neua is a favourite on the backpacker trail in Northern Laos, Wikitravel says it’s now firmly on the Banana Pancake trail, along with Vang Vieng and Cambodia‘s Sihanoukville…

Muang Ngoi Neua's boat landing

Muang Ngoi Neua’s boat landing

After an amazing boat ride from Nong Khiaw, we arrived at Muang Ngoi Neua’s small port. As soon as we docked we were instantly accosted by hotel owners, desperately trying to drag us off to their accommodation. All the boats occupants obviously wanting a riverside bungalow, a frantic feeling trying to secure any accommodation ensued. We eventually settled for a (relatively expensive) 80,000 Kip bungalow well away from the river views we travelled there for. It was lovely, and we had the added surprise luxury of 24 hour gas heated shower! Not very ‘back to basics’, but very nice nevertheless!

Muang Ngoi Neua strip!

Muang Ngoi Neua strip!

Muang Ngoi Neua village is essentially a strip about 500m long, flanked by stalls, restaurants and shops. As soon as we walked up the main strip, I felt the piercing look of those with money in their eyes staring at us – Not a trait I’ve experienced while visiting other places in Laos.

More annoyingly, one of the most popular restaurants at the junction from the boat landing had western workers touting outside, tempting us to partake in their ‘all you can eat’ breakfast – and then sneering in contempt when we turned it down as the food was stone-cold and as ancient looking as the mountainous terrain surrounding this beautiful village.

Again, not a the typical Lao experience I’ve come to Muang Ngoi Neua for.

Having previously read about Jess’s account (from the Globetrotter Girls) of their stay back in April 2012 and Erin’s experience (from Never Ending Voyage) in 2008, things seemed to have changed quite rapidly in Muang Ngoi Neua.

Instantly, we felt cheated that our images of a picture perfect, quiet and serene Muang Ngoi Neua had been dashed.

Muang Ngoi Neua is still a sleepy Laos village. The locals still get on with their daily lives, even as the bikini clad falang wander by. The feeling of rural life is ever present. As chickens, dogs, children, tractors and bikes mill around the strip, while the tourists take it all in and enjoy the typical Lao pace of life.

Used Cluster bomb cases dropped by the US

Used Cluster bomb cases dropped by the US

Fisherman prepare their nets, sand their boats, or craft new paddles from high quality teak collected from surrounding forest – It’s a humbling experience. The rural life, their relative poverty, and their ever happy and up-beat attitude towards their lives. Which I suppose is why Muang Ngoi Neua is so popular.

Things to do in Muang Ngoi Neua

The cheeky chaps from Nicksa's Place

The cheeky chaps from Nicksa’s Place

We ate solely in Nicksa’s Place. It was always empty when we ate or drank there, a true family run operation! In true Lao style, the service is veerrry sloooowww, but everything is fresh and tasty, and the running of things is helped on by the owner’s adorable children. Just don’t order a full-spread when your boat back to Nong Khiaw is in 30 minutes! Don’t forget to check out Our Guide to Maxing Your Relaxing in Nong Khiaw!

Sticky rice and coconut balls, and fried banana!

Sticky rice and coconut balls, and fried banana crisps!

Some of the street stall food is absolutely amazing as you can imagine. Little coconut/sticky rice balls with spring onion were a favourite, as well as fried banana crisps and gooey sticky rice cakes. A great stodgy energy fuelled breakfast!

Stuck in the mud!

Stuck in the mud!

"Keep rowing!!!"

“Keep rowing!!!”

Muang Ngoi Neua’s surroundings are incredible. The river is an obvious draw. We hired a 4 person long boat and foolishly tried to row upstream. We managed a few hundred metres, spotted a ‘beach’ on the island in the river and were forced to crash land there to catch our breath, while getting stuck in the mud!

Worryingly, ‘Tubing’ is advertised near the boat landing, and while the act of floating down the river in an inner tube is innocent enough, the last thing Laos needs is another Vang Vieng…

The bamboo bridge to Cave View and entrance to Tham Kang Cave

The bamboo bridge to Cave View and entrance to Tham Kang Cave

There are some amazing treks and walks around Muang Ngoi Neua, and in our eyes the best thing to do there! We headed east from Muang Ngoi Neua, past more little villages on the way Tham Kang caves, passing a toll-booth where you have to pay for a 10,000 Kip ticket.

The cave was massive! We bought our flash lights with us, and ventured a few hundred metres in before fear of bats and other scary things forced us out! There’s a nice bamboo restaurant called Cave View over a rickety bridge. A perfect place for a rejuvenating Café Lao before carrying on another hour to Huey Sen.

Beautiful Huey Sen

Beautiful Huey Sen

Huey Sen is another roadless village, it’s like stepping back in time when you arrive. Stilted houses, and 2 little restaurants await your arrival, as their owners will undoubtedly try to usher you into one of them! We had an amazing meal in the quieter of the two, with a few rounds of Lao Lao whiskey shots enjoyed with the family for dessert!


The village is almost medieval, but we felt that it was a bit wrong walking around observing the lives of the locals like we were in a zoo. Even though we were probably more of a novelty! Huey Sen had 2 guesthouses when we were there (Jan 2013), if you’re tired after the walk from Muang Ngoi Neua.

Local Kai Pen (Riverweed) and a nose picking boy!

Local Kai Pen (riverweed) and a nose picking boy!

The last thing we want to do is put people off going to Muang Ngoi Neua. It is beautiful, and it is a glimpse into Lao village life – We can’t help feeling that Muang Ngoi Neua is destined for more tourism than it can handle as the years go by and it inevitably becomes more popular.

It’s the old formula – Tourists bring money, money brings greed, greed brings unhappiness. But who am I to say that money pouring into Muang Ngoi Neua is a bad thing? It can’t be all bad for the residents. I’m sure surrounding villages would kill to have all this new money Muang Ngoi Neua is bringing in…

The fragile riverside life is hard enough already, and I’m not sure if a continued influx of tourists and money will be beneficial long term for Muang Ngoi Neua. It probably won’t turn into a new Vang Vieng, but the local way of life may be inevitably ruined.

By all means visit this beautiful village and enjoy everything it has to offer, but remember your lasting impact long after you’ve left.

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8 Responses to What’s Happened to Muang Ngoi Neua?

  1. Dani February 12, 2013 at 2:59 am #

    Ha, see – that’s exactly what we were afraid would happen to Muang Ngoi Neua and which is why we named our post ‘ Please don’t go to Muang Ngoi Neua’! It was already on the verge of becoming another backpacker hot spot when we were there, but there were definitely no touts yet trying to convince people to eat at their restaurants.. everything was so mellow and laid-back when we were there only 15 months ago. I still hope it won’t turn into a second Vang Vieng! Love your photos, by the way!

    • Stuart Edwards February 14, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

      It’s a real shame. It’s still really nice obviously, it’s just feeling a bit soulless in places around the village now.

      The touts really annoyed me – more so that they were western! It was like they were corrupting the locals with there ‘All you can eat!’ marketing tactics.

      Glad you like the photos!

    • Tati October 1, 2016 at 6:47 am #

      Personally I found you guys a bit annoying.. This blog is already way better then the crap written on globeltrottergirls.. You are romanticizing the place while I wonder how you found this place yourself. It is very normal and logic this place turned in what it is now because you simply want Western luxery in your guesthouse. Once there is a guesthouse, the place is bound to become kapitalised minded and people will loose integrity and become gready… Wether you are doing your traveling tubing with lots of alcohol, probably amusing for locals to see stupid tourist getting drunk, or you sleep in a guesthouse and think you are traveling ‘the better and good’ way.. You are fucking spoiling that place and making it turn in a tourist spot. Do not think a stupid article ‘do not come to Muang Ngoy’ is doing anything else exept pleasing your ego!

  2. Vicky March 30, 2013 at 4:41 am #

    We just spent a day in Muang Ngoi Neua and have a feeling the place has already gotten even worse since the time you were there. We literally felt unwelcome there at times, and felt that the locals were incredibly short with us and unwilling to even be polite. It really is a shame. There seem to be tons of guesthouses and touristy restaurants popping up everywhere on the main strip and it seems like the locals welcome your money but not your company. This is one of our first stops in Laos so we are a bit disappointed because everyone has told us how friendly and nice the locals here are so hopefully this won;t be our experience traveling through the entire country.

    • Stuart Edwards September 8, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

      Hey Vicky – Thanks for your insightful comment… reeeaaallllyy sorry for the late reply, we’ve been having a few problems getting our comments through.

      So how was your overall experience in Laos? Muang Ngoi Neua really did have that money grabbing vibe going on.. but it’s SO unlike the rest of the country! I think a few bad elements in the town have just become so focused on the cash that tourists bring in.

      I hope you guys had a great time in Laos overall – It’s by far my favourite country without question!
      Stuart Edwards recently posted…Travel Photo of the Day: Logging in Laos is Obviously Tiring!My Profile

  3. Michelle July 25, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    Hi. We are off to Laos and Mung Ngoi neua next week and I have to say everything which is being said here is exactly what i dont want. Anyone any advice? Do we visit or not and if not is there anywhere else you’d advise for serenity peacefulness and a more authentic expereince?
    Thanks all!

    • Stuart Edwards September 8, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

      Hi Michelle – Really sorry for the late reply. I hope you had a good time during your trip to Laos and weren’t put off visiting Muang Ngoi Neua. We’d like to hear if you had a good time and whether you found the authentic experience you were looking for.
      Stuart Edwards recently posted…Travel Photo of the Day: Logging in Laos is Obviously Tiring!My Profile

  4. Josey April 12, 2016 at 8:52 pm #

    Wow, from your post it is apparent that MNN has changed.

    I was there in early 2005 and the place was barren. The locals told me that only that year they had stopped selling opium at the market.

    There was a severe rat population there at that time . They had put poison out to kill the rats but the cats ate it all (killing all of the cats) so the rat population exploded in size. It wasn’t as bad as Nong Khiaw, though…rats ate 1/4 bar of my friend’s soap in the night there and the sound of rats scurrying across the ceiling of our hut was constant).

    While in MNN we trekked into the outlying villages for like 8 hours and stayed at a remote village that had a total of like four or five families. We stayed with one of the families in their small hut. If you are looking for something more remote (yet very rustic) I recommend it highly.

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