Camping the best way to experience reservoir's pleasures
The reservoir of the Nam Ngum hydropower dam in Vientiane province is a wonderful place to spend a day or two in the fresh air enjoying nature's pleasures.
Many people refer to the reservoir as Thale Lao (the Lao sea) because without a coastline Laos doesn't have any sea and the vast expanse of the reservoir can sometimes be considered a substitute, especially when viewed in photographs.
A man fishes from the rocks in front of the guesthouse.
The reservoir is situated in Thalath, Keo-oudom district, about 90km north of Vientiane.
The hydropower dam is built on the Nam Ngum river, which is a major tributary of the Mekong. It was the first hydropower plant built in Laos and was constructed in three stages, beginning with stage I in 1968 and ending with the completion of stage III in 1984.
Most people go to the reservoir at weekends and stay for two or three days.
I recommend staying at the Sala Teukbet Guesthouse, which has nice rooms as well as camping facilities. It has great views over the water and provides tasty local food.
The guesthouse is a 10 or 15 minute drive away from the dam itself and is the last guesthouse on the road.
You can stay in a room or camp. I preferred to sleep in a tent so that I could be closer to the water and even feel its presence while asleep.
About 4pm, before you start to settle down in the tents, make your way to the rocks by the water in front of the guesthouse where the camp is set up and try your luck with a fishing rod.
If you are lucky and it's not windy, you will haul in a respectable catch of pa sakang while quenching your thirst on some soft drinks.
This place is very quiet and there are no other guesthouses nearby, just some local residents wandering past. You have a great sense of freedom and also feel at home because the guesthouse staff are very friendly.
It's even better if someone in your group can play the guitar because the water's edge is an atmospheric place to sing a few folk songs.
As the sun fades and it gets dark and even quieter, you might see some lights over the water. At around 9pm some of the locals will take their boats out to where the lights have been placed and catch small sprats known as pa keo .
Some of the fishermen work at the restaurant but of course by that time it's rather late to eat. But if the restaurant is not yet closed you can buy some pa keo from the fishers and ask the restaurant to make koi pa keo which is truly delicious because the fish is fresh. It's a firm favourite on the menu there.
It's quite hot these days but you won't notice it so much by the water because there's always a cool breeze.
If you sleep in a tent you won't wake up late because the sun will wake you early. But you shouldn't wait until sunrise because the early morning is really the best time to breathe in the freshest air.
If you walk by the water in the early morning you'll see some of the fishermen returning in their boats will nets full of sprats. They set out at midnight to go fishing and stay in their boats until dawn.
There's plenty to do in the daytime; you can wander around the shore or take a boat trip to one of the many islands and see the handicrafts made by people there.
Before going home, don't forget to stop at the local market where they sell a fine selection of fish and locally made handicrafts.
By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update April 8, 2017)