Rice & River

Wildlife in Luang Namtha

We have been making the most of the rice in the past couple of months, and now the harvest has begun. Our beautiful green lake of life has almost completed it’s annual life cycle and with that brings our winter time. Already the evenings are a lot cooler and we have had to get out our blankets.

Rice in Luang Namtha

Soaking up the rice Wildlife in the rice

Once the rice starts to form, even more beetles, insects and birds appear in the fields. There is only a period of about a month between when the first heads of rice begin to emerge and when the rice is harvested – up until that point you can only see the rice plants and no actual rice.

Chilling in the rice

Project Laos is coming along nicely, and we recently spent a chilled out day there picnicing on the Nam Tha river and learning to play majhong with Melanie and Bianca, and Wilke also joined us in the afternoon.

Nam Tha river fun

We also spent a few days staying on the Mekong, chilling out and exploring the Thai side of the border.

Near Chiang Khong Thailand

We welcomed yet more people to Luang Namtha to help Project Laos, Ryan and Melissa and their kids Talia and Elise (officially the first western children to live in Luang Namtha!) and also Dave have all come to help us do good stuff here in Luang Namtha.

Loi Krotong Luang Namtha Laos

Finally we celebrated another end of Buddhist Lent, our favourite ceremony of the year with releasing lanterns and sending flowers down the river to send away any bad luck and welcome good for the coming year. So it looks like now we’re all set for our next adventure – our third attempt to get into Cambodia!

Thailand and Lao and Thailand again

Wildlife and Nature Luang Namtha

The past few weeks we’ve been running back and forth between Lao and Thailand a lot.

Firstly we met our new staff Wilke and Sandor in Chiang Rai, for a welcome drink and catch up since we last spoke to them on Skype.  They then continued on to Luang Namtha and were welcomed at Forest Retreat by Lindsey and Keala, while we spent a few more days in Thailand.

Dinner at Forest Retreat Laos

We then returned to Luang Namtha to meet up with Keith and Aleisha, a welcome surprise for us!  We had no idea they were even in south east Asia, and got a cryptic text from Lindsey saying “Your brother in law’s brother has arrived to see you!” and by a process of elimination we figured it must be Sam’s brother Keith.

It was really, really nice to catch up with both Keith and Aleisha, we spent an evening catching up over dinner and then as it was their last night in town (after having spent a few days seeing all of the nature around here) we treated them to a Chinese disco experience…. and we all had a ball for a while and then decided that since they were catching a 7.30am tuk tuk to the bus station we better call it a night.

Wildlife in Luang Namtha

We spent some time yet again finding cool animals and watching many sunsets out in the rice paddies.  Then it was time to farewell the amazing Keala, who has given us so much help over the past few months.  We eagerly await her return next year!

Artwork upstairs at Forest Retreat

We also spent time training new staff in the shop and working on Project Laos 2, and with so much happening here it turned out that we actually needed to go to Chiang Mai to source more stuff for the building.

So back to Thailand we headed, this time to visit some temples, trawl furniture and fittings stores, and eat at some of Chiang Mai’s awesome restaurants that we hadn’t tried yet.

Chiang Mai TempleChiang Mai shopping

After all of this we thought it was time for another break, so stopped at this amazing forest lodge half way in between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.  We spent a few days surrounded by so many birds and trees, and managed to see 8 different species of bird just by sitting on our balcony.  We also took bicycles out for a small amount of time, we didn’t get far before Karen’s ankle didn’t want to go further, so we returned and swam in the ginormous pool.

Forest lodge near Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai

So another fairly action packed month again, and with the tourist season beginning and the eco-suites on the river progressing, it looks set to continue until our next proper holiday in November.

An Eventful Few Weeks

Nature in northern Laos

We started off our time back in Luang Namtha exploring all of the new insects around the stupa, and taking our new friend Jonny around the place to show him some of our upcoming projects.

River fun time in Luang Namtha

Luang Namtha's beautiful natureWe have spent an increasing amount of time out in nature, appreciating the most stunning time of year.  All sorts of animals can now be discovered out in the rice fields and jungle, amazing us yet again with the huge eco-system that develops when it rains, and when the rice grows.

The rice fields are especially interesting this year, as we have been able to literally see the rice grow from day to day.  After our first week or so back in Luang Namtha, when it  rained every day, we started to have nice sunny days again and so started to venture out back into the rice fields.  Karen discovered that it is exceedingly hard ground for her to walk on, with it being very uneven, so we decided to make visiting the rice fields a daily activity to strengthen Karen’s leg, and with the added bonus of getting to see all the animals and sunset every day.

Wildlife in Luang Namtha

There are thousands of spiders each day faithfully extending and remaking their webs, and when the sun is almost about to set the entire fields light up with their webs stretching as far as the eye can see.

Pizza in Luang Namtha

It was also time to re-surface the inside of the pizza oven with some new fire bricks that we bought back from Thailand. Dre also thought that it was time to render the bricks on the bottom of the pizza oven, and painted them also. The new bricks are working really well and the pizza is tasting even more awesome.

Dinner in Luang Namtha

We took Korly out for dinner and Thong at a Chinese restaurant, which Korly was particularly excited about since she has only eaten food other than Lao food (and food in the shop) a couple of times in her life.

Insects in Luang Namtha

There are so many dragonflies and beetles around now. The other night we were driving to a restaurant and a giant beetle flew into Dre and then wouldn’t let his t-shirt go for about half an hour. The guy at the restaurant told Dre it would be better if he put the beetle back in nature but despite everyone there trying to prise the beetle off Dre’s shirt or hand it wouldn’t let go so we just let it chill out on his hand and then our table for the following hour while we ate.

Wildlife in Luang Namtha

We also welcomed Josh and Jillian to our team, joining us and Lindsey and Keala. They are the perfect fit for us to get to the next level and help more people in Luang Namtha. Now we’re heading to Thailand to buy supplies for Project Laos 2, and meet Wilke and Sandor, who are also joining our team in a few days time. Hooray for more people helping us help Luang Namtha!

Cocktails at Forest Retreat Luang Namtha

SEA sunsets rock
Sunset in the rice
Luang Namtha Culture
Lady coming back from fishing in the rice fields


The Start of Lent

We travelled back to Luang Namtha a bit short on time – we had to get back to meet Ryan, who wanted to check out Luang Namtha and Forest Retreat Laos because he is interested in coming to work with us.

Temple at the start of Lent, Luang Namtha

We also wanted to be here for the start of Buddhist Lent, a lovely day where all Buddhists visit their temple and give food and money to support the temple and give to the monks entering Lent.

Start of Lent of Luang Namtha

This also coincided with our 3 month anniversary since the accident, so we celebrated by taking Ryan, Lindsey and Keala to the Chinese disco and dancing until the music got so bad we had to leave.

Start of Lent

We only managed 3 days back in Luang Namtha before heading back to Chiang Rai, to finish the stuff we didn’t get time for last time, and have a chance for some chill out time too.

Luang Namtha sunrise

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.

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!

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.

Katie and Nicole’s visit

Luang Namtha's golden stupa

A few days before Katie and Nicole arrived, we unexpectedly received an email from our NZ friend Katie saying she was in south east Asia and would love to come and visit us!  We were really excited to see Katie, who we probably haven’t seen for about 8-9 years.  We worked out that we probably saw each other last time in London, when Katie was living there and we were travelling in Europe.

Luang Namtha on motorbikes

Katie and Nicole fitted into our Lao lifestyle really well, going out kayaking and trekking in the jungle, riding around with us on motorbikes and having loads  of fun.

It was great that Nicole owned a motorbike back in Australia, because it meant that driving on some of the crazy Lao roads wasn’t an issue for her and so we could go some really cool places.

Road trip!

Nicole decided she wanted to go to the Kao Rao caves on her birthday, so we took Katie, Nicole, Lizzie and Alex out to see the caves, and had a very enjoyable day out followed by many cocktails afterwards.

It was awesome to catch up with Katie after all these years and to meet Nicole,  so much so that we’re hoping to convince them to come back and help us in Luang Namtha for a while…. we’ll see what happens!

Rice fields Luang Namtha