touring Northern Laos: down the Nam Ou River

After two nights in Phongsali, our friend took us for a breakfast of noodle soup, then on a wild 30 minute ride down to the river town where we were to catch our boat.  We arrived in time for our boat, but there was an issue with too many passengers for the one boat.   We sat for over an hour on the hard benches in the boat, listening to the driver and others debate.  They decided that we, the foreigners would have to pay the difference in the cost to operate a second boat.  Even though we understood the whole conversation, we were powerless to stop being cheated, so ended up having to pay double what everyone else paid!  So frustrating.

2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-25The river, however was stunningly gorgeous!   2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-22014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa CrossettThe kids loved it as well, especially when we’d go down the rapids. 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-4 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-3We spent 3 days on the river (10+ hours of boat rides), stopping overnight at 3 different places along the way: Muang Khua, Muang Ngoi, and Nong Kiau.2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-5It was a welcome change of pace from the long windy bus rides. 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-6No one was in much of a hurry.  We stopped to drop people off.  We also stopped so that the driver could buy freshly caught fish from fishermen along the way.  One driver also regularly stopped to net dead fish that were floating in the river.  He put them up in front where he was sitting, providing an exquisite aroma for the passengers.2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-7We ate snacks, and shared with new friends.  2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-8 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-9We waved at the kids swimming and playing in front of their villages along the way.  We watched for the many water buffalo and kingfishers.

2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-12And we enjoyed the beautiful beaches and karst mountain formations.  Again, pictures just don’t capture the beauty. 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-13Often the stops along the way took more than a couple minutes, so the kids enjoyed playing on the beaches and running around until it was time to take off again. 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-14 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-15Once we arrived at our destination for the day, we’d check into our guesthouse and head out for a swim and some dinner.   2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-16 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-17 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-18These pictures are at Muang Ngoi, our second stop.  The landscape was like a paradise. 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-19 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-20The third day, in Nong Kiau, it was blazing hot and we were all ready for a swim.  We found the way down to the river, but the water near the trail was a bit stagnant and it was mud instead of sand.  Ryan figured we could find a better swimming spot.  We set off, walking through knee deep water with a slimy bottom, each carrying a kid.  After a ways, I was losing my balance and stepped on something sharp and told Ryan I couldn’t go any further and that it wasn’t worth it.  Ryan was determined not to give up on finding the best spot, so he went out on his own disappearing in grass over his head.  After a while came back to report that he’d indeed found the perfect place.  We only had to hike through tall grass, through some mud and across a lagoon.2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-21We had brought the blow up mattress to use as a raft for the kids, and Ryan convinced me that he could pull the two girls and I across the lagoon to get to the “private beach.”  I agreed and we set out, Ryan pulling us, along with the dry bag with our other belongings.  We must have been quite the sight, but we made it, and it was so worth it.  The sand was so clean and the water was clear.  There were shallow areas for the girls to play, and deeper spots, where the current wasn’t too fast, for us to cool off.  And there was no way any tourists or locals were going to invade our secluded spot.2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-22The girls did enjoy waving at the a few passing boats. 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-23The next day, we made the final leg of our journey home. It was the worst section of travel out of the entire trip.  There was a 3 hour stint of used-to-be-paved-road that was so bumpy that we would literally fly out of our seats while being jostled from side to side.  After an hour of it, I started to get a bit panicky.  I would’ve rather taken the 9.5 hour bus ride to Phongsali again, or walked if that were an option over this craziness.  In the end I survived it with no ill effects, but would definitely not recommend that stretch of road to anyone in their 3rd trimester!

Have you traveled by boat before?  How was your experience?

part 1 touring Northern Laos: packing light

part 2 touring Northern Laos: Phongsali

part 3 touring Northern Laos: down the Nam Ou River

part 4 touring Northern Laos: family accommodations


3 thoughts on “touring Northern Laos: down the Nam Ou River”

  1. Hey just wanted to let you know that I always look forward to your blog ,please don’t stop!
    Sorry about the boat ripoff but it looks all in all it was a great trip! I head back to Bkk on Monday and fly out on Tuesday back to the states! Hi to everyone and hug the girls for me all three of them HAHA Take care and stay in touch! Mike Oh I should add meeting you Ryan and your family along with my time spent in Laung Namtha was the highlight of this trip!


  2. Wow again i enjoyed reading your story of Northern Laos on the boat rid off . I like very much the pictures what a trip you have had . beautiful places you have been to.Keep posting more your story . It is great experience for you. Love to have that experience like your family. It is quite adventure .but worth it.


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