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!
We were thinking of visiting Muang Nale for a couple of days, which we are still yet to do after over a year here. In the end though, we decided instead to spare ourselves the long journey out there on a really bumpy road, and spend the day about half way between Luang Namtha and Muang Nale on the Nam Tha riverbank. One of our friends, Lat, owns the beginnings of a resort out there so we thought we’d go check it out and hang out in his riverside bungalows for a bit.
It was a really peaceful day that we both enjoyed a lot, the river is so beautiful and the views across to the Nam Ha National Protected area are stunning.
An awesome way to spend the day. We returned to town to see yet another awesome sunset over the newly planted rice paddies – now is a really nice time to see the rice because it’s all freshly planted and still visibly filled with water so everything reflects amazingly in the still surface of the bright green water-logged fields. Luang Namtha and it’s surrounds give us so much joy, it’s amazing to think that just over 18 months ago we’d never even heard of this place. What an awesome, life-changing find it has been!
We spent the day at Nam Dee village, visiting their New Year celebrations. Nam Dee is primarily a Lanten tribe village, and they also have some people from the Sida tribe living there also. The Sida village is 4kms walk from Nam Dee, and the Sida people who want to be closer to town have moved in at Nam Dee.
It was so fantastic to see the tribes in their full tribal dress; the Lanten women almost always wear their traditional dress but the Lanten men, and the Sida tribe, don’t wear their’s very often. So it was really a once a year opportunity to see this display of beauty. We spent part of the day hanging out with Jacob and Nate, Jacob is our friend in town who has been here a few months doing his PhD, and Nate has been in Laos on and off for about 10 years studying the cultures here and setting up the university, so it’s nice to have some ‘regular’ friends instead of only transient ones.
This is Guan and Korlee showing off some dancing moves for us. We got to join in on the dancing throughout the day, and also watch the dances specific to the different tribes. We were thoroughly impressed with the whole event, it really reminds us how different cultures in Laos can really be. It was really different to any Lao party we have ever been to (and there have been many!) and it was really enjoyable. Our photos are here.
We decided to spend a few days motorbiking around northern Laos again. These days we are fully staffed usually 3-4 days a week, so we like to take advantage of these days and go away usually every second week or so. This time we pretty much just spent time admiring the scenery here (yeah, so what’s new?) and chilling out. The day before we left, Guan, our Lanten tribe staff member had the day off to make sticky rice parcels in her village, so she brought one in for us to sustain us on the first day of our journey. It was pretty good, but extremely sticky, and it resulted in having very sticky fingers until we arrived at the hotel because no amount of washing would get it off! (The one time we left our hand sanitiser at home!)
Dre’s burn from the motorbike is healing really nicely too, he has been telling everyone a tiger scratched him and some people actually believe him so it’s pretty funny! Our next adventure will be to the Lanten and Sida new year celebrations in late January, Korlee (Sida tribe) and Guan (Lanten tribe) have asked us to go and support their village so we’re closing the shop and taking everyone with us to party! Our photos of the past few days are here.
We had a fantastic time at our party in Luang Namtha. Early in the day we thought that it might be a fairly quiet night, there didn’t seem to be too many people in town, and we were pretty much happy to just party ourselves and if people came along it would be a bonus. Karen and our staff Tot, Korlee and Guan made lots of food and vodka jelly, and we all prepared to party. As the night drew on, we started getting more and more people turning up, and before we knew it we had over 70 people partying with us! It was so much fun and we really couldn’t have imagined it turning out better.
Dre decided that we’d go back up to Muang Sing for his birthday, and for something a little different we stayed about 7kms out of town overlooking some ponds and rice paddies. Our first stop was some new villages we hadn’t been to before, and we bought some local handicraft to hang up in the shop upstairs. We finally managed to find Elu’s village too, but didn’t go in because she was in Luang Namtha so we thought we might as well wait until she’s there to visit.
We rode around for a while, and went up a steep-ish hill to check out the view up there. On the way back down the steepest part, a large rock rolled away as our tyre went over it and we fell off the bike! Neither of us was badly hurt; Dre had a scrape on his leg and a small burn from the engine, but we both felt really lucky for having the best textbook fall possible.
Then it was time to stock up at the Chinese supermarket – pretty much all you can buy there is junk food and alcohol, so it suited our requirements well.
Needless to say the alcohol wasn’t the best idea we’ve ever had; but lots of food to go with it seemed to work. We also spent time in other villages, saw cool sunset with a flock of birds flying over it, and just generally relaxed. It was a great time away and a perfect prelude to New Years Eve. Our photos are here.
Our first Christmas at the shop proved to be loads of fun. We attempted (pretty successfully!) to roast a turkey – bearing in mind that there are no ovens in Laos and we had to use a large pot over a fire, we reckon we did an awesome job! The turkey drew the crowds and soon people walking around town were stopping by just to have a look at the crazy kiwis cooking the turkey. We had Christmas lunch with our extended Lao family – some foreigners, our staff and a couple of friends. A fun day! Our photos are here.
With the lead up to Christmas and New Years Eve, we needed to go to the border to stock up on alcohol; all the stuff we cannot buy in Luang Namtha. So we thought it was a great opportunity to make a mini-holiday out of it, stopping many times along the way and staying in a flash hotel with amazing views of the Mekong.
On the way we experienced our first motorbike problems ever in Asia (apart from Jillian’s bike not working) – although this was slightly different; we were probably about 50kms from the nearest village, and we had no mobile reception! So we had to figure it out. Dre took apart the side panels and found the fuses – which seemed like a logical place to start since the bike had been fine minutes earlier before we stopped. So luckily the bike had a spare fuse and Dre replaced it, very proud of his handywork since it was his first time fixing anything like that. During the hour or so it took us to figure out what to do (including walking several kms to try and get mobile reception), we flagged down buses, cars, some Ahka’s walking past, but no one knew what to do so we were pretty stoked to continue on our way.
The mission was successful, and we returned to Luang Namtha well rested and with everything we needed to conquer Christmas! Our photos of our adventure are here.
We went to Chiang Rai to meet Jillian at the airport and briefly show her some of Chiang Rai’s highlights. When Jillian arrived she was tired so we settled for going to the White Temple in the morning.
We spent probably an hour inside (where the real highlights are and where you can’t take photos) admiring the intricate artwork and then went to the art gallery beside the temple by the same artist.
Then it was on to Luang Namtha; we managed to have our first tuk tuk break down on the way to the bus station so had to get the driver to call the bus driver and get him to wait for us! Our arrival back in Luang Namtha co-incided with a cold snap which turned out to be the coldest two weeks of the entire year! The first day in LNT we heard there was a special occassion at the temple so went up there so we could all get blessed by the head monk and also see the celebrations; on the way Jillian also managed to have a motorbike break down! (again our first in Asia). As anticipated the celebrations were typical Lao style – very loud and basically destroying the peace and quiet that is the allure of the temple. We still got to see the views but with the raucous music it wasn’t quite the same. Both of us got blessed by the monk and after a motorbike replacement we all went back into town and then decided to visit the waterfall.
At the waterfall we saw the village has set up a water ‘pump’ of sorts where the waterfall fills the bamboo bucket and then when the water empties the rice is pounded – very clever! We went into the village to have a look around also and Jillian got some handmade bamboo paper.
We went to explore the river, and the old stupa, and the Lao Lao distillery where we got to see the fresh Lao Lao being heated and taste the fresh brew. Even more potent when it’s hot! We also stopped to join a Tai Dam party for a few minutes, Lao people really know how to party so we thought this would give Jillian a good insight into the craziness.
We then went up to Muang Sing for the night and along the way saw the usual groups animals and children. Once we got to Muang Sing we saw this cool huge katydid (above) just hanging out on the road. We moved it to the side of the road so it was less likely to get run over. We went to visit the school at a Hmong village that we visit fairly regularly. It was pretty cool because the kids were in class singing and learning and the teachers got them to sing a song for us and pose for photos. Then we wandered around a bit and were leaving on our bikes when school break started, so a group of kids ran after our bike for several minutes laughing and shouting. On our way back from Muang Sing we stopped in a Tai Dam village for Jillian to buy some handwoven silk handicrafts.
When we got back to Luang Namtha we visited Ban Sopsim, a local village that Forest Retreat Laos supports by way of donations, sending travellers to spend the night at their village, and paying them for trail maintenance etc. Jillian generously bought some excellent English teaching manuals for the school to use and she gave them to the village chief. We now also support the school by sending volunteers there to help with English also and ensure the teacher knows how to use the manuals properly.
Then it was time for Jillian to continue exploring Laos, so after a leaving dinner with Thong and Paet, the following morning she left for Nong Kiau. Our photos from Jillian’s visit are here.
We bumped into Dre’s dad Tom on the border as if by well-timed fate. We had come to the border for Karen to do a quick visa run and to pick up some sliced bread from Thailand; a trip that was going to take us the day and we would be back in Luang Namtha for Tom’s arrival the following day. However, it would seem that we got our dates wrong, because just as Karen was heading down the stairs of immigration to get on the boat to Thailand, Dre called out and we both realised that Tom was standing right in front of us. It was pretty cool, because we had talked about staying the night either in Chiang Rai (to meet him at the airport) or at the border to meet him when he crossed, but we were both unsure about exactly when he was arriving and we’d left our computers back in LNT so we figured it would all work out somehow. So to meet at the border was really great – had we been 5 minutes earlier or he 5 minutes later, it is highly likely we would have missed each other and gotten separate transport back to Luang Namtha, so it really did work out well.
We took Tom to see the usual sights around Luang Namtha, the waterfall, stupas, etc and also up to Muang Sing to spend some time seeing some villages. We visited our favourite Ahka village and Hmong village as well. It was great to be able to show Tom around because he really appreciated what he was seeing and seemed to really enjoy himself.
On the way back out of the Hmong village we met up with a lovely little old lady who was hand making some handicrafts so we stopped for Tom to buy some, and continued riding back down the mountain with stunning views over Muang Sing.
Tom, Dre and Thong took a boys trip on a boat for a day on the Nam Tha river. They visited Lanten and Khmu tribe villages, and had lunch at the Forest Retreat confluence camp on the edge of the Nam Ha and Nam Tha rivers. All enjoyed the day a lot and came back to the shop for tequila shots!
We had a really good time showing Tom around, and his insights into life in Laos from when he lived here 20 years ago proved to be really helpful for both us and Thong for understanding each other’s culture more. Our photos of Tom’s visit are here.