The best hike ever? 100 waterfalls trek, Nong Khiaw, Laos

100 waterfalls trek

In a recent Lonely Planet article, Tony Wheeler described his visit to northern Laos to hike the 100 waterfalls trek. It had only been discovered (for non-locals of course) in 2008, and a local ecotourism company Tiger Trails was taking small groups of visitors to the falls. We love hiking, we love waterfalls: we just had to go.

Nong Khiaw, set in a stunning location

The day starts in the small town of Nong Khiaw, set against a magnificent backdrop and straddling the Nam Ou river. Most of the residential part of the town is on the west side, while the guesthouses and the scattering of tourist restaurants are on the east. There is not much to do in Nong Khiaw itself, although there are some interesting caves a little way out of town (we walked to these and it took around 40 minutes each way). These caves served as the local regional bank HQ and the homes of many hundreds of people while the American bombers were destroying their homes and roads during the Secret War between 1969-1974. It is still easy to find evidence of UXO in the nearby fields. Nong Khiaw is also home to the best Key Lime Pie this side of Florida, but more of that later.

Marking a recent unexploded bomb (UXO) found on a path near Nong Khiaw

We had persuaded a small group of backpackers to join us on the trek (reducing our costs significantly) and so 8 of us set off with our guide Dhit in a long-tail boat to the tiny village of Don Khoun, around an hour downstream from Nong Khiaw. Once in the village we picked up a local man who would assist Dhit in keeping an eye on our large group.

From the village it was around 45 minutes walk to the start of the waterfalls. As we approached the falls and heard the sound of the water tinkling over the rocks, those who were still wearing hiking boots changed to their sandals or flip-flops, ready for the climb ahead.

Work goes on regardless the arrival of our hiking group

There aren’t actually 100 waterfalls, and there isn’t one spectacular view of a giant drop or funnel of water. What we did find was a continuous waterfall, stretching for maybe 2km, up which we scrambled for around 90 minutes. At some stretches we walked gently along the river bed, at others we pulled ourselves up using the rocks that scattered the landscape. In a couple of very steep places there were even bamboo ladders in place to help us up to the next level.

Hiking up the falls

The rocks had a remarkably good grip, and I don’t think any of us slipped during the hike. Technically it is a fairly easy hike and the fresh running water provided blissful relief against the heat of the day, although thankfully much of the hike was in the shade of the surrounding jungle. With the constantly changing scenery and the excitement of walking through a long and varied waterfall, the time we spent hiking up the fall flew by.

At the top of the falls our guides pulled out a couple of giant banana leaves which served as a tablecloth, and we were given a delicious lunch of cooked eggplant, fresh salads and omelette. It was a wonderful spot to stop and enjoy the breathtaking scenery.

The way down was via a steep path through the grassy land away from the water, and we returned to our boat ready for the trip back to Nong Khiaw and some Key Lime Pie.

A welcome reward for a great day's hiking

So what about this pie? Well the previous day we had spied a sign on a local cafe (Delilah’s) proclaiming that Key Lime Pie was on offer. The delightful owner of Delilah’s was apologetic that it was not actually available, but promised us a pie the next day. And it was well worth the wait, with even our group member from Miami agreeing that it was as good as the real thing! She presented each of us a slice with her wonderful beaming smile, and a couple of the group apparently polished off the remainder for breakfast the next morning.

The table laid, ready for lunch

If you are staying in Luang Prabang and have a couple of days to spare this is a highly recommended trip. Nong Khiaw is around three hours from Luang Prabang so will need to allow a day to get there and a morning for your return, but it will be a hike that you will not experience anywhere else. And once you’re finished, don’t forget to pop into Delilah’s for a sweet treat!

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12 Responses to “The best hike ever? 100 waterfalls trek, Nong Khiaw, Laos”

  1. Amazing article and pictures, it seems like a dream trip what with winter upon us in full force.

    Did everyone go hiking in flip-flops and climb those ladders and navigate the trail without slipping? Color me impressed! ๐Ÿ™‚

    January 8, 2010 at 4:32 pm
  2. Thanks Matt, and it certainly seems a world away from the winter we have returned to. re: footwear, most of us had trekking sandals, but one girl had flip-flops and survived, while the guides went barefoot through the water.

    January 10, 2010 at 11:34 am
  3. Smita #

    Laos seems to be stunning Andy. Thanks for the insight .

    January 11, 2010 at 12:34 pm
  4. Thanks Smita! It is a beautiful country, with wonderful people, great food and so much to see. Best wishes for you in 2010!

    January 11, 2010 at 2:26 pm
  5. Looks like I have to get back to Laos…. I’ve missed that hike! Damn! (not really, as I would have to get back) ๐Ÿ™‚

    January 14, 2010 at 9:12 am
  6. looks lovely! i really love waterfall hiking. feels like all your hardwork and sweat is worth it, the moment u get to stop and rest and play in the waterfall! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    May 21, 2010 at 12:05 am
  7. Oh looks good!!! Awesome. I’m really into hiking recently. Should I have booked flght to Laos instead of Cambodia? LOL
    nice article Andy!

    May 21, 2010 at 1:09 am
  8. wow this is really cool and informative. i personally like falls and lakes. i did some falls hopping in our country before. in our next backpacking trip we’re actually thinking of going to laos. now we know what we can do near luang prabang. thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚

    May 21, 2010 at 3:13 am
  9. Thanks for the comments. Waterfalls are so much fun to hike in – this was the first we’d actually walked up! Juno, don’t worry Cambodia has more than enough amazing things for you to see and do, so make the most of it, and maybe go to Laos next time ๐Ÿ™‚

    May 25, 2010 at 4:16 pm
  10. Hi Andy, my boyfriend and I are making our way slowly across Asia (8 months and counting)! Laos is going to be in our itinerary in the upcoming months and I’m so glad I came across your post about this hike! I’ll let you know how we fare up! Great pics, you’ve sure got our attention! And don’t worry. I’m all over that key lime pie!

    August 12, 2010 at 2:17 pm
  11. Greeting from India!! Awesome Post Andy.. You don’t see a 2 km continuous stretch of waterfall everywhere. I personally like hiking along with Waterfalls or river bed .It must be a 90 minutes of amazing trip. Wonderful!! ..I’m looking forward for a trip to Laos..

    August 12, 2010 at 3:07 pm
  12. Thanks for the comments. Check it out Rajeev, well worth the journey (and it’s also a wonderful journey just to get up there).
    Connie, I hope you get to do the hike and I’ll look forward to reading how you get on. And make sure to get a picture of the key lime pie lady – I regret not taking one of her; she’s an absolute gem. Happy travels ๐Ÿ™‚

    August 12, 2010 at 6:05 pm