Initially created for irrigation purposes, the lake is now a recreation area that mainly draws locals looking to kick back and relax.
On the western shore, a couple of countryside kitchens cook up authentic Isaan fare and deliver it to your own floating pavilion. With open sides and thatch roofs, the salas float on plastic pontoons and come with straw mats and a few old pillows. In the traditional Isaan way, eating is done while sitting on the floor.
If you order fish, a live one will be plucked from a netted-off corner of the lake, and many of the veggies are grown here as well. No English is spoken and the menu is only in Thai, so be sure to bring a phrasebook if you don’t know your way around Isaan cuisine. The massive portions are usually served with a big basket of khao niao (sticky rice).
In addition to staples like som tam (green papaya salad), laap (spicy salad with minced chicken, pork or duck) and suup-naw-mai (bamboo shoot salad), you can order the frightening but delicious kueng ten ("dancing shrimp" salad), which blends still jumping (or dancing) mini freshwater prawns with mint, chilli and other spices. If a mouthful of live, feisty prawns doesn’t sound appealing, ask for kueng nawn, or "sleeping shrimp," instead.
The lake is embraced on all sides by dense teak and bamboo forest, the only buildings being the rickety restaurants and floating huts. Visitors can arrange tours by longtail boat for 300 baht for an hour. A narrow road winds along much of the lake and opens to viewpoints with roofed pavilions that are great for picnics.
Huai Krathing Reservoir is located five km down a side road that shoots north off Route 203 (the way to Phu Ruea National Park and Dan Sai), 15 km west of Loei town. There's no English sign off the main road; instead look for a yellow-roofed bus stop and a blue sign that says "Long Phae" in English along with a picture of a person on a raft. Once on the side road, look for red and white signs in Thai, just after passing a tourist info centre that was closed when we visited, and take the dirt lane down towards the restaurants.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.