Laos (Vientiane Province)
About 90km north of Vientiane, Ang Nam Ngum is a vast artificial lake created by the damming of the Nam Ngum (Ngum River). The highest peaks of the former river valley became forested islands after the valley was inundated in 1971.
Following the 1975 PL conquest of Vientiane, an estimated 3000 prostitutes and petty criminals were rounded up from the capital and banished to some of these is lands for several years. Today the Nam Ngum hydroelectric plant generates most of the power used in the Vientiane area and sells power to Thailand.
About 250 sq km of forest were flooded when the river was dammed. Several logging rigs – most of them joint Thai-Lao ventures – are using hydraulic underwater saws to cut submerged teak trees. A few towns and villages on or near the shores of the lake, such as Ban Tha Heua and Ban Huay Maw at the northern end, specialize in crafting furniture from the salvaged teak.
Fishing the huge lake is also an important local industry, with an average annual catch of 850 tonnes. Tourism, for the most part restricted to weekend picnicking and boating, comes in a distant fourth.
Ang Nam Ngum is dotted with picturesque little islands and a cruise is well worth arranging. Boats holding up to 20 people can be hired from the main pier in Na Nam at the south-western end of the lake for a few dollars.
Location (18° 31′ 50″ E 102° 32′ 50″ S)
Reaching Ang Nam Ngum by public trans-port is a fairly simple matter. From Vientiane’s Talat Sao bus terminal you can catch the 7 am bus all the way to Kheuan Nam Ngum (Nam Ngurn Dam; US$0.45, about three hours). This trip goes along Rte 13 through Thalat. If you don’t make the 7 am bus, you’ll have to take a bus to Thalat (US$0.35, 2 1/2 hours, 87 km) and then catch a pick-up or jumbo (US$0.50) to the lake. From Vientiane there are four or five buses daily to Thalat.
Taxis in Vientiane usually charge US$ 30 to US$ 40 return to the lake. Ask the driver to take the more scenic Route 10 through Ban Keun for the return trip, completing a circle that avoids backtracking.
View Nam Ngum Lake in a larger map
Since most people day-trip to Ang Nam Ngum from Vientiane, accommodation in general is sparse and unreliable.
EDL Bungalows Singles/doubles US$15/20. Away from the lake towards the dam itself is a set of solid, Japanese-built bungalows that housed the Japanese engineers who helped design the dam. Each room has hot water and air-conditioning.
The Long Ngum View Resort offers panoramic views of the numerous islands and clear waters of the Ngam Ngum Lake. Accommodation in the hotel or in one of the charming bungalows. The restaurant – serving local Lao cuisine alongside European dishes with a local influence – is situated on an outdoor deck overlooking the lake.
The reservoir produces a sizable annual harvest of freshwater fish, and local restaurants are famous for tasty tart and spicy minced fish salad, fish soup and steamed fish with fresh herbs. Attached to the shore are several floating restaurants where fish are kept on tethers beneath the deck. When there’s an order, the cook lifts a grate in the deck and yanks a flapping fish directly into the galley.