Earth : Asia : Southeast Asia : Laos : Northern Laos : Nong Khiaw
Many travellers pass through on the way up river to the even more isolated Muang Ngoi, but Nong Khiaw has a plenty of charm, a decent range of accommodation, plus conveniences suchas 24 hour electricity and a connection to the road network for those interested in exploring the surrounding area.
Nong Khiaw is 3-4 hours via the road or 6-7 hours by boat from Luang Prabang along the Mekong and Ou River. Boat travel is by far the most spectacular but more costly.
Buses from Udomxay are scheduled 3 times daily (3-4 hours) to Nong Khiaw but may not run on time, or at all, during the low season (depending on passenger numbers). It is possible to negotiate a fare on either the Vang Vieng or Luang Prabang bound bus and disembark at Pak Mong (where the highway turns south). From here a tuk-tuk will take you the last hour or so to Nong Khiaw for around 30,000 kip per person.
Buses from Nong Khiaw: The bus/minivan station in Nong Khiaw is on the edge of town on the western side of the river.
To Luang Prabang and Udomxay run daily at around 09:00 & 11:00 price 40,000 Kip. 4 hrs.+ - To Luang Prabang by Minivan leaving at changing hours and costs 50,000 kip per person. To Luang Namtha you have to take the bus to Udomxay and than change the bus which gives you a quite late arrival in Luang Namtha. It cost 40,000 kip to Udomxay To Muang Khua or Phongsali you need to go to Udomxay (11:00) as well, change bus To Vieng Thong and Sam Neua (near Viengxay and Vietnam border) the bus starts originally from Luang Prabang and you have to be on call around 12.30 +!
The buses run hardly ever on time. Buy your ticket in advance and leave your name! Private minivan to Luang Prabang can cost as low as 500,000 kip. especially if drivers have empty returns.
Nong Khiaw is simple in layout and small enough to walk around. It's possible to rent a bike at the Riverside Bungalows and Delilah's to explore the 2 roads and surrounding area.
A large concrete road bridge connects Nong Khiaw on the western side of the river with the village of Ban Sop Houn on the eastern side of the river, where many of the river-view bungalows are found.
Since Tiger Trail has opened their tour office in Nong Khiaw there is suddenly something more to see. They will bring you out for various trips, hikes, river tours, bamboo raft workshop, village stay. A must see is the newly discovered 100 waterfalls jungle hike. Daily tours seem to run with min. 2 persons. It gets more affordable with 3-5 people joining. Some of the tours can be found online. 
Walk around the village enjoying the village feel with great views over the Nam Ou river.
Walk or bicycle on the dirt road behind the Riverside resort for some scenic views and nature.
Go rock climbing or abseiling with Nong Kiau Climbing  from Green Discovery's office. Kayaking, cycling and trekking also possible.
Phone Travel is the only tour agency in town run by local people. Located just in front of Sabai Sabai massage. They can organize a range of activities and treks. Recommended are the bamboo rafting (one day) and the trek to Sop Jam village with Mr Mang as your guide (2 or 3 days).
Rent a mountain bike and push eastwards to remote Khmu and Hmong villages. Riverside Guest House rents mountain bikes for 50,000 kip and city bikes for 10,000 kip.
Go for a herbal steam bath or massage at Sabai Sabai
The few small shops on the main street cater more for locals than tourists, and offer little more than basic necessities.
Money can be changed near the boat landing - Youth travel agency or over the Bridge at Riverside Guest House. Riverside can also offer cash advances on credit cards.
Vongmany Restaurant - Awesome food and a very good value. The chef learned how to cook from her grandmother as a child and learned modern techniques from a Luang Prabang culinary academy. The only Happy Hour in Nong Khiaw, with some good food and drink specials.
Cold Beer Laos are served everywhere in local restaurants. The small shops sell cheap but decent Lao Lao in unlabeled bottles, probably homemade.
HoboMap has a good map listing all guesthouses here: http://hobomaps.com/NongKiewMap.html
Some restaurants and guest houses offer WiFi internet connections. The Nong Khiaw Riverside and Coco Bar have internet computers for a small fee. The speed can be very slow.
North of Nong Khiaw one hour by boat one finds Muang Ngoy Kao or Old Muang Ngoi, a backpackers favourite with no road access and electricity and a real village feel. Also see the GET IN section for more information.
The bus station is located on the west part of Nong Khiaw about a 10 minute walk from the bridge/boat landing. If possible you should always check times/prices with the bus station ticket office prior to travel. English is spoken. As with all travel in Laos, times are a guideline and you should allow for considerable delay.
Private minivan service available by a local named Mang, who speaks English well. Ask any of the expats or restaurant owners and they can give you his phone number. A trip to Luang Namtha costs around 160,000 kip per person person and takes about 6-7 hours. Prices negotiable. It seemed that he would be willing to drive just about anywhere.
You can take a public boat to Luang Prabang; the trip takes approximately 8 hours and costs 110,000 kip per person. Purchase tickets at the office near the boat landing (near the bridge). The boat won't leave until all seats are filled - either 12 or 18. As of mid-April, the boat left at 11:00. Alternatively, you can arrange a private boat. Riverside Eco-lodge will arrange it for 1.5 million kip for the entire boat, or you can ask around. Takes only about 6 hours by private boat which makes fewer stops with less waiting time, and you can make as many stops as you want on the way.
Boats that go up the river to Muang Ngoi Neua leave regularly in the high season until 15:00 –takes 1 hour costs 25,000 kip. In low season there is one boat definitively at 9:30 and another at 14:00. Some of the boats continue to Muang Khua
Boats on the Nam Ou: To Muang Ngoi the public boats leaves around 11.00 and around 14:00. The price is around 25.000 kip. Private boats coat 300,000-400,000 kip one way, but can be cheaper if the person driving needs to go anyway. Speedboat (30 min. only) cost return 400,000 and is more dangerous. To Luang Prabang Public boats are not so common but normally start at 11:00-12:00The road offers a much faster way to go but less interesting. A private boat down to Luang Prabang (6-7 hours) would cost about 1 to 1.3 million kip. It’s recommended to get a small group together and share the cost as the trip is worth it. You can leave your name at the boat station! If it runs like a public boat you are supposed to pay around 150,000 Kip per person (4 times the price of a public Minivan) In high season there are normally enough people to go. Speedboat to LPB costs 1 million kip and takes 2.5 hrs. (up to 6 persons)
Further on the Nam Ou to Muang Khua The boats leave around 11.00 if there are enough people to fill it. A charter cost about 1.1 million kio, and takes about 6 hours. Visit the boat landing and pass by a few times to check if there are some/enough people. Speedboats to Muang Khua costs 1 million kip and, and takes 2.5 hours. Especially the part north of Muang Ngoi is extremely picturesque and worth visiting/cruising through. You can do that also with a day cruise from Muang Ngoi in a small boat.
Remember: In Laos even the public transportation is mostly privately owned and drivers stand in a queue to grab the next job/drive. So if there is no profit, they won’t go! If travelling alone you might be waiting for the next boat or busload of people to turn up.