Getting out and about again in Luang Namtha

Our return from Chiang Rai has seen Karen being able to walk around a bit and starting to increase her fitness walking around the town.

Snail eating birds

The rice fields are filled with huge birds that eat all the snails living in the water.  With a wingspan of almost 2 metres, it’s awesome to watch them swirl on the air currents each time before it rains.

Wildlife in Luang NamthaLuang Namtha animals

.
One of the days we were driving around we saw this snake with a brightly coloured head on the road. It was light blue, white, yellow, red, green and grey around it’s head – beautiful. Also we saw this big moth, almost the size of Karen’s hand.

Handicrafts of Luang Namtha

We headed out to one of the local villages we support, Ban Nam Ngaem, to buy some hand woven cloths made from cotton grown in the village and woven by women in the village. This is the same village that Forest Retreat and Stray will be building a handicraft centre in and sending tourists to for the women to sell their beautiful products.

Rambo Fusion restaurant Luang Namtha

On our last night we took Keala and Lindsey out for dinner at one of the local Lao BBQ hotpot restaurants. We had awesome fun and it was a cool way to round off this couple of weeks before heading back to Thailand.

Relaxation Time!

After spending the past 2 months dealing with burn recovery, we thought it was time to have a holiday with all the trimmings.

Well deserved holiday in Chiang Rai

Our criteria was good food, awesome views, nature immersion, and a gym and pool for Karen to exercise her leg.

travelling Chiang Rai

We managed to achieve all of the above, and spent a week and a half away with a few days nearer to Chiang Rai to take advantage of all the different restaurants, and then moved into the mountains an hour north of Chiang Rai in Mae Chan, for several more days.

Mae Chan mountains

Our views were stunning and we had the best Salmon dish since Canada which we were pretty excited about.

Mae Chan views

Time during this holiday was only spent doing a few things: watching the view, going to the gym, swimming in the pool, eating amazing food, reading and plenty of doing nothing at all in between.  It worked out perfectly.

Relaxation in Chiang Rai

And the best news of all, is that Karen managed to increase her distance on the treadmill each day, and was even able to let go of the handles by the end of our time there.  She has now managed 3 days without crutches!  Her leg is getting stronger by the day and so the next goal is to walk properly and normally just like before.  For now lifting the heel and muscle and tendon pain is still a challenge that Karen plans to overcome in the coming weeks.

No crutches!

Our next stop is back to Luang Namtha to (literally) watch the rice grow.

Beautiful Luang Namtha

The past few weeks back in Luang Namtha have mainly been spent with Dre beginning to increase his fitness again and Karen learning how to walk again.  Dre has been able to start running again in the past week and for the most part his leg is coping with it pretty well.

Luang Namtha views

Karen is now walking reasonably well without her crutches, which are still needed to get up and down the stairs to our top floor apartment, and also in the evenings when her leg is tired and sore.  In the past few weeks Karen’s exercises have increased a lot and her left leg is now almost back to its normal size and strength, with the exception of the ankle and heel which were most immobilised in the healing process.

Luang Namtha rice fields

It is now beginning to be the most beautiful time of year in Luang Namtha once again, with clear days and the rice fields all being planted and beginning to grow into their green expanse.  It has also begun to rain – usually about half an hour a day, so it’s a much more pleasant temperature than super-hot April and May.

We are lucky we can see the sunrise and sunset from our house, and so have been lucky to see some incredibly beauty in Luang Namtha even without being able to leave the house very often.

There are huge numbers of birds now in the rice fields, and before it rains the circle on the currents over the town.  There are also the cool and different insects coming to visit us again, this time of year really is the best here!

We have this week been able to go on our first 2 outings outside the shop and house – this has been harder than in Chiang Rai where there are smooth roads and smooth footpaths.  Here the bumps in the road have meant that Karen has been limited to her 100-odd metre walking ability because going on the motorbike is too bumpy.

Even though we have been a bit limited in what we’ve been able to do, we’ve still had a really enjoyable time over the past few weeks and are both excited for the coming weeks when Karen will become crutches-free!

Rice fields of beautiful Luang Namtha

For Karen’s birthday we even managed to get out to the rice fields, prior to this it was too bumpy and there was no way we could walk out there with Karen’s mobility issues.  We were really lucky though that for a few days before this there was no rain and Karen’s walking ability increased a fair bit, so we were able to slowly drive and then walk out to the middle of the fields and spent a bit of time admiring the views.

Pizza at Forest Retreat Laos Luang Namtha

The girls in the shop made a gluten free cake and pizza and we had a pretty chilled evening too.  Next stop is back to Thailand, to the northern mountains for some nature appreciation!

Recovery time in Chiang Rai

We have spent the past 2 weeks in Chiang Rai, recovering from second degree burns and associated tendon, muscle and movement problems resulting from a motorbike collision we were involved in about a month ago.

After Karen had not been able to stand up, walk, or leave the house for 10 days we decided it was time to go and get some proper medical attention which is not available in Laos.

We rented a nice apartment in Chiang Rai near the hospital and pretty much just spent the entire 2 weeks resting and recuperating.

Chilling in Chiang Rai

It was only in the lasts 2 days there that we were able to actually go out and do something other than visit the hospital or eat, so we spent the time at the river and at the park, and the final day we even used the execise equipment at the park (Karen was able to use 3 pieces of equipment with no resistance).

Karen exercising on the final day

Now we’re back in Laos and Karen still seems to have a fairly long road ahead to walk again.  We are both confident that her positive attitude will help the healing process along and we are looking forward to being able to go out and do stuff again!  You can read about our journey so far with our burns here.

Muang Sing with James and Sam

James and Sam have been helping out at the shop for about 3 months now and over the busy high season we hadn’t had a chance to really hang out with them properly, so we decided some time away in Muang Sing was called for.

James and Sam hadn’t been there before, so it was the perfect way for us to all relax and for us to show them around some of the sights of Luang Namtha.

Motorbiking Luang Namtha

The week preceeding this Dre taught them both how to ride a scooter, and the 4 of us each took scooters individually around some places in Luang Namtha closer to home to get used to riding.

The journey was as beautiful as ever, and we decided that the order of the day once we arrived was getting crazy food from the Chinese supermarket, and pretty much just hanging out.

Chinese Restaurant Muang Sing

The following day we went to visit one of our favourite villages, an Ahka village high in the mountains that surround Muang Sing.

We arrived to find the kids trying to make paper darts (sadly out of their school textbooks, they had no pens or pencils to write in them so decided there was a better use for the paper – we made a note to take pencils next time we go). They were all running around trying to chase their darts and make new and improved versions, so using the pages already being used for darts, Dre showed them some alternative dart designs and they all giggled and ran around with delight testing out their new model darts.

Dart making in an Ahka village, Muang Sing, Luang Namtha

It also seems to be coming into butterfly season again, as we saw many around the place and clusters of them once again drinking the nutrients from the ground.

Wildlife in Luang Namtha

It was really cool to have some proper time out with James and Sam who have been so much help over the past few months. We really hope that after they leave Luang Namtha to continue their travels we can meet up with them again somewhere.

Waterfall Adventure

When Dave and Tara joined us in Luang Namtha to volunteer at the shop, and our new friends that we met in Chiang Mai, Carley and Kurtis arrived in Luang Namtha, we decided it was time to show them the nicest swimming waterfall here.

Carley, Tara and Karen swimming in Luang Namtha

As the heat builds throughout April and May (May is the hottest month), it’s nice to swim in the cold waters of the rivers or waterfalls of Luang Namtha.

We pretty much spent the whole day chilling out. We drove through the beautiful national park and then walked for about a kilometre into the jungle and just relaxed and cooled down. The water was surprisingly cold, which was exactly what we needed. An awesome day out with new friends!

Luang Namtha with Tim

Tim’s second visit to Luang Namtha was pretty low key since we’d all just had the Mae Hong Son Loop adventure. So for the most part we hung out eating pizza and drinking Gin and Tonics!

Luang Namtha province

We decided to do an overnight trip to Boten, on the Chinese border (a different location than the Muang Sing border). We had been up there with Karen’s parents and decided it would be a cool place to stay the night at some point.

We found a pretty nice hotel to stay in that had nice views of the jungle and explored the town. It’s amazing that such a place exists, with huge brand new apartment buildings that have never been lived in. We managed to find a good noodle soup place for an afternoon snack, and a Chinese restaurant for dinner so we were sorted.

Boten abandoned buildings

Spending time admiring the views from the temple was fun too, and Tim’s time here passed so fast that we were soon saying goodbye as Tim headed back to Thailand to fly back to NZ.

Pai and back to Chiang Mai

After a lazy morning in Soppong we once again strapped our stuff to the bikes and headed to Pai. We had toyed with the idea of skipping Pai altogether, since last time we weren’t overly impressed with the place, but in the end we decided that the food there was pretty good so we’d give it a try.

Mae Hong Son Loop

The ride there was excellent, with lots of corners, clear skies, and beautiful scenery. It was the clearest day we’d had since Chiang Mai. When we arrived we decided that staying out of town was definitely the best thing to do… then proceed to get a little bit lost and checked into a Pai cocktailsreally nice place that turned out to be only 2 minutes walk to town. Once we realised this error we considered moving, since we were all tired and didn’t want to be kept up all night with Pai’s party scene. In the end we stayed and it all turned out well. We were on the riverbank in some nice gardens so it was a good place to relax. We checked out our favourite food places and found that the town had changed a lot, and is now even more overrun with tourists that 2 years ago. Since we were in northern Thailand’s party town, we went bar hopping for a while before heading to one of our favourite dinner places from last time.

Once we found out that the town was going to be packed the following night for a big concert, we thought that was our signal to leave so we once again packed up the bikes and headed back to Chiang Mai. Sadly we once again felt that Pai wasn’t our kind of place, and although we could understand some of the attraction for the hordes of tourists coming here, it was just not really for us. We loved a lot of the little food places, and the accommodation standard is great. We guess we’re just too spoiled in Luang Namtha with the beautiful mountains and nature that Pai with all it’s tourists and small amount of surrounding nature isn’t enough!

Roads on the Mae Hong Son Loop

The first couple of hours of the ride back to Chiang Mai was also really beautiful, with nice views and lots of hairpin corners. As we approached Chiang Mai the traffic thickened, and our journey was soon over.

Mae Hong Son Loop corners

Riding the Mae Hong Son Loop with Tim has been so much fun and has had lots of unexpected highlights. We were all wondering if we should go ahead in the beginning with all the fires and smoke, it was so worth it though and we’re already thinking about when we can do it again to see all of the amazing views that we could only see through smoke haze this time. There are several places we’d love to spend more time in, and some awesome roads to take us there. Definitely looking forward to next time!

Mae Hong Son to Soppong

Riding the Mae Hong Son Loop

We spent the morning wandering around Mae Hong Son’s temples. There were a lot of Burmese temples and buddha images as well as Thai, and also a small museum in one of the temples which was really cool. We decided that the next mission would be riding up the hill to see the hilltop temple, even though the smoke haze was so thick we knew there wouldn’t be a view.

"View" over Mae Hong son

Hitting the road to Soppong was next; we had met up with another biker the night before and he told us that the smoke haze between Mae Hong Son and Soppong was the worst he’s seen on the Loop, however it seemed that we got lucky when we did it because although it was smoky, it wasn’t bad.

Cool lizard we found wandering Mae Hong Son

The road was nice, and even with the smoke there were some nice views. When we arrived in Soppong we chose an awesome place to stay, Soppong River Inn, and met Joy the owner who had lived in NZ for a while and then returned to Thailand and single-handedly designed all the lovely and different rooms. We swam in the river for a while to cool down and spent some time hanging out on our balcony.

Soppong

Soppong was a beautiful place that we could imagine spending a week or so in, just swimming in the river and enjoying the surroundings. Although there isn’t much there, Joy and her guesthouse really made our stay. Perhaps we will be back!

Doi Inthanon to Mae Hong Son

Waterfall Doi InthanonIt would be hard to imagine a better day on the road than what we had today!  The morning started off lazily, like all our other mornings so far.  We decided to leave the National Park via Mae Cham, and as soon as we left the park we were driving on amazingly scenic, vegetation dense, windy road.  Within only about half an hour we saw a sign for a waterfall that we decided to stop and see.  It was such a spectacular setting; even the carpark looked like nature’s paradise.  We walked the 100m or so into the waterfall and it was so lovely that we ended up spending the best part of an hour there.  We climbed out onto a large flat rock in the middle of the falls, and watched birds, literally hundreds of butterflies, and of course the waterfall.

Red bird Doi Inthanon

After lazing in the sun there, we thought it best to hit the road again.  The narrow windy road continued for probably another hour or so before we stopped in Mae Cham for lunch.

Heading to the waterfall

We then continued along less scenic roads towards Khun Yuam; as this journey progressed it got more and more smoky as we got closer to the forest fires in Khum Yuam.

Smoking trees on the way to Mae Hong Son

Although we were all a little apprehensive about driving through all the smoke, even that, unexpectedly, was very enjoyable!  Of course our view was very diminished, which was the only undesirable part, as the trees burning were all sandalwood or a minty/euycalyptus type trees (like the ones in Laos we use to start fires and smell great) and so it was the best possible smoke experience because it smelt so good.

We tried to stay in Khum Yuam but because of all the forest fires the only hotel was full with film crew for news channels so we headed on to Mae Hong Son.

Roads to Mae Hong son

This, as it turned out, was the best decision to end the day on a high!  The road was the best road we’ve been on, with huge sweeping corners the entire way and excellent quality roads.  We got to go fast for the first time today, and the endless corners were just so much fun.  (The roads prior to this were just too narrow and small to go fast).

On arrival in Mae Hong Son we rode around the lake and found some cute little bungalows to stay in and then wandered around the town  on foot for a welcome break from sitting on motorbike seats all day.  We had dinner and then returned via the lake with beautiful views of the stupa reflecting in the lake.  A good day all round!

Mae Hong Son