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.

Relaxation Time!

After spending the past 2 months dealing with burn recovery, we thought it was time to have a holiday with all the trimmings.

Well deserved holiday in Chiang Rai

Our criteria was good food, awesome views, nature immersion, and a gym and pool for Karen to exercise her leg.

travelling Chiang Rai

We managed to achieve all of the above, and spent a week and a half away with a few days nearer to Chiang Rai to take advantage of all the different restaurants, and then moved into the mountains an hour north of Chiang Rai in Mae Chan, for several more days.

Mae Chan mountains

Our views were stunning and we had the best Salmon dish since Canada which we were pretty excited about.

Mae Chan views

Time during this holiday was only spent doing a few things: watching the view, going to the gym, swimming in the pool, eating amazing food, reading and plenty of doing nothing at all in between.  It worked out perfectly.

Relaxation in Chiang Rai

And the best news of all, is that Karen managed to increase her distance on the treadmill each day, and was even able to let go of the handles by the end of our time there.  She has now managed 3 days without crutches!  Her leg is getting stronger by the day and so the next goal is to walk properly and normally just like before.  For now lifting the heel and muscle and tendon pain is still a challenge that Karen plans to overcome in the coming weeks.

No crutches!

Our next stop is back to Luang Namtha to (literally) watch the rice grow.

Recovery time in Chiang Rai

We have spent the past 2 weeks in Chiang Rai, recovering from second degree burns and associated tendon, muscle and movement problems resulting from a motorbike collision we were involved in about a month ago.

After Karen had not been able to stand up, walk, or leave the house for 10 days we decided it was time to go and get some proper medical attention which is not available in Laos.

We rented a nice apartment in Chiang Rai near the hospital and pretty much just spent the entire 2 weeks resting and recuperating.

Chilling in Chiang Rai

It was only in the lasts 2 days there that we were able to actually go out and do something other than visit the hospital or eat, so we spent the time at the river and at the park, and the final day we even used the execise equipment at the park (Karen was able to use 3 pieces of equipment with no resistance).

Karen exercising on the final day

Now we’re back in Laos and Karen still seems to have a fairly long road ahead to walk again.  We are both confident that her positive attitude will help the healing process along and we are looking forward to being able to go out and do stuff again!  You can read about our journey so far with our burns here.

Chill Out in Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai Japanese Restaurant

We arrived in Chiang Rai for a well deserved break and spent a week eating good food, seeing movies, and visiting parks and gardens.

Chiang Rai Gardens

We spent a day riding around and went to Chiang Rai beach, where they have developed slightly since we were last there with a new Buddha and some more relaxing areas.  We also went to a couple of temples we hadn’t visited before.

Chinese New Year in Chiang Rai

We even managed to forget it was Chinese New Year and decided to visit the Chinese temple out of town on the actual day of new year! As we were driving out to it (about a 20 minute drive) we realised the mistake we’d made as there were lots of cars heading towards this temple and we’ve visited it a few times before with virtually no traffic. Oops, it’s actually Chinese New Year today, isn’t it? We considered not bothering, envisaging massive crowds and thinking it’d be much nicer to just go there next month when we visit Chiang Rai (this visit was just a random whim, we had no particular reason for wanting to go there). In the end though, we figured we might as well go, and it turned out to be a really cool day, there was lots of chanting and drums being played, and some dancing out the front, which was really awesome to see. We took a short video below:

We decided that was a pretty cool way to spend Chinese New Year, even if we had forgotten about it, it was a nice celebration to be a part of.  Now it’s back to Lao to meet our friend from NZ Katie, and her friend Nicole.

Adventure in Chiang Rai

As you probably know, when we travelled to NZ, Australia, Malaysia and Thailand for 2 months recently we told our staff that as their reward for successfully running the shop while we were gone that we’d take them on their first trip outside of Laos.

So 3 of the staff that worked during this time took the challenge; Korlee, On and Toc had never left Luang Namtha province before, and Korlee had never even left the town of Luang Namtha.

The adventure to the ‘big city’ of Chiang Rai started with the girls having to wait 2 hours for the Lao immigration office (the section that stamps Lao people in and out of Lao) to re-open after lunch.  During this time though, they managed to make friends with the tourist police, have lunch with them and exchange phone numbers ;) .

Once they crossed the Mekhong they were into a new world; the forbidden Thailand and needed us to pretty much look after their every move.

The first night we took them to the night bazaar, and they were in heaven shopping in the Thai market with so much more selection than anywhere in Laos.

The second day was full of adventures for them:  we went to their first supermarket, Makro, and bought all the supplies for the shop.  They were amazed and awed that such a big building could exist and have so much selection in it.

This was followed by even more amazement – the mall.  Toc was petrified to ride on the escalator, none of them having ever seen one before or known of the existence of one.  We eventually convinced her that it was fine, and took them to see their first movie.

We saw more supermarkets, actual clothes stores, computer stores, TV stores, and so many other things that don’t exist in Laos.  The second night they wanted to go back to the night bazaar for more  shopping.

We had hoped to take them to the white temple also, but it ended up raining a fair bit and so the final morning was just chill out time before the return to the safety of Luang Namtha.

Getaway north of Chiang Rai

Our journey to our secluded hideaway to celebrate our 14th anniversary since we met started off interestingly.

We went to our normal Chiang Rai guesthouse and dropped off some of our luggage and computers, and decided to make a ‘quick trip’ to the mall to give the computer fix-it shop Dre’s computer so that it could be there a few days getting fixed while we were away.  The quick trip turned into a few hours and so when we finally set out to our holiday location on our motorbike in the pouring rain, it was already dark.

We laughed about it and Dre made the comment that it’s awesome that our lives are never boring here!  We followed the directions on the map to the hideaway, our bike laden with our luggage and our clothes soaked through to the skin.  After about half an hour, we realised that although we were following our saturated map, it didn’t seem to be leading to where we wanted to go.  This was confirmed when the road finished and turned to mud, and we literally couldn’t keep driving because it was too muddy.

We turned around and headed back to the nearest main road, in the countryside somewhere north of Chiang Rai.  We found a shop that was still open and used our limited Thai language skills to ask if we were going the right way, or which way to go.  They pointed us back in the direction we’d come from so we thought that we’d just head back down the road and stop at the nearest hotel we found for the night.

As it turned out, it was all meant to be… after another 20 minutes or so in the now-torrential rain, we found what looked to be an extremely upmarket resort set on the mountainside.  We pulled up and the wide-eyed receptionist looked in bewilderment at 2 soaked-to-the-skin-foreigners pulling up on a motorbike in the dark in the middle of nowhere to their resort.

They showed us to their holiday house, complete with jacuzzi, kitchen, several huge balconies, an entire private rooftop with hammocks and daybeds, completely secluded from any other dwelling by extensive tropical gardens and views to mountain ranges out the front and back.  (Of course we couldn’t see the gardens or views until the next morning).  It had a kitchen, 2 bedrooms, a huge lounge and lot of extras.  So we figured that this was where we were meant to be and there was good reason we didn’t find the place we’d booked.  We still do want to find the place we booked, in future, because it looked awesome too, but this place would definitely be awesome to stay at for the few days we planned to spend there.

So we spent the following days lazing on the rooftop, stretched out on the couches, and admiring the gardens and mountains.  The staff were so excited we had come to stay (normally only Thai people stayed there) and in the mornings when we’d go for breakfast they would attempt to practise their limited English and we would spend time teaching them some new words.

It was a good way to spend some time and we returned to Chiang Rai recharged and ready for the next adventure:  taking some of our staff on their first trip outside of Laos.

A month of farewells

Chiang Rai Tea GardensWe 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.

Red Moon, Luang NamthaWhen 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!

Temple, Luang NamthaWe 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.

Motorbiking Luang NamthaThe 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.

Feasting at Minority Restaurant with Phil and Abigail, Luang NamthaAnother 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.

Chinese Disco, Luang NamthaLess 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.

Dre’s mum Jillian’s visit

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.

White Temple Chiang RaiWe 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.

Road to Nam Dee Waterfall, Luang NamthaAt 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.

Muang Sing, Luang Namtha wildlife

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.

Tai Dam handicrafts, Muang Sing, Luang Namtha

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.

Donating English manuals to Ban Sopsim, Luang NamthaThen 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.

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.

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.