By boat

Boats are a scenic way to travel around northern Laos and a refreshing alternative to long, bumpy bus rides. From Luang Prabang it is possible to travel on the Nam Ou River to Nong Kiaow and Muang Ngoi, or up the Mekong to Huay Xai and the Thai border via Pakbeng.

The journey to Nong Kiaow takes six to eight hours, depending on water levels. From there, Muang Ngoi is another hour upstream and only accessible by boat. The journey starts with an hour or two up the Mekong then turns into the Nam Ou near the Pak Ou caves. If you're travelling by chartered boat, you can arrange a stopover at the caves en route to Nong Kiaow.

The Nam Ou is stunning, lined with huge limestone cliffs towering straight up out of the water, small white sandy beaches and patches of dark jungle forest. The route drifts past small riverside villages and idyllic scenes of rural life: grazing water buffalo, fishermen and children playing in the water and waving.

Departing from the boat launch on Manthatoulat Road, boats to Nong Kiaow are popular and can be a bit cramped once everyone (and their backpacks) is on board. The boats are covered to protect from rain and sun, but that's about the extent of facilities. "Bathrooms breaks" mean stopping at the side of the river and you'll need to bring your own food and drink. There is no room on the boat to stand up or even stretch your legs, so if you have a small pillow use it as a cushion to soothe "numb bum" from sitting for so long. It may not be the fastest or most comfortable way to get to Nong Kiaow, but the beautiful scenery makes the trip well worth it. If purchased directly from the boat launch, a ticket costs 110,000 kip. Alternatively, the journey downriver from Nong Kiaow only takes four hours and tickets cost 100,000 kip.