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.
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.
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.
We also spent a few days staying on the Mekong, chilling out and exploring the Thai side of the border.
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.
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!
No sooner had we arrived in Laos than Ken and Jude set about helping us with all things shop-related. On the very first day Ken made a pizza bench for the girls to use to make pizza on, and made some pizza paddles out of some wooden boards bought from New Zealand and some bamboo for the handle.
One of the first things we did after this was visit a small Tai Dam ethnic minority village, where Forest Retreat was in the process of setting up a homestay with the families in the village (this is now underway).
We then set off on an adventure to Boten, where after all this time we still hadn’t managed to visit. We’d heard it had become a ghost town and were still surprised at what it was really like. There were giant multi-apartment complexes that are empty, malls and shops all deserted and completely empty streets everywhere. We found the now-closed casino (which used to be the town’s livelihood) and the now-abandoned hotels surrounding it. What an interesting place, for so many different reasons than we imagined.
During the trip we had several stops for various Lao sights, including the rice harvest and water buffaloes.
Back in Luang Namtha we decided to head up to Muang Sing and so took the stunning drive through the Nam Ha NPA. While there we visited a remote Ahka village, where all of the kids performed a song and dance for us. It was awesome!
We also visited the waterfall and saw yet another new insect/caterpillar type thing, and stopped for Jude to buy some handwoven fabrics in another village.
Ken and Jude accidentally timed their visit perfectly to see some Buddhist celebrations too. We went to the end of Buddhist Lent at the new temple, gave offerings and had our fortunes read for the year. We also went to the Loi Krotong festival where we released Lanterns and set off banana leaf and flower boats into the river.
Our staff loved seeing new creations in the pizza oven with Jude’s cooking and enjoyed eating them too.
Their visit was over far too soon, we had planned to do so many more things including travelling around some more of Laos; time flew too fast though and before we knew it they had to head back to Chiang Rai to catch their flight home. Here’s hoping they come back really soon, we had so much fun!
Our return to Luang Namtha was, as expected, awesome. We spent our first day riding around and catching up on the local news. We visited Anic and Moneylins new restaurant out of town with a lovely view, the temple to see the new Buddha being built, and the rice fields for a lovely sunset over the paddies.
After spending a few days around town and getting to know everything that had happened at the shop while we were away, (during which time a berry tree got cut down just beside Forest Retreat Laos and we scored hundreds of sweet red berries), we headed up to the old Stupa and saw all the awesomeness of wet season staring to happen – so many different insects everywhere we turned. We ended up seeing 15 different insects in about an hour, and then went back down the stairs and found some kids who proudly showed us their find of the day, a large black water beetle.
We spent some time setting up another website Living In Laos where you can read about daily antics involved in living here, and also continue to write more information on Luang Namtha Guide for people coming to the area.
We then decided to head up to Muang Sing for a few days for another mini-holiday while getting back into life here. We ended up mostly just chilling out up there, and didn’t visit any villages or any of our usual places. Even the restaurants in Muang Sing seemed to be on holiday with almost everything closed for low season, so we ended up eating mainly at the market and the Chinese supermarket. We headed up to the Muang Sing Stupa, which is the most important stupa in Luang Namtha province, and spent most of our time up there not admiring the stupa but the abundance of wildlife that we once again found. We found awesome spiders, beetles, lots of different kinds of ants, butterflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers and other insects. We also found a little hut to hang out in surrounded by huge old trees so we decided that this is a good hang out spot for wet season.
Wet season so far has actually been awesome, we’ve only had rain a few times per week and then for an hour or half an hour a day usually. So it’s enough to bring out all the cool animals but not yet enough to put a damper on daily activities.
On the way back to Luang Namtha we decided to stop at the Nam Ha NPA at the river that borders the Natinal Park. It was awesome to just relax and hear sounds of nature and nothing else.
Then it was time to drive back through the National Park, dodging the usual traffic of cows, goats and water buffalo. The drive is so stunning and we’re probably said it a hundred times but it’s so hard not to stop and take in the beauty of the National Protected Area. When we returned to Luang Namtha town, we got back into the swing of things and got the progress for Forest Retreat underway.
Our pizza oven has been planned for over a year and with one delay and another, and then being so busy during high season that we couldn’t really use our precious courtyard space to build it (with the building materials and process taking up so much space we had far too much foot traffic and customers to even think about starting in high season), it has taken us until now to see a window of opportunity to actually make it reality. It began with taking the time to learn exactly how to build it, and a couple of phone calls to Karen’s dad later, we were ready to go. We met 2 Canadians who said they were really excited to help us, so we thought we’d get started right away. As it turned out, the next day they changed their minds, in a lot of ways though it was good because it meant that we were mentally ready to forge ahead. We bought the materials and started fumbling around making attempts to lay the base of the oven, when we met Ella and Grant.
This was a hugely fortunate meeting, because Grant helped us in so many ways to understand the building process, even little things that were super important like how wide to make the base to be strong enough to support the concrete slab on top, cementing the bottom layer of bricks to the ground (OK so now this really does seem like common sense, we still didn’t think of doing it until Grant suggested it though!) and just knowledge on how to make cement, and make it stick to the bricks. He even rigged up his iphone as a make-shift spirit level when we couldn’t find one in town.
So day by day we managed to increase the height of the oven base. In between all of that, we managed to have a day out for Karen’s birthday. We had planned to go to Muang Noi for a few days, but with all the pizza oven progress Karen didn’t want to leave the shop for that long. So we spent a day out in the rice paddies soaking in the beauty.
Being surrounded by mountains in the huge valley of newly planted rice was definitely an awesome way to spend the day, and the sunset was stunning.
During this time we also had the privelege to meet Lincy, a lovely Dutch girl who we really hope to meet again in the future. She ended up staying in Luang Namtha a lot longer than she originally expected when she broke her leg.
Lincy’s daily visits to our shop were great, with her cheering us along with our pizza oven progress and generally being great company. When her insurance company finally figured out that she was in Luang Namtha, and not Vientiane (even though she had never mentioned Vientiane to them, they just assumed that since she was in Laos, she must be in the capital!), they decided to transfer her to Bangkok to receive proper medical attention. We were stunned to hear from Lincy the next day telling us that her x-ray in Bangkok had revealed not a broken leg but in fact a broken ankle, and the cast that had been put on in Luang Namtha had probably hindered her healing process. So she how has a proper cast and has returned home to Holland to heal for the next month before continuing her Asian travels which will hopefully include eating some awesome pizza in Luang Namtha!
We are so lucky to constantly meet so many new friends here. Definitely a percentage of the people we meet at Forest Retreat will remain friends in one way or another, whether by email or by future meetings somewhere in the world. We are now in Chiang Rai, taking a few days out, buying more stuff for the shop and mainly taking the opportunity to relax and see some English movies. On our return back to Luang Namtha we will continue on the pizza oven, and hopefully get to hang out with Grant and Ella a bit more. Here are some more photos of the past month’s antics.