Kate and Marcos visit us

That Luang Namtha

Kate and Marcos came for a fleeting visit for a few days in early November.  We took them to Nam De waterfall, close to the town of Luang Namtha and spent some time in the village there playing with the kids and seeing village life.

We went up to the temple near to town and got a cool view over town, and then also went into the old town and went to the old stupa as well.

Old Stupa stairs in Luang Namtha

We spent some time riding around on motorbikes to see the various highlights of the area, and also in the shop, chilling out and drinking cocktails.

Cocktails at Forest Retreat Laos, Luang Namtha

We attempted to go to the Kao Rao caves too, but left it quite late in the day and the usual cave guy wasn’t there to give us torches so we ended up waiting a while to see if he showed up, and then hanging out in a rice paddy hut instead. All in all it seemed like Kate and Marcos were here for the blink of an eye, but the time that they were here was heaps of fun. Our photos are here.

Luang Prabang

We spent most of our time in Luang Prabang just chilling out and visiting a few things that we really loved last time, as well as visiting a few new temples. It was nice to spend time around the river, and just wandering around town.

Luang Prabang temple guard, Laos

We climbed Phou Si mountain again to watch the mist float off the mountains in the morning and it was still really cool to do it again a second time.

Early morning mist over the Nam Khan river and Luang Prabangs surrounding mountains, Laos

This time we were quite amazed at how much more touristy Luang Prabang has become – not surprised at the tourism numbers themselves because Laos is fast gaining it’s reputation as an amazing place to visit – just surprised at how it is being handled. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we were quite shocked to find that all of the temples now charge entrance fees, and have shops selling junk food and trinkets to tourists either inside the temple, or just outside. It seems somehow wrong to take these beautiful historical buildings and turn them into crass shop stalls to make another buck from falang. The idea of charging entrance fees for temple upkeep seems a good one, and in many parts of Laos this really does help towards maintaining and repairing the temples; it was sad to see that the temples with the highest entrance fees had rubbish in the grounds from the shop/stall vendors who were selling packaged products, and no rubbish bins around either, so fees are clearly just being pocketed and not used positively.

Also now there are signs up around LP saying that the morning alms giving for the monks has become such a huge tourist attraction that now they are trying to discourage tourists from purchasing sticky rice from the morning vendors – apparently now instead of locals giving to the monks, they prefer to sell products to the tourists to give to them; a strange paradox – the monks are still getting fed which has to be a good thing, but some locals are worried that the religious significance of the alms has gone. Very interesting to see the progress (if you can call it that?) of this town.

One of Luang Prabangs many temples, Laos

Anyway, we had a pleasant few days checking out Luang Prabang again, it was really nice to be back and we’re sure we’ll return again at some point! Our photos are here.


View our location map in Phonsovan.

Rice fields, lake and mountians in Phonsovan, northern Laos

The bone rattling journey to Phonsovan was long. When we boarded the bus at 7.30pm in Vientiane we were told that the bus usually arrives in Phonsovan at about 6am. After travelling through some stunning landscapes, watching the mist swirl around the mountains beneath us at dawn and seeing very different scenery to the rest of Laos, we arrived at 8.30am. We both felt surprisingly good, and were glad of our decision to take the bus; we had considered flying here but as dedicated travellers wanted to see the scenery and have whatever experiences the bus journey threw at us.

The mysterious Plain of Jars in Phonsovan, northern Laos

The main reason for coming here was to see the Plain of Jars, there are fields full of large jars, some made of sandstone, some made of granite and some made of breccia. Throughout the past few decades many researchers have sought to learn the origins of the jars – what were they for, how did they get there, and so far no one has come up with any kind of conclusive evidence. Even dating the jars seems impossible, because no organic remains of any kind have been found in or near the jars. Apparently one Japanese scientist found some human remains quite far from the jars that were from around the 5-6th century, but other than that, nothing. There are theories that they could have been used for burial urns, or making rice whisky, or storage jars, but still no one knows the real use or reason for their existence.

Large Jar at the Plain of Jars, Phonsovan, Xieng Kouang, Northern Laos

We spent a day riding around on a motorbike on the worst roads we have been on in Laos (and that is really saying something!) and our backs and bums still hadn’t quite forgiven us the following day.

Bombs in Phonsovan, Xieng Kouang, northern Laos

The other reason for visiting was to learn more about the province. Xieng Kouang is the most bombed province in Laos, which is the most bombed country in the world. Everyone knows about the Vietnam war, but so few people have heard of the ‘secret war’ that happened in Laos. The ‘passage’ that Vietnamese were using to travel from north to south Vietnam ran through Laos, often directly through Lao villages and during the 60’s America dropped more bombs here (trying to kill the Vietnamese) than it has ever dropped on any other country. What is most shocking about this, is that still every single day in these regions in Laos, someone is killed or injured by UXO’s (unexploded ordnance) left over from this war. Most of the land in these areas cannot be farmed, because around 30% of the bombs dropped didn’t detonate so the land is still riddled with live bombs. This has led to extreme poverty for many people living here; some people still choose to grow rice, and risk their lives by doing so, but feel they have no other way to get food or money. Many rice farmers die or lose limbs when working in their fields. Other people have turned to collecting the bombs, taking them apart (often this is fatal for them and anyone nearby) and selling the metal. Other people simply die walking into the forest to collect food. It really makes you think twice as a westerner – it’s pretty normal for restaurants in Laos to run out of various ingredients because they haven’t bothered to buy it from the market – but when the entire town has actually run out of rice, so you can’t order it, and you compare that to being annoyed when your favourite cafe at home might have sold out of whatever your favourite food there is, suddenly it puts things into perspective.

Bomb Craters mark the landscape around Phonsovan

One amazing organisation who are helping Laos to clear the UXO’s is MAG – we visited their office and were amazed by the work they’re doing here. Over the past 3 months they have cleared around 3000 UXO’s!! It seems unbelieveable that every day, they are still finding more bombs. They teach Lao people how to safely and methodically find and destroy the bombs, we were really impressed by them. We went to visit a waterfall out of town near the Jar sites 2 & 3. As we arrived we saw their truck and they had a team of people at work there, and an area sectioned off where they were currently removing some bombs. Not very confidence inspiring when we were just about to walk to the waterfall! It’s worth saying though, that all of the areas tourists are allowed in have been cleared of all UXO’s, and any areas that haven’t are clearly marked. We would never consider walking on area that wasn’t cleared. Any area that isn’t marked as cleared / uncleared, the rule is to only walk on well-worn paths, or don’t go there at all.

Tad Lang Waterfall in Phonsovan, northern Laos

Onto more positive stuff! On the way to Tad Lang Waterfall we had to cross a river to get there. There were a couple of local guys nearby to the river crossing who assured us we should be able to drive through there on the motorbike. So, even though the water was deep-ish, and the rocks were huge, Dre thought he’d attempt the crossing. We found that the middle section was actually impossible to cross on our bike, the shape of the frame meant that there was no way we could get over the concrete pipe because the bike was scraping the pipe and failing carrying it over, there was no way we could cross. So, we both had to manoevre the bike backwards, through the giant rocks, for a good 10 minutes or so to get it un-stuck from the river. :-) We walked across the river and went to the waterfall from there. It was much more huge and impressive than we could show in a photo, more like cascades with heaps of swimming pools.

We also went to visit a cool stupa surrounded by mountains, in the old town and hung out there for a while.

Stupa with mountain views in Phonsovan, Xieng Khouang, Northern Laos

Anyway, now we’ve just arrived in Luang Prabang after yet another long bus trip – we had hoped to go straight to Nong Kiau from Phonsovan but alas the road are so bad in between there that there is no bus. So we set out for Luang Prabang back along the same road we got here on. The journey started fairly eventfully actually, within about half an hour of leaving Phonsovan our bus got sideswiped by a truck, luckily the impact was very minimal, more just a bit of scraping and neither driver seemed concerned as both just kept driving and waved at each other in their mirrors. Then 2 hours into the trip the road was blocked by an accident – a truck carrying a digger crashed into another truck going around a corner. No one was hurt, it just meant that the trucks were stuck together and taking up the entire road. Eventually a guy who could drive the digger (and very skillfully too!) drove the digger off the truck’s trailer, and used the digger to pull the truck trailer out of the way so that smaller cars could get past. We were in a big bus, so had to wait until they finally managed to break the two trucks apart and move one truck away. So a 7 hour journey turned into a 10 hour one…but we still made it. In many ways having to come here is good – we love Luang Prabang so will spend a few days here now. Our photos of Phonsovan are here.


Mekong Sunset in Vientiane

After 15 hours on a bus to Udon Thani, then another bus to Nong Khai (about an hour or so), then a tuk tuk to the border, a border exit, a bus to the next border crossing entry point, entry at the Lao border and another tuk tuk we arrived in Vientiane and met Dre’s dad Tom’s friends Garry and Suni.  We had lunch with them and after a few hours of chatting and formulating a plan of action for the following day, we set out to find somewhere to sleep.  This time thankfully we have stayed in a much nicer area of Vientiane than last time, near the Mekong and the main temples and cafes.  Vientiane is still really hot, dusty, and congested with traffic, but we are pleased to say that with Garry and Suni’s guidance we have managed to enjoy aspects of this city this time.  We have really enjoyed their company also – it’s amazing to us (but not surprising) how much like Tom and Lili they are, such kind people wanting to do anything and everything to make our stay more comfortable and enjoyable and always giving helpful advice.

Garry and Dre walking in Vientiane along the Mekong

We  had tentatively planned to head south to finally see southern Laos – and we still could if we wanted a really whirlwind tour – but with the visa process taking a few more days than expected (or perhaps more truthfully it was partly expected, since we are in Laos!), we’ve decided that instead of rushing to see the south and missing half of it, we will once again not go there yet.  Instead we will head north and see some of the northern parts of Laos that we haven’t seen yet, as well as probably a few that we have, and have time to have a more leisurely break before meeting Dre’s sister Kate in Luang Namtha.  We might have to come back to Vientiane again anyway in a couple of weeks to collect the visa, so perhaps we will have time then to see the South.  Ironically we would have had plenty of time if we had have left Luang Namtha when we had intended to instead of staying for the Buddhist Lent celebrations; but no regrets there.  So tonight we board yet another night bus, and head for Phonsovan to see the Plain of Jars.  Our photos of our time in Vientiane are here.

Temple in Chiang Rai: found

You may or may not recall, a couple of months back we went up a temple on a hill in Chiang Rai and far in the distance we could see another cool looking temple.  We mentioned on this blog that we hoped to find it at some point in the future, so this time when we were in Chiang Rai Dre accepted the challenge of picking the right road to find this temple.  And succeeded!

Temple we found about 15 minutes out of Chiang Rai

From the hill we first viewed it on, it looked almost like an Aztec structure but when we got up close it turned out to be a fairly new, very well maintained Chinese temple.  We arrived with perfect timing – we got to see the sunset behind the temple and when we walked right up to the top inside the views from every side were amazing.  Inside the smell was so good – all of the Buddha’s and other statues were carved from Sandalwood so the entire temple was filled with the awesome scent of the wood.

Temple sunset in Chiang Rai

Thong came to meet us to take everything back to Luang Namtha for the shop, and so we took him to try his first ever pizza.  He went into the kitchen and convinced the staff to let him try olives, capers, and anchovies for the first time also – they thought it was hilarious for a sheltered jungle boy from Laos to come to the big city in Chiang Rai and try so many ‘firsts’.

Thong checking out the woodfired pizza oven in Chiang Rai Buddha made of Sandalwood in Chiang Rai










Now we are about to board a night bus for 15 hours to get to Vientiane – it’s much quicker to go this way than to travel down Laos and unfortunately we have to return to our least-favourite part of Laos to get our new visas.  Our photos from Chiang Rai are here.

Seen in one day

Seen in Chiang Rai, Thailand

We’ve had a funny day seeing spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and sentences that just don’t make sense at all.  We are the first to admit that we can’t read or write (yet!) in Thai or Lao. And we probably make plenty of mistakes in English too. So sorry Laos and Thailand, but we saw all of these things in one day on the way from Luang Namtha to Chiang Rai, and by the end of the day we had to admit that it’s pretty funny.

Where do we even begin?

We even had another group of tourists ask us ‘What is a sandwich cup?’ erm… order it and find out? Guess? And as for trying to do western food… well this pretty much sums up what we were talking about in the last post – real western food doesn’t really exist in most of Laos. Anyone who wants to eat ‘grill bread with ham, mackerel, and cheese’ or ‘ham, egg and orange sandwich’, please order here! Click on the pictures below to see the larger versions of the photos.

October in Luang Namtha

This is our favourite time of year in Luang Namtha, September and October last year were also amazing here – with the rain finished, the rice fields green, the sky blue, the evenings cooling down and the days warm.  Around the time Tim left, (a few days before) the rainy season just stopped –  just like that – no warning, no easing off, one day it was raining and the next it wasn’t, and it hasn’t rained since.  Instantly the evenings cooled down, so that sometimes now a light jacket is needed after 6ish and the sky is just brilliant blue all the time.  We did have a few insanely hot days as well, but mainly the season has quite obviously changed overnight.

Changing Rice fields in Luang Namtha

We’ve had a really action packed few weeks; we started by having pasta night at the shop – something which we hope will be every night as soon as our cook starts!  Then one of the local schools asked us if they could use our speakers (since they are really the only ones in town!) and do a school dance performance in the main street in front of our shop.  It was really cool and after the main dancing, some of the same girls came out dressed in their traditional tribal dress and did a Hmong dance as well which was a real crowd-puller.  Soon we had the main street filled with locals and tourists watching them dance and the traffic just had to wait for them to finish!

Hmong dance from Samakee school in Luang Namtha

Then came the end of Buddhist Lent.  We didn’t anticipate that this would be such a massive event in town.  It started on the first day with everyone getting up at about 5am to pay their respects to the temple and give alms to the monks and money to the temple.  We wanted to visit our favourite stupa (the one you’ve seen a million photos of!) and that was lucky because that was also the one Thong’s family visits so we went with Thong, Paet, and also took another of our friends Manylin.  Oudone went to the temple in the old town and many people also visited the other old stupa in our town.

Representing Forest Retreat wearing green to give alms at the temple!

It was amazing to see everyone all dressed up in their beautiful Lao silk wearing a sash and carrying a silver or gold bowl filled with alms.  First we went inside the temple and edged our way on our knees to the front and then put incense, candles, money and sticky rice at the front.  By the time we got there we both thought our knees may never work again and we both had sore knees and Karen had bruises on hers for several days afterwards!  Perhaps you have to be Lao and have practised all your life to spend extended periods of time on hard floors with no cushioning – westerners are definitely too soft for this.

Giving alms in Luang Namtha at the end of Buddhist Lent

Then we had to take our bowls and line up and give money and food into each bowl along a long line of about 30 bowls until we got to the end, ad then visited the family stupa (we went with Thong to his) and then got blessed by a monk.  We also got to draw a number out of a box and got given our fortune – which amazingly came true within a day.

Then we went back into town and prepared for the evenings celebrations – the Loi Krotung festival where people send boats made from banana tree trunks and decorated with banana leaves and flowers down the river to send away any bad luck and welcome good luck into their lives.  They also let off lantens made of rice paper, so the sky is filled with glowing balls of light which is pretty cool.

Loi Krotung festival in Luang Namtha

The temple representatives (monks, the head dude and temple caretakers) then came down with their boat – the same boat that we all put the alms into that morning, and decorated it with candles and sent it down the river also.  They also let off a huge rocket with no warning and scared the living daylights out of everyone – when the rocket started spraying sparks all over people standing nearby we all ran and just hoped like hell that no one got hurt.  Which thankfully, no one did (thanks to amazing Lao safety standards of course!).  Each village then sent a boat down the river too.

Temple boat in Luang Namtha before it is released on the river

The next day was the party part of  the event – the Dragon Boat festival.  This day was ridiculously hot – around 40 degrees and really humid – coupled with thousands of people gathered together on the riverbank made us really thankful that we’d scored a space in the shade with tables and chairs in the tourism office’s tent.  Probably otherwise there would have been no way we could have stayed and watched because it was just too hot.  It was cool to see yet another Lao party – although these days we do our best usually to avoid them because they’re just so loud – but it really brings home what a peaceful country this is.  With speakers at top volume and thousands of people squashed together on one of the hottest days of the year, everyone drunk but no one disorderly – there was only happiness, cheerfulness and peacefulness.  For more info on the Buddhist Lent celebrations and more photos check out Luang Namtha Guide which Karen now writes as well.

The following day it was time to go and visit our friend Kumbai’s newborn baby boy, who was at that point about a week old.  We took a baby blanket for him and the traditional Lao present of washing powder.

We spent the following days riding around Luang Namtha taking in the beautiful rice fields before they are cut.  It is so sad when the rice is cut (although technically we shouldn’t say that because it provides food and money for all of Laos pretty much!) but the fields turn golden and then the rice is cut and left is just brown stems.  It changes the landscape so dramatically that when you see it brown it’s hard to even imagine how amazing it all looks when it’s a sea of green.  (Even if you know what it looks like).

From the Old Stupa looking over Luang Namtha

We visited the old stupa and chilled out for a couple of hours, and the new one too.  You all probably think we’ve become religious by the amount of times we go to the stupas, (not that there would be anything wrong with that!) but really it’s just to soak up the amazing views and peacefulness there.  Once up there you can usually hear nothing, apart from some insects, and so both stupas are pretty awesome places to be.  So if we had to pick a religion, it would be the religion of hanging out at the stupas looking at the views!

New Stupa looking over Luang Namtha

The first salad was made in the shop – all the time, every day, progress is taking place in the shop and there are still many, many ‘firsts’ at the  moment.  We can’t wait to get the pizza oven built (still waiting for our permit!!!), our cooks to start and then we’ll have a real cafe!  So far the food we are making is a real hit – it’s the only western food anyone can get in town and people who have been travelling for months (or sometimes days;) ) can’t get enough of real western food.  (As opposed to the dodgy Asian versions that are usually the only option if there is any attempt at western food!)  So lots has been happening, and lots is still to happen.  Step by step we will get there!  Our photos of the past few weeks are here.

Showing Tim around Luang Namtha

We had a fantastic time showing Tim around Luang Namtha.  We began by visiting our good friend Anic’s parents house and walking around their village (Tai Dam minority tribe) and eating lunch with them.  Tim managed to get his first bike passenger – another of our friends, Jai – which was lucky because the amount of Lao Lao consumed at lunch meant that Jai became the driver and Tim the passenger on the way home.  At lunch we ate snails, sticky rice, bamboo soup and fish which was delicious.

Tim, Karen and Dre at Anic's parents house

While walking around the village we got to show Tim the ladies getting silk off silkworms – where they simmer the silk worms wrapped in their silk cocoons and sort of spin the silk off them with a metal rod.  When the silk has come off the worm they eat the worms too, so Tim got to have his first silk worm eating experience too.  On the way home we stopped at another village, (Khmu minority tribe) had tea in someone’s house, corrected some of the English they were teaching their children, played with the kids a little and then drove through the beautiful rice fields.

Jai driving Tim through the rice fields

We then went up to Muang Sing.  On the way there we were amazed to see so many landslides – it has been raining a lot in the last couple of weeks around Muang Sing and we saw probably  more than 10 landslides that had to be cleared to let traffic past at some point in the past few days.  (Only 2 weeks ago when we drove on this road with Paul and Nedsy there were none).  We stopped at the edge of the National Park several times to admire the view, and visited a waterfall where we walked about 1km into the jungle to see it.  Tim also learned how to use a traditional umbrella – a banana leaf – for shelter from the rain while walking back from the waterfall.

Dre and Tim riding to Muang Sing through  the National Protected Area

We visited our usual restaurants – the rice paddy restaurant, the chinese retaurant where they don’t even speak Lao so we have to point at the ingredients for them to cook for us, and the szechuan restaurant too.  We even risked trying some wine from the Chinese supermarket which wasn’t too bad, especially compared to the vile alcohol we got from there last time with Paul and Nedsy.  Tim’s purchase proved to be the highlight – hard dough like sticks that we thought would be inedible, and kind of bought just for a laugh but he ended up buying a second packet so they must have been good.

Tim on the backroads of Muang Sing

We spent a day motorbiking around through the bumpy dirt roads and visiting some more villages.  Firstly we decided to try to find a village we could see up on the mountain and after a few wrong turns we found the road.  We stopped for Tim to pick up another passenger – an Akha woman who was walking to her village – so we drove her into her village and wandered up the path behind the village for a while and saw some tiny women (making Karen look like a giant!) carrying huge baskets of firewood from the jungle – wow they are strong!  We spent some time chatting to the people in the village (Akha minority tribe) and watching the gorgeous kids play.  (One game was: small boy sits at the top of a tree and repeatedly drops balls of spit down until some gets on the girls sitting at the bottom of the tree!)

Akha boy up a tree (in between spitting on his sisters!) Beautiful Akha girl in a village near Muang Sing









We then visited a temple (kind of by accident because we took another wrong turn but it was really cool!)  It had some young monks playing with their friends so was a cool stop anyway.  Finally we found the road we’d been looking  for to visit a Hmong minority tribe village that we had visited a few months ago.  This village is one of our favourites – the Hmong people are so friendly and happy and relaxed so it’s a really great place to go.  We spent  some time talking to the kids who were super excited to see us.

Never too young for a machete - beautiful Hmong children

We also rode to the Chinese border and just generally chilled out in Muang Sing.  On the final day, after 2 days of keeping our eyes open around town for our friend Elu, she found us.  She was really excited because as Tim had a spare seat on his bike, it meant we could visit her village and take her with us without too much hassle.  (Tim has learned that if you ride a bike in Laos, you automatically become a free taxi for whoever is looking for a ride ;-) )  So we agreed with Elu we’d go and pack our bags at our  hotel, and come back in 20 minutes to meet her.
Stunning Muang Sing, Luang Namtha province, Laos

When we got back, her Akha friends told us that she’d had to go and give some tourists a massage because there were 4 of them so she had to make up the numbers of masseurs.  They told us she’d be back in an hour, so we decided to fill in time by visiting the museum – something we have often talked about doing but have never actually got around to, even though we’ve probably been to Muang Sing 8-10 times now.  It was actually amazing, so much interesting information about the minority tribes in the area and Muang Sing in general.  We all really enjoyed it and spent quite a while talking to the Hmong guy in the museum for more information about the area.  He gave us some awesome advice about villages to visit on our journey back to Luang Namtha so we were really grateful for Elu going to do the massage otherwise we would never have found this stuff out.

Tai Dam boy chilling on a tree

After the museum we returned to see Elu, but she still wasn’t back so we decided to have lunch.  After lunch she was finally back, but we all decided it was too late to visit the village now, so we proceeded  home.  On the way we drove through a Lolo minority tribe’s village and stopped at a Tai Dam village because we saw a girl weaving on her loom.  We had a look at her beautiful weaving and decided to buy something from her.  Tim bought some handwoven silk – which was pretty cool because the very first village we visited (at Anic’s parents place) was a Tai Dam village where we saw them getting the silk off the silkworms, and at this village they were using that silk to weave fabric – so we got to show Tim the full process from silkworm to fabric.

Riding home from Muang Sing, nothern Laos

After that we realised the value of spending a day in Muang Sing waiting for Elu and visiting the museum etc – there was a huge landslide on the way home that had blocked off the entire road and when we arrived there it was just finished being cleared so we waited about 5 minutes and then drove through – but others had been waiting more than 3 hours so we were pretty pleased about the diversions in Muang Sing.  We proceed to have a pretty chilled out time in Luang Namtha – we attempted to visit Nam De Waterfall but the bridge was flooded over so we only got to walk part of the way and didn’t see the waterfall.  We visited the old stupa and also climbed the mountain behind the new stupa for amazing views over the town.  We still had stuff left to show Tim but we suddenly realised that if he was going to make his flight from Bangkok back to Auckland he needed to leave the following day!  So we booked a flight for him and that was that.  We had a final feast with Thong and Paet which was delicious as always and prepared to farewell Tim.

We really had an awesome time showing Tim the highlights of Luang Namtha and could have easily spent another week or two biking around the place to see more interesting and beautiful things.  Anyway, that can be for next time….our photos of our adventures with Tim in Luang Namtha are here.

Collecting Tim from Thailand

We went back to Chiang Rai to meet Tim and show him around for a couple of days before heading back to Luang Namtha.  We went to the white temple again and we were still amazed at how cool it is, even though we’ve seen it a few times before now.  We also went into the art gallery beside the white temple – everything in there has been painted or sculpted by the same artist who designed the temple and has painted the murals inside (still only 3 walls painted, we are eagerly awaiting the 4th wall to see what he does!).  That was insanely cool and we really want to get some of his paintings.

We spent a lot of time motorbiking around, visiting a waterfall, driving through mud to get to tea plantations, and seeing some other temples as well as going to the night market.

We only spent a couple of days in Chiang Rai but it was an awesome way for Tim to be introduced to the craziness of Asia before we get to the real adventure in Luang Namtha.  Our photos in Chiang Rai are here.

Vieng Poukha

After being in Laos for about 8 months, and driving through Vieng Poukha many times, we decided it was finally time we went to visit. Vieng Poukha is only 60kms from Luang Namtha, and although this is about the same distance as Muang Sing, it is a million times faster to get here because the roads are newly completed by China, so it is really very close. Vieng Poukha is pretty much surrounded by the Nam Ha National Protected Area, so there are heaps of things to see and do.

The town itself is tiny, most of the time there were only one or two food places to eat at (one being the morning market), and there are just 5 small guesthouses. You can drive through the entire town in about 2 minutes. Literally if you blink you will miss it.

This was just what we were looking for; quiet, serenity, nice views, and a few days to just chill out, and also explore another area. These days our knowledge is in demand by tourists coming to Luang Namtha, so we thought the best way to be informed, and also get a holiday too, was to come here and see for ourselves how the town works.

The first day we pretty much did nothing, just chilled out on our balcony and admired the view over the mountains as well as find the market and drive around the backroads.

The second day we visited the cave near town – it totally and utterly exceeded our expectations!  There are many caves in Laos and usually they are slippery, sometimes dangerous to walk through and often quite a lot of effort because they are so rugged.  The Kao Rao cave was the opposite of this – a huge long easy to navigate path deep into the cave.  The formations inside the cave were amazing.  It was just so huge and apparently when rainy season is finished you can actually keep walking in for a few days before you come to the end.  We were both so impressed and plan to go back again at some point when it’s drier to walk in further.

Other than that we pretty much just chilled out, a good interlude for us before returning to Luang Namtha.  We left Vieng Poukha thoroughly impressed by the serenity, jungle and cave, so it will have to be added to our list of places to visit more regularly.  Our photos are here.