Hiking and Kayaking the Nam Lik Basin


Making the most of a couple of much needed sun breaks to explore the lush Nam Lik area by foot and paddle.


14 October 2017

True to form, Noe had a bit of a rough night on our first night staying at Nam Lik Eco Village. For the last year, he’s slept in his own room, and is generally a pretty good sleeper. But put him in a strange room with mommy and daddy, and well, that first night gets interesting. We’ve found it helps if we’re able to put his portable crib in a separate alcove (or better yet, closet) out of sight of us, but staying in small, one-room bungalows usually doesn’t afford that luxury.

Regardless, the stars last night were absolutely amazing, and were followed by a gorgeous morning that we could even appreciate in our half-zombie state. Needless to say, I did not make my early morning wake-up to go kayaking on the lake, but I wasn’t about to let my 15-month-old’s sadistic predawn tendencies foil my plans and was intent on making it happen at some point.

We enjoyed a delicious breakfast of eggs, homemade bread, fruit and coffee (admittedly, nowhere near the best cup in Laos, but welcome and effective, nonetheless), and later in the morning, after the Mister’s nap, we hit the trail.

At breakfast, we told the manager of our plans to do the loop trail, which were met by a cryptic, “Well, it is more of an out-and-back now because of some slides, but you will see.” True adventures always involve not knowing how the end will unfold, so in that spirit, we set out on the two-mile trek, not knowing where exactly the trail led, or for how long we’d be able to venture before turning back.

This being the tail end of the rains, the trail was admittedly not the easiest to follow. We utilized a combination of a trail map app (which had very little data to start with) and our keen perception—the latter, in the end, proving much more valuable, but far from infallible.

Heading away from the “eco village,” the trail initially followed the river, before meeting up with a dirt track and heading inland for a bit.

We crested a hill to find the trail suddenly morphing into a proper road—a beautiful dirt road with side rails, winding back down into the valley and stretching out as far as the eye could see. No mudslides yet, so we continued on.

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The new road offered commanding views of the Nam Lik [river] winding its way between lush green hills, largely untouched but for a sizable industrial complex in the distance—an increasingly common sight among jungly vistas in Laos, unfortunately—and I say it’s unfortunate because the longterm benefits for most Laotians of this sort of conspicuous (and increasingly common) clearing and permanent scarring of the natural landscape is highly questionable. Chinese investors, on the other hand…

A short while later, we come across a stream of termites flooding across the road.

…and converging on one single, unlucky stick.

 

The road wound on and on, giving Lori and her friend Britta some good catch up time.

Nam Lik offers river tubing as well, which I’m sure is quite a bit more appealing in the dry season. I have to believe that the “trail” down to the water is a bit clearer during those months as well.

It was apparent this road was freshly rolled, and yet the jungle had already begun to reclaim it. If it wasn’t obvious at this point, a few dozen meters on it was virtually impossible to ignore.

Such is life in these climes. It will be interesting to see what this road looks like this same time next year.

We were enjoying the leisurely (downhill) walk so much, none of us realized we had been walking in the wrong direction. And really, it would have been impossible to know, if it hadn’t been for some cross-referencing of online maps with the photo taken of the trekking route. The road we were on was yet uncharted on the major online map suppliers, but it was evident that if we continued on, we’d end up tacking on several miles to our two-mile trek. So…back up the hill in the midday heat it is. Luckily, we’ve got a good amount of water, two umbrellas, and are completely slathered in sunscreen (including Noe, of course).

 

Unfortunately, the trail we were supposed to be on was clear up at the top of the crest, making for a long uphill slog. The good news is that by the time we were most of the way, the sky had clouded over, providing a welcome respite from the midday heat.

We reached the crest, and rejoined the faint trail heading away from the river and up into the jungle—but not before getting the requisite (and long sought) family photo on a parked tak-tak in the woods.

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Now, if only we could hunt down the keys…

Uphill and into the forest we go.

We wound our way along the narrow path through the jungle for about 40 minutes, wondering if the man back at the lodge had been pulling our leg about the mudslides blocking the loop trail. The most logical place for slides to have occurred was along the river, and we had left the river behind long ago.

Judging by our maps, we had just one left-hand turn to make until we were on the trail that followed the lake bank back to the lodge. The hardest part of the hike was behind us and it appeared to be smooth sailing ahead. The trail began to make its way left as planned, and then…

…plummeted forty feet into a fresh ravine with a large stream rushing violently through the center.

It was painfully apparent there was no way over or around the gash in the earth. We could see the trail not fifty feet from us on the other side. Even without a baby in tow it would have been a daring feat to negotiate crossing. We were left with no other choice but to turn around, head back up the hill and retrace two-thirds of the loop back to the lodge.

And then, the rains rolled in.

Fortunately, it was more of a refreshing afternoon shower than a deluge, and the canopy above kept most of the dirt trail manageable.

As is often the case in Laos, our little morning trek ended up being more of a hike than we had initially thought, and by the time we returned to the lodge we were nothing short of hungry. Lucky for us, the manager thought this would be the case and the kitchen had a delicious French lunch prepared in no time. With full bellies, it was time to relax, and for Noe to get some shut-eye.

By late afternoon, Lori and Britta wanted to try the pool out with Noe, which gave me the perfect excuse to check something off my own list.

The sun was still high on the horizon, but low enough for the tall trees lining the water to cast shadows across much of the lake. I was the only one out on the water at this hour, save for a father and son setting fishing nets in preparation for the evening’s catch.

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The surface of the lake was perfectly still, making for some of the easiest and most satisfying kayaking I’ve done in years. I could propel myself for fifty meters on one good paddle.

 

The bright blue sky and green trees reflected off the placid surface and a soft breeze kicked up from time to time. There are what seem to be an endless variety of inlets and pockets to explore, and some of the fingers of the long lake seemed to stretch on forever. Absolute calm, peace, and solitude—a rare combination these days as the father of a toddler and living in Vientiane. I was in heaven.

After an hour, the light on the lake started to fade making it a good time to head back to the dock—that, and the fact that I kept catching glimpses through the trees of what appeared to be a young man rushing through the woods carrying a rifle and frequently glancing in my direction. I’d like to think he was bird hunting or something like that, but I didn’t exactly want to stick around to find out.

Back at the homestead, the light was fading and supper time was fast approaching…so we hoped.

The previous night, dinner was served some time around 7:30p. By then, Noe had become a complete wreck and our meal bordered on the unpleasant, to say the least. In an effort to prevent a repeat experience, we had kindly asked that dinner be served closer to 6p—and it was…this time around 7p…which is indeed closer to 6p.

Noe was in a bit better mood this time around, but required a lot of diversion until the food came out. Lucky for us, the quirky common area provided endless diversions for our inquisitive little hippie backpacker.

 

 

Towards the end of dinner, Noe began to struggle, so I took him back to the bungalow to put him down. It was a better night than the previous one, but still a rough start. The stars, however, were as brilliant as ever, with the Milky way splayed out directly overhead. I missed dessert, but got the night sky all to myself. Not a bad trade if you ask me.

 

The Lao Zoo
Nam Lik Eco Village
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