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Birthday Weekend on the Nam Ngum

It’s my birthday [again], so we’re heading up to the lake! Our usual place is closed for renovations — a perfect excuse to try some place new.

At the northern tip of the mammoth Nam Ngum reservoir lies the small fishing village of Tha Heua. Driving through the village (which lies on the main route between Vientiane and Vang Vieng) you’d never suspect that three very stay-worthy places exist just minutes from the village center. Following a rutted-out gravel road you arrive at a fork with some choices. To the left, Greenview Resort, to the right Sanctuary, and the area’s longtime stalwart, Nirvana.

This weekend marks our third visit to this archipelago stretched over a small inlet of the reservoir. The last two times, we’ve stayed at Green View, which we love. Greenview is temporarily closed for renovation, so we opted for the slightly more upscale Sanctuary Resort. In between, the rustic backpackers paradise of Nirvana (formerly Nirvana Arcapel) presides over a couple of tranquil bays divided by the road leading to all three places.

This tiny dot on the map might just be our favorite area in the greater Vientiane region, which is why we keep coming back, of course.

Our preferred route from Vientiane to Tha Neua, oddly enough, has not made it to the likes of Google Maps. There’s a new bridge that has existed at least as long as we’ve lived in Laos (12 months) but has yet to exist as far as Google is concerned. It was just by chance that we discovered the bridge in the first place. Desperate for an alternate route north to bypass the drudgery of the first hour of Road 13 out of Vientiane, we took Road 10 on a whim. At Toulakhom (or Mueangkao, depending on the map) there is a beautiful bridge spanning the Nam Ngum, which eventually spits you out at Phonhong where you join up with Road 13. The travel time between the two routes is comparable, but this route is far more scenic, and just more enjoyable, overall. Currently, there’s a 15,000 kip toll for cars (about $2.00), but to us, it’s worth it.


Lori took a half day on Friday. She swung by the house to pick up me, and then we fetched Noe at the creche. Noe’s been hit or miss in the car lately, but miraculously slept two of the three hours up there, which made for a wonderful drive, but we paid for it later.

We arrived at Sanctuary, just in time for sunset. From the time we arrived, Noe was in a dark place. Lori was kind enough to take him around while I enjoyed a birthday sunset martini at the bar. I love my boy, but I also spend an inordinate amount of time with my boy. Consequently, I was very grateful to Lori for a few minutes of peace and a strong drink at sunset on a beautiful lake. Such moments these days are few and far between.

As is the case in this part of the world, neither sunset nor twilight ever lingers, and darkness followed quickly. Lori and Noe returned, and we tried our best to corral and placate our favorite toddler-boy while enjoying this delicious fish feast.

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They had done something I’d never seen before — peel all the best meat from the large freshwater fish (from both sides) and deep fry them into sticks of heavenly goodness, with a tasty cilantro sauce for dipping. Yum yum yum. If it hadn’t been for the possessed little dinner guest sitting next to me, I may have thought I died and went to heaven.

So, Noe didn’t sleep so well that night. And that’s an understatement. For whatever reason, the Mister had the absolute worst night he has ever had away from home (with the notable exceptions of our first night in Belgium and the night we were staying with friends in the middle of nowhere and he came down with his first bout of pneumonia — fun times). He’d sleep soundly for 20 minutes, then wake up screaming like a banshee. Rinse and repeat. All night long. He wasn’t sick, he wasn’t hungry, he wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. He was in his own portable crib (as always), and the whole thing was just a huge mystery. We powered through it, and ended up spending much of Saturday napping, but such is life with a 15-month-old, I suppose.

The next morning was foggy and hazy, which, needless to say, matched our mood. We stumbled up to the dining area about 45 minutes before the end of breakfast service, and feasted on a rubbery crepe as a result (the following morning’s buffet breakfast was far better). After breakfast, we ambled about the grounds, trying our best not to look like blood-thirsty zombies freshly escaped from an insane asylum. I’m not entirely convinced we were successful.


The sun was shining (as much as the sun shines in the rainy season here), so we decided to take a walk into the village. One kilometer…one thousand meters. No big deal. A nice little jaunt.

The thing about the tropics is you’re damned if it’s raining, you’re damned if the sun’s shining. When it rains here, it pours. Buckets. And, you get soaked. When the sun comes out this time of year, well, that’s a problem to. A kilometer? You’re going to get sweat-soaked, just from the humidity. But what are the options? Hide inside of your air-conditioned cabana? Hell no! So, you get wet. It’s life. It’s the way things go in these parts. But hey, it could be worse. We could be COLD!


It was fun poking around Tha Heua. We’ve been through here a number of times, but never get to stop and smell the roses, it seems. This time, we had all the time we wanted to smell the roses…or whatever flower maybe in bloom at in Tha Heua in September.

We climbed some inviting steps to a wat (work-in-progress), and ended up in the village market. Then, the rains came. We had one umbrella between us, so I gave it to Lori and Noe, of course). As a result, I got drenched. Fortunately, I’d learned my lesson enough times over the years to know that in the rainy season (and even in the dry season) it pays to double the clothes you initially want to bring (unless of course you’re backpacking, in which case, all bets are off — but we’re most certainly not backpacking this time around).

After the rains let up, Lori and Noe had some fun play time on the front deck of our room. We brought Noe’s beach tent to help shield him from the sun, but really at this age, it’s to help corral him. It’s all about corralling (and redirection) these days.

That’s not to say that Noe doesn’t sit and play quietly (and independently) for long periods of time. He does. Actually, he does this most of the time…which makes the times that he doesn’t that much more noticeable. When Noe’s focused on something, he’s focused. But when he’s on the move, HE’S ON THE MOVE.

The backside of the fishing village spills down to the small inlet that Sanctuary partially overlooks. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to say the least — upscale lake resort against the backdrop of a small Lao fishing village.




Noe enjoyed hanging out on the sandy beach, just outside of our bungalow. Beaches are in short supply in this land-locked country, so this is a very big deal.




In addition to its “beach,” the resort also boasts a unique pool that floats in the lake. It even had a separate shallow end for Noe.


One of Noe’s newest skills is giving “kisses,” which his mommy particularly enjoys.






After Noe went to bed, we enjoyed sipping wine out on the back deck, listening to the sounds of the lake and, even in rainy season, being treated to a moonless night awash in millions of bright stars.

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