We thought we’d do some more exploring this time in Chiang Mai, and Dre picked out a CBR 250 to cruise around on. We rode up into the mountains to escape the intense heat, and the cool clouds and crisp mountain air was a welcome relief.
The ride up the mountain was stunning, with clouds literally moving around us and the views taking our breath away.
Our first stop was Bhubing Palace, where the king and queen of Thailand spend their winters. The grounds were extensive, with many different buildings, guest lodgings, a royal temple, and a huge fountain.
We then spent some time riding around the mountain roads, and visited Doi Pui, a coffee growing town, and a Hmong village. It was really modern compared to Hmong villages in Laos and most of the villagers seemed to speak fairly good English.
We also spent some time in Chiang Mai town itself, seeing the oldest temple (which despite being here many times before we hadn’t actually seen), and visiting the walking street to buy some goodies. We are now really looking forward to getting back to Chiang Rai and then Luang Namtha, Chiang Mai is so hot at this time of year so we are hanging out for cooler weather and familiar faces.
Stopping in Kuala Lumpur seemed like a logical thing to do; we didn’t fancy the idea of many flights in a row and had to fly into somewhere as the starting point for getting back to Laos, so since we know our way around KL pretty well now, and have our regular hotel and restaurants, that’s what we did. One of the main things we were looking forward to was eating our favourite Masala Dosai that we’ve found so far – in a little restaurant very near to our hotel. We managed to do that once per day over the 3 days we were there. We also found our new favourite Assam Laksa place, conveniently right next door to the Masala Dosai place, so we reckon we’ve got it completely sorted now! We decided to do our usual KL activity and see a movie in the Petronas Towers, and also paid a visit to Little India, where we have been briefly before but have never explored so much as we did this time. Overall it was nice to just chill out and do not much at all, which was exactly what we had wanted in KL.
Sydney was full on, beautiful, busy, and reflective for us. We started off arriving on Sunday night; Nerida and Paul picked us up from the airport and we had a casual dinner at their house in Bondi.
Monday: We went over to Manly on the ferry and saw our first magnificent Sydney sunset over the bridge and opera house. We were reminded of Sydney’s beauty – the harbour, bridge, opera house, national parks, north head – there are definitely parts of Sydney that will stay in our hearts forever and the Sydney Opera House is still our favourite building in the world. We had dinner with Andy, Steph, Janie, Iain & Sandra in our old hometown pad of Osborne Court. It was awesome to catch up with everyone and hear of future plans, all while sitting in the neighbouring penthouse to where Sydney stole our hearts.
Tuesday: We spent some time on Bondi beach and had our first pies of the trip – there is a vegetarian pie store that has about 10 different vege options to choose from as well as gluten free options – yum. We then travelled to Neutral Bay to meet up with Tim, Anita and Sean. We had hoped to have dinner at our former favourite Japanese restaurant, Dan Dan, but it’s sister restaurant Sushi Samurai had taken over both and so we ate there.
Wednesday: A long trip over to Cromer Heights. We found Jen’s house and knocked on the door and Steve answered (at this point in time we hadn’t met Steve yet) “Hi, is this Jen’s house?”, Steve, looking very confused… “Yeah….”, “Hi, I’m Karen and this is Dre, you must be Steve…” Jen leaning over stairs “I was expecting you guys tomorrow!” “Really?” “Yeah… you said the 9th didn’t you?” “Ummm…. well, today’s the 9th? Isn’t it?” Haha. So we arrived at Jen’s house a day earlier than she thought we were, but yes, it was the 9th, and she’d invited everyone else to come the following day. Not to worry, we were here for company, so let’s cook and then eat! So we raided Jen’s fridge and proceeded to cook dinner while she phoned friends who were meant to come tomorrow. Lee turned up, so all was not lost. Sadly we didn’t get to catch up with Gracie, maybe next time. A delicious dinner and lots of wine was had by all, and all in all it was an awesome night.
Thursday: We made it back to Bondi from Jen’s by about lunch time and arranged to catch up with Julia and Sam. We were going to meet them in the city but then we all decided Bondi was the place to be. So we walked down to the beach and met up with them. We all did the beginning part of the Bondi – Coogee walk, sat on the beach until the sun started going down, and then walked back into town for some drinks and snacks. We then proceeded to have a yummy dinner cooked by Paul, a fish curry.
Friday: OK so by now we were realising that we should have allowed a few extra days for Sydney! We met another Paul in Lane Cove, and proceeded to sell him many of our worldly possessions that we no longer need for our Asian lifestyle. We then moved on to our beloved Manly, where we had a typical “Lauren” meal, nothing less than a 5 star restaurant quality, 3 course, wine matched meal. Ben cooked prawns and yabbies on the bbq while Lauren made a delectable tuna cevice, a cauliflower puree with Marlin and salads, and a berry compote for dessert. YUM. Lauren, you remain our favourite chef.
Saturday: Stop off in Lane Cove again on the way back from Manly to Bondi. Arrive in Bondi hungry and in need of a shower, late for our own party. Nerida has organised almost all of our friends to come around and catch up with us (eternally grateful to you Nerida!) along with amazing snacks, like cucumber and smoked salmon and dill, homemade guacamole, veges for the bbq, and an amazing gluten free dessert. Nerida, you are an amazing chef too. So we spent Saturday lunchtime/afternoon catching up with Mikey, Costa, Nick, Amber, Hunter, Soph and Ryan as well as Nerida and Paul. It was fantastic to meet Hunter, Nick and Amber’s son who is now one. He is so much bigger than our nephew Storm, and of a similar chilled out temperament, exploring his world with curiousity. Also it turned out to be our only chance to see Nick and Amber, and Mikey and Costa, so we were really pleased to have this time to chat and find out what’s been going on for these guys since we left.
Sunday: Well, we had originally planned to have a chilled out morning and afternoon, after the Saturday, and then see Nick and Amber late afternoon and evening. Alas, it was not to be, and we ended up seeing Anita for a coffee/fruit juice, Charlie and Deb for an awesome catch up at their newly purchased house in Frenchs Forest, and then stopping at Ry and Sarah’s house in Manly where we also managed to catch up with Steve, Carly and Cyrus by chance. Catching up with Deb and Charlie was really good – they are 9 months pregnant and absolutely glowing with the prospect of their baby daughter being born, and their house was pretty cool too. Then Ry and Steve entertained us for a couple of hours while Cyrus (Steve & Carly’s baby) slept and the girls were out in Manly. It was an unexpected pleasure to catch up with Steve and all that has happend in his life over the 4 years since we saw him last. Ry was just the same as we remembered him, and we honoured the night by getting tried and true Chat Thai for dinner, our favourite restaurant in Manly from when we lived there.
Monday: We caught the train up to Woy Woy on the central coast, to see Scotty, Soph, Sammy and number 4 Paton who is currently cooking in Soph’s tummy. It was a really fun day with a great Aussie seafood lunch, a trip to Sammy’s favourite park, where we rode the swings and watched Sammy ride the flying fox, then went to the beach, where it was far too cold and windy to stay, and coffees and afternoon tea at another park on the water before heading back on the train. It was cool to see beautiful wee Sam all grown up, at 3 years old she has an awesome personality and is heaps of fun. We then had our final dinner with Paul and Nerida; Nerida had picked up on the fact that the one thing we do miss in Laos is Salmon. And so, we had a perfect last meal to end our Sydney experience: Crispy skinned Salmon on the bbq, with a delicous salad. Nerida, we really hope you know how much we appreciated all you did for us, especially the Saturday get together and the Salmon on the last night. Heaven. All of it.
And so on the Tuesday morning Nerida took us back to the airport to fly back to Asia. We were left with so many feelings about Sydney that it’s hard to even begin to write about them all. It was weird how everything felt both so normal, and yet so far removed from our current life, all at the same time. It was sobering to see everyone ‘plugged in’ to their iphones/laptops/facebook/whatever else the current trend is. “The Matrix” has reached reality big time. It was sad to see so many people looking so disheartened and downcast about their lives or whatever it was they were headed off to do. It was interesting too see how much a part of the rat race life in general here is. It was awesome to see Sydney harbour in all it’s glory. It was the best thing to see all of our friends. We do miss all of our friends, and often think of all of you guys. But in the end, right now, there’s not much on earth we’d give to exchange the life we have in Laos. The freedom we have created there and the life we have is just something else. We can’t wait to get back.
Just before the Tongariro Crossing, we spent an evening climbing Mt Eden and watching the sunset over Auckland and then having an awesome dinner with Kate and Marcos.
We then spent a few days down in Havelock North, visiting Tom, Lili and Alex. We went on lots of walks and one day went on a 20km bicycle ride to the ocean and back, through vineyards and rural views along a fantastic bike pathway that has been developed all over the Hawke’s Bay area over the past few years and is apparently going to stretch the entire length and width of NZ soon.
Other than doing walks and runs and cycling around, we mainly chilled out, drank good wine and caught up on the past year or so since we’d last been together. Visiting George and Sue was also great, it was really nice to see them again and hear about George’s budding photography career!!
On our way back up north, we spent an evening with Sam, Bronwyn, Ben and Todd who we’d met in Laos; they told us to come and visit them next time we came to NZ, so we did and had such a fun night. Todd and Ben were pretty much our first customers in the shop after we opened the bar, and they got their friends Sam and Bronwyn who were visiting later in the year to stop by as well and ended up staying for New Year in Luang Namtha so we all had a great time catching up again.
In the last week it was the usual rush to see everyone before we left; we spent a night at Brian and Vicki’s house with Jiggy and Brooke, had a lovely dinner out with Karen’s parents, another lovely dinner with Tim and Jillian, a lunch with Karen’s grandparents, and spent some time excitedly watching our little nephew Storm starting to learn to walk with his toy wooden truck.
It has been really cool to be back and see him grow so much even before our eyes, just in the few weeks we’ve been here he has gotten taller and learned so many new things. It will be amazing to see him next time, so much more grown up!
We then spent a couple of days with Dre’s mum, walking around Gulf Harbour and then Shakespeare park and eating yet more yummy food. Our final day on the way to the airport we had lunch with Kate and also visited an art gallery with paintings of NZ’s iconic people which were so amazingly life like. We don’t know the name of the artist, but he/she is awesome!
The photos of the rest of our NZ trip can be seen here.
We couldn’t have wished for a better day to do the Tongariro Crossing. Before we came to New Zealand we decided that we’d love to do this walk as long as the weather was right for it.
We mentioned to Kate and Marcos that we were doing the walk and they decided to come along too, and managed to score us a batch in Turangi as well so it worked out very well!
The walk itself started of fairly level, but quickly turned into a series of stairs up the mountain until eventually we had amazing views of the surrounding area and the crater. The view of Ngauruhoe along the first half of the walk was stunning and made so much better by the beautiful blue day.
One of the cool parts of walking on an active volcano was the geothermal activity we saw, with hot steam rising from the ground in several places and the beautiful Emerald lakes near the crater.
The way down from the top was the most treacherous, with one section being quite steep and slippery, but overall the entire walk was really well formed and we were quite amazed after being in Asia for 2 years to be reminded of how well-made and safe everything is in New Zealand.
No sooner were we saying that it would be nice to be walking in the NZ bush, than the trail started going into the forest so we felt very lucky to have scaled a volcano, walked up and down rock formations and seen mineral lakes and also spent a bit of time walking in the forest. The 20km adventure was well worth it and we’d definitely do it again! Our photos are here.
The main reason for our visit to NZ this time was to attend Julia and Sam’s wedding. In the week leading up to the wedding we had fun at their respective hen’s and stag nights, and helped them to organise the little last minute details for the wedding.
Julia looked absolutely stunning to marry her perfect match, local farmer Sam. It was awesome for us to see another couple happily married, especially when they are so clearly made for each other. The wedding was in the same beautiful setting that we got married in; mum and dad’s garden. It was so cool to be a part of Sam and Julia’s style, with John Deere tractors as the wedding vehicles which drew crowds of people tooting and waving at us all when we drove between photo locations and the reception venue.
The reception was also great with good food, wine, and company and we quite happily danced the night away.
Congratulations Julia and Sam, we can’t wait to see you grow old together! Some photos of the day are here.
Our first couple of weeks in New Zealand were spent mainly visiting beaches, national parks, and catching up with family. We started by visiting Omaha Beach for our first taste of the ocean in 9 months and Dre braving the water for his first ocean swim in about a year.
We spent a day walking around Tawharanui regional park through the bush there and around the coast too. We stopped for quite a while to watch some Tui’s playing and singing to each other and overall had an awesome day.
Tim came to the beach with us the next time, and this was followed a few days later by the three of us going kayaking together at Whangateau. This was another fantastic day out with weather that we were really thankful for. We also accepted Tim’s invitation to join him at his bucket racing practice day where Dre got to ride for several hours on the track – a real highlight of the trip for him! During the day Kate came to whisk us away to collect Jillian from the airport and after briefly catching up we returned to the track for Dre to ride until the petrol ran out.
The following 2 days we caught up with Jillian for dinner and then lunch, and went for a long walk along Orewa beach. A couple of days later we then caught up again with Jillian and Tim for another awesome day walking around the coast of Leigh and Goat Island. Again the weather was just perfect and much appreciated!
The rest of the week was spent playing with our gorgeous nephew Storm, hanging out with Karen’s family and on wedding preparations for Julia and Sam’s wedding; photos of this will follow! To see the photos of our NZ adventures so far, click here.
We decided to spend a day riding to Chiang Saen and seeing the ruins and surrounds there. We’ve been thinking of going to Chiang Saen for probably the last year but hadn’t got around to it until now. We allowed ourselves quite a few days to chill out in Chiang Rai before heading to NZ, so although our timing wasn’t fantastic to see a new place (because of all the fires in northern Thailand at the moment there is smoke everywhere) we decided that we’d already delayed enough; now was the time to take the journey to Chiang Saen.
Our visions of quaint country back roads similar to those we drove on in southern Thailand when driving from Koh Lanta to Malaysia were quickly dashed when we realised that the road was pretty much a highway, in preparation for the expected traffic increase when the bridge to Laos goes in later this year. And, after we’d been on that big, wide road for probably 45 minutes, it turned into a really long stretch of dusty, not-yet-complete road with muddy patches as well. At one point we considered turning around, because the dust really was thick and combined with the smoke it wasn’t the most pleasant way to spend a day, but thankfully we decided ‘just 10 more minutes’ and after about 5 minutes we arrived in Chiang Saen.
The town itself was pretty much non-existent, the view of Laos across the Mekong looked like it would have been really lovely on a clear day but was quite hazy when we saw it.
The main attraction was meant to be a lake (which we didn’t find) and lots of archaeological ruins and a few temples. The main temple turned out to be really cool, up there with one of the coolest we’ve seen in Asia; partly because it was surrounded by loads of trees filled with loud cicadas and partly because it was half ruins and half open air, giving it a really unique feel.
We spent some time sitting in the grounds just soaking up the awesome atmosphere and then decided to head off to see the other ruins, which were also quite nice. We found some trees covered with huge amazing flowers that smelled really nice too!
By the time we got back to Chiang Rai we were both orangey-brown, covered in dust, and still both thought we’d had a pretty good day out. We decided that was enough energetic sight seeing for this time, so decided to spend the rest of our days chilling in Chiang Rai before heading to NZ. Our photos of are here.
We have been spending about one week in every 3 or 4 in Chiang Rai and lately we have been seeing a few new things each time and really getting to know northern Thailand well. Recently we drove out of town to a newly opened restaurant that was getting good write ups in the papers for having not only good food and wine but also extensive gardens and tea plantations. It turned out to be a pretty fun day out which involved eating a lot of fresh tea leaves and wandering through the gardens.
When we got back to Luang Namtha we had to say goodbye to our friend Jacob, the guy who has been doing his PhD on the minority tribes in the area for the past year or so. We made a party for him in the shop and had a night starting at the shop and then the Chinese disco. There was a cool red moon too!
We also decided to get a bigger bike and ride a few hours through stunning views to stay on the Mekong again. The journey was really enjoyable and we stopped many times along the way to relax in ride paddy huts or just a good view points.
The couple of days that followed our friends Phil and Abigail came to visit, and we had a great time catching up and showing them some of Luang Namtha’s beauty. This included time at the river, in the rice fields and eating some more of Paet’s awesome food. We met Phil and Abigail last time they were here in Luang Namtha a few months ago, and they had a spare week before they returned home to Switzerland so came back again to hang out with us and soak up some more of Luang Namtha’s awesomeness.
Another farewell was then to be had – it was Anna’s last visit to Luang Namtha while we are still here (her final visit will be when we’re in NZ). Anna is one of the guides on the Stray bus that comes to town twice a week, and Forest Retreat always serves them cocktails and breakfast and so we get to know the guides quite well. So again we made a cocktail party and went to the disco. The Chinese disco is always an experience – normally a strange one, and not always a fun one, which is why we don’t make it there that often. This time though we had a ball and danced for hours. There was a guy there wearing his bike helmet inside, so Dre convinced another guy who was dancing that it would be cool for him to wear his helmet too, and so a hilarious scene followed with him dancing with his helmet on… only in Laos.
Less than a week later we had our own farewell, we had a bit of a party in the shop and prepared to say our temporary goodbyes to Luang Namtha and our friends here while we return home for Karen’s sister Julia’s wedding and travel a bit more. Before we leave for NZ, we’ll hang out in Thailand again for a while. Our photos of the past few weeks are here.
We’ve had a chilled out few weeks, mainly motorbiking around Luang Namtha. We’ve also been renovating the kitchen with new larger benches, and also upstairs in the shop, putting bamboo on the walls up there as well and getting it ready for next high season. There’s been lots of laughs again with the builders and lots of minor mishaps that have been worked out. We had to wonder why the guy who made the new benches brought his tape measure along and measured everything, when the benches that turned up were completely different measurements to what we needed. In the end though we managed with a bit of ingenuity to make it fit along with the other one so everything worked out fine!
Our friend Shahu who owns the Indian restaurant in town and his wife San had their baby and we attended the baby party. Traditionally when a baby is one month old the parents have a baby party which is a Baci ceremony (string tying ceremony) where everyone wishes good luck to the parents and child and asks all parts of the child’s soul to come into his/her body for the best possible start and protection in life.
The rice fields are now beginning to be planted so it’s really nice to see some green returning to the area. We’ve spent a lot of time in rice paddy huts watching a lot of sunsets over the newly planted rice, it’s really cool to see the new fields filled with water and the sunset reflecting them. We’re now really looking forward to the return of the thousands of dragonflies that hover over the rice fields once the rice has grown some more. Living here really is so interesting and so much fun for us – the diverse wildlife and views dependent on the time of year are constantly inspiring. We even continue to discover new fruits – we thought that now we’ve been here over a year that we would have seen all the jungle fruit, but this month there have been two new ones that we didn’t see last year – and one of them is even a little bit like feijoa which is pretty cool! Now that the shop is running itself, we’ve also started planning our next project for Luang Namtha – this one’s going to be even more exciting… we can’t wait!