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.

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!

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai temple stupas

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.

Riding CBR 250 around Chiang Mai

The ride up the mountain was stunning, with clouds literally moving around us and the views taking our breath away.

Through the clouds up to Bhubing Palace
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.
Bhubing Palace, Chiang Rai

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.
Giant Bamboo in Bhubing Palace, Chiang Mai Stupa in Chiang Mai
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.
Image in Chiang Mai at a temple Chiang Mai's oldest temple

Life in Chiang Mai

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been exploring Chiang Mai and chilling out, in between doing some work in our fab little bungalow. We loved the Sunday Walking Street so much we’ve been twice – each Sunday the main street gets closed off and becomes lined with stalls selling food, clothes and arts and crafts, and local families ‘walk’ the street – it was really impressive.

The second time we went we also went to an amazing 14th century temple just as the sun was going down and a huge storm was coming down from the mountains and it was just beautiful.  Then we proceed to get drenched (again!) as the heavens opened and we just kept walking in the downpour.  We also went to the Night Bazaar which was not quite as interesting as it was very touristy – we did get some good DVD’s though.

We have visited several temples around town, you can’t really walk anywhere without walking past a few temples – quite a few of them are quite different from each other too so it’s been really interesting.  One of the temples we visited we were so lucky to fluke our timing with a chanting ceremony with a group of monks – it was so cool to see and hear.  Another temple we visited we got to hear a senior monk teaching the young monks (all in Thai so no idea what he was saying!) and then afterwards they did some singing which was very atmospheric as the temple was all lit up and the monks were kind of in a dark area – hard to explain but it was really cool.

We’ve also done all the usual things – Thai massages, night markets,   stocking up on malaria medication and other stuff we need etc.  Plus we’ve been helping Bon, the gardener here, take care of a baby squirrel that fell out of a tree – it still has it’s eyes closed but eagerly drinks milk off a spoon and likes cuddling.  It actually seems as though it will be OK – it must be just big enough to survive without it’s mother as long as someone can feed it.

Chiang Mai has been the perfect place for us to spend the past month and it’s been great being able to work as well as being tourists.  We’re also totally ready for our next stop now – it’s funny how you get used to things and only a few days ago we were both thinking “Oh no!  Surely our month in Chiang Mai isn’t up already!  We want to stay here!”  But now we are both really looking forward to the new-ness of going to a new place, and looking forward to spending some more time in National Parks.  Bring on Laos!!!!  Our photos are here.

Chiang Mai

View our location map in Chiang Mai

Our time in Chiang Mai has been really laid back and awesome so far.  One of the highlights has actually been (yes, most of you will think we’re crazy) going for our early morning runs – it has been such a fantastic way to start the day; running around a cobbled subdivision in the quiet back streets, breathing in the sweet smells from at least 10 different kinds of beautifully fragrant flowers around the streets, and watching the clear sky over mountains develop into mist and then clouds as the day begins to heat up and water evaporates off the forest and the 3-4 different kinds of flying squirrels jump/fly from tree to tree or powerline to powerline.  A really invigorating start to each morning!

We have mainly been visiting lots of temples, wandering around the streets, and eating good food – lets just clear one thing up – in light of our last post, we feel the need to say:  If you want good food during your Asian adventure, forget Penang, come to Chiang Mai!!!  We have been feasting on such awesome, healthy food that is just so much better than the fried selection on offer in Penang.  There is an awesome night market right across the road from where we are staying and there are so many different kinds of delicious salads and yummy curries that we are in heaven.  We spent a day up in the foothills of the himalayas at Doi Suthep temple, we unfortunately managed to choose the worst Songthaew driver in history and after 16kms of windy road (no straight bits, only endless corners), and diesel fumes being sucked into the converted-semi-enclosed-ute-tray we were both feeling so intensely car-sick that we had to sit in the forest for about half an hour and eat some rice to settle our stomachs.  Once we’d recovered though, we had a really pleasant time up  mountain and in the temple – we got blessed by the monks and rang all the bells each with a different tone.  The main stupa was actually covered in scaffolding, but that didn’t really detract from the overall experience as there were plenty of other things to see and a really good view over Chiang Mai and the surrounding area.  We also spent a day at Ban Tawai village and succumbed to temptation and bought a canvas painting.  (Which hopefully arrives in NZ in once piece as we have to send it to Karen’s parents as it’s too big to cart around with us.)

We have also been extremely lucky that the bungalow that we rented for the month is awesome – it can be a bit of a gamble booking online, even after reading reviews, so we are stoked that this place is like a super modern little apartment right beside a large quiet park, with fast internet, perfect for our month long stay in Chiang Mai.  Our photos of our adventures and mainly temples are here.