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.

Return to Luang Namtha

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.

Food in Luang Namtha

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 Old Stupa, Luang Namthaberries), 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.  Beautiful Nam Ha NPA on the way to Muang SingWe 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.  Wet season wildlife in Luang Namtha provinceWe 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.

Namha NPA Luang Namtha

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.  Road to Muang Sing from Luang Namtha

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.Namha NPA in Luang Namtha  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.  Forest Retreat Laos building our pizza oven in Luang Namtha LaosWe 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.

Delicious pizza is coming to Luang Namtha!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.

Building a pizza oven at Forest Retreat Laos

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.

Luang Namtha's beautiful rice fields

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.

Luang Namtha - another awesome sunset

Sticky rice growing in Luang Namtha valleyDuring 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 Meeting Lincy at Forest Retreat Laos, Luang Namthato 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.

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.

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.

Paul and Nedsy visit us

Our good friends from Sydney Nerida and Paul arrived from Luang Prabang and after showing them their room and the shop, as well as heaps talking to catch up, we went to Thong and Paet’s for dinner to introduce them to real Lao food.

We spent a day biking around Luang Namtha, visiting the Nam De waterfall (which has much more water now after all the rain) and driving through the rice fields and seeing the temples.

The following day we went up to Muang Sing again, and although we weren’t quite as lucky with the weather as we have been in previous times, it was still awesome; we saw the usual groups of kids and handed out pens and pencils, admired the forest in the national protected area and the rice fields, visited a waterfall we haven’t been to before on the way there, and went to our favourite restaurants.

We also visited a village that we think hadn’t seen westerners before, they were quite curious about us but were very shy and not too sure about us. We gave them some fruit which they accepted and offered some pencils which we think they didn’t know what to do with so they didn’t take them. The sky was getting pretty black so we decided to try to beat the rain and get back to Muang Sing town.

The next day we left before 7am to go to the opening party of Forest Retreat’s new confluence camp, where the Nam Ha and Nam Tha rivers meet. We were intending to stay the night in the jungle there, but in the late afternoon Nedsy got sick, so the 4 of us joined the next boat back to town and returned to the comfort of our hotel for her to recover.

It seemed like we Paul and Nedsy were only here for seconds, we spent so much time riding around and seeing the beauty of the area that we didn’t really get time to chill out as well, but we still had an awesome time. We miss our friends so much so it was really nice to have them here for a few days. Our photos of the few days are here.

Adventures with Ben and Lauren

Our good friends Ben and Lauren from Sydney were our first official visitors to see us in Luang Namtha.  For the days they were here we all had a ball, one of the best things for us was the simple pleasure of being able to talk to people in proper English and have them understand us, especially people that we have years of history with so can laugh about the past and present in a way that we can’t do in Lao-English and with people we have only known days or months.

We spent the first day up at the temple, plus another old temple near the old town and also visiting the Nam De waterfall – which we had deliberately waited until wet season to see because many people told us it didn’t have any water in dry season.  The next day we took motorbikes and went up to our favourite getaway spot, Muang Sing.  The ride was, as always, stunningly beautiful and on arrival we once again found Elu!  Or rather, she found us.  After a happy reunion we once again went to the Chinese border on the road which still impresses us with it’s beauty!

That night we managed to attend yet another Lao wedding, which we managed to escape early but only after Ben had the privilege of playing keyboard in the wedding band.  The following day we returned from Muang Sing and met the usual quota of groups of kids on the roads back, which made the journey really cool.  On top of that, it was a gorgeous sunny day and there was even less traffic than usual so it was just perfect.

We haven’t laughed so much for ages and having Ben and Lauren here reminds us how much we miss our friends and family and even just having people to hold proper conversations with.  It really was a fantastic week and we look forward to seeing Ben and Lauren again next time they visit!  Our photos of the antics of the week are here.

Luang Namtha by motorbike

We again decided to spend some time biking around Luang Namtha province.  And, even though we had decided we wouldn’t go back to Muang Sing this time, the temptation was too hard to resist!  We absolutely love riding around on these deserted roads, usually the only other traffic is animals or other bikes, so it makes a very relaxing adventure.  We firstly went to visit Alack again, to help him with his English manual that he is writing for his school, plus explored some more of the old town of Luang Namtha.  We were really lucky to stumble across a Black Tai tribal dance rehearsal for an upcoming festival.  We managed to get lost on the many backroads too!  We were amazed to find people who even 5 minutes out of the old town had not seen tourists before.

We stopped heaps of times again, the views of the National Park are too awesome not to stop and see properly.  We lingered for ages at the site we want our house to be and just generally enjoyed the views and serenity of the park and roads.  At one point we were surprised to see an elderly Akha woman who was obviously really fit and healthy ‘mowing’ the grass verge on the side of the road with a machete!

After we had lunch at our favourite rice paddy restaurant, we found Elu! It was really exciting because the past few weeks we have heard so much about her and her daughter’s new baby.

It was nice to see the newly planted rice paddies turning green again, and we noticed that there seems to be 3 different methods for planting rice. We aren’t sure if this is because of the kind of rice, or just different ways of doing it.  It seems either the field is cleared and the new rice is planted, or the old, golden plants are left in the ground and the new rice is just planted around it, or, they plant one field thickly with rice and then when the plants are about 10cm high they transplant them, spacing them out, in the other nearby fields.

So once again we have really enjoyed exploring the remote areas of Luang Namtha and have again been touched by the kindness of the people.  It is hard to ride past anyone without being offered food, or a drink, or frantic waving and huge smiles.  We’ve probably said it before; Luang Namtha is a very special place. Our photos are here.

Beautiful Muang Sing

We decided to see Muang Sing the right way this time, and hired a  motorbike for a few days for our 5th Wedding Anniversary both to ride there and also to explore the area on.  The ride there is just breathtaking, and we were able to appreciate it a lot more from the motorbike than we did from the van on the way there last time.  We made lots of stops to see the beautiful forests and when we did arrive in Muang Sing rocked up to our favourite guesthouse and settled in.

The first thing we wanted to do was ride to the Chinese border again, so we set out on the bike only to discover our first flat tyre a few minutes down the road.  We got this repaired at the nearest shop in town, and paid the princely sum of 5,000 Kip (about 55 cents) and left on our second attempt to get to the border.  7kms from town and 3kms from the border, we realised once again that our tyre was flat!  Oh dear, this meant a 7km walk back to town pushing the bike.  Not to worry, we were on the most beautiful road in Asia and the sun was setting so we were very lucky to be there.  After perhaps about 3kms, a Lao guy motioned for us to go to the next house on the left, so we did, and it turned out that guy could fix our tyre.  After meticulously repairing it very skillfully with a grinder to get rid of the previous patch, blowing on the glue to make sure it was ready and patching it up for us, he graciously said he didn’t want any money, it was his gift for us.  We gave him 20,000 (about $2.10) because we were so grateful to have met such a nice, skilled guy who fixed our bike on the side of the road and saved us walking another 4kms back in the dark to town.  Fun times!

We ate at our favourite restaurant and then the next day spent the entire day biking around the outskirts of town.  We visited a few villages and rode up the mountains for amazing views of the rice fields and villages below.  It was such a cool day and we both couldn’t stop grinning the whole day because we were just having such a good time.

After deciding to stay another night and visit the festival the next day at the advice of all the locals, we wanted to go back to the Sechzuan restaurant we ate at last time but found it totally full so settled for the night market and lamented about how the noodle soups here don’t even come close to how awesome our noodle soup lady in Luang Namtha makes them.

We loved visiting the morning market here and got to have the best freshly steamed peanuts ever – something which is quite common here is peanuts steamed still in their shells and they are to die for.

We visited the festival on our way back to Luang Namtha and it was OK – sort of just a massive morning market with heaps more people and much louder music.  It wasn’t really our thing so after the 3km walk to the top of the mountain in the mud and the full sun, we had a quick look around and decided it was more fun riding on the bike through the mountains so left to do just that.  Our photos are here.

Muang Sing

View our location map in Muang Sing

Next time you go to Asia, go to Muang Sing.  No ifs.  No maybes.  Just go.  On Friday morning after we had finished work we took a van up to Muang Sing, near the Chinese border.  Since we were only going for a night or two, we decided to keep renting our room in Luang Namtha and keep most of our stuff here.  (We had just moved into the best room in our guesthouse and didn’t want to lose it.)  After an incredibly scenic drive (bounce) through National Park, we arrived at Muang Sing and checked into some garden bungalows that Eric and Emma had found the day before.   We soon discovered we were the only tourists in town, plus one Dutch girl.  We were quite a novelty for the locals it seemed.  We then all went to lunch, at a beautiful little shack in the rice paddies with a stunning view.  After lunch that included the best red sticky rice we’ve had so far, we were wandering back to our bungalows when we spotted a huge mansion and wondered how expensive it would be to stay there, with it’s expansive view of  the mountains and rice fields.  We went in to have a look and immediately fell so in love with the place that we decided to move out of the bungalows and into the mansion.  We convinced Tricia to move with us, and Eric and Emma and Miriam and Trina decided to stay at the bungalows since we had all already paid for the night ahead.  So there we were in Muang Sing, renting the place with the most amazing view, plus renting the garden bungalow, plus renting our room in Luang Namtha, and we were totally stoked!!!  We managed to explain to the bungalow people that there was nothing wrong with their rooms, we just decided to move with the help of an awesome young guy Kun-Har who spent the past 3 years at Uni studying English specifically so that he could go back and help his town as an interpreter and information guide.  What an awesome dude!  After spending a couple of hours staring at the ever changing view, we (us and Tricia) decided to hire bicycles and ride to the Chinese border.  Eric and Emma joined us on their scooter so we all kind of rode together.  The ride there was so breathtaking and would absolutely be the highlight of our entire trip so far.

We all managed to sneakily stand on the Chinese side of the border so now we have technically all been to China :-) .  Eric and Emma managed to ride 4kms into China on their scooter before a Chinese official turned them back!  They were so stoked.  We all went back to the mansion and watched the sunset.  That night we all went to the night market which was so tiny compared to the one in Luang Namtha and had Kauw Soy – handmade rice noodles in a local soup where you put all your own leafy greens and herbs and chilli in the soup when it is served straight from the cauldron of boiling water so they still get cooked and are very fresh.

The next morning we got up to see the awesome sunrise, and Eric and Emma also moved into our mansion after their night in the bungalows because the mansion was so awesome and we had the entire place to ourselves. Then we all went to the morning markets for breakfast. There was some amazing foods there and the entire market atmosphere was amazing with the majority of people there dressed in their traditional tribal outfits just going about their daily lives.  Before visiting here we have always held a vague idea that although there are definitely people who do still dress this way, in Thailand especially it seems that most of the tribal dress is just for show for the tourists.  To see all the women here dressed beatifully in their local clothes and so many different tribes milling about buying and selling fruit and vegetables and river fish and many other animals (Bamboo rat, pheasant, freshly killed chicken with all the feathers still on, pig, many intestines and offal, silkworms and rhinocerous beetles just to name a few!) was so cool.

After breakfast the two of us decided to have a lazy day looking at the view, Eric, Emma, Miriam and Trina went on a trek together into the National Park, and Tricia went to a local village with another traveller we met from Germany.  It seems Tricia got to have the most exciting day of all – not quite in the way she hoped though, while they were in the village they had been invited to sit on one if the lady’s balcony and while there they heard 5 gunshots and then all the villagers started screaming and running.  They didn’t know what to do so just hightailed it on their bikes out of there as fast as they could and went to the police station.  This made us even more glad that we had a magical day with the view!  We decided to stay another night because we were enjoying ourselves so much, so had another group dinner at the night market and sampled some of Eric’s purchase of the day – locally made Lao Lao which is rice whisky.  There were two kinds and they were by far the most alcoholic substance we have ever tasted!  The smallest sip you can possibly take would make your entire mouth and throat on fire for about 10 minutes afterwards.  So we all sat drinking Lao Lao and watching the stars.  It was a memorable night and we felt so lucky to have met such cool people to be in Muang Sing with. (And to hopefully catch up with again in later travels).

Our final morning we all had breakfast together at the morning market and then Tricia went off to do her day trek (a proper organised one this time with a guide!) and Eric, Emma and both of us chilled out for the morning and then had lunch at a Sichuan restaurant – we couldn’t leave the Chinese border without eating some authentic Chinese food!!  We then walked to the bus station and agreed to meet up in a few days when they arrive back in Luang Namtha.  It was such an awesome weekend that the two of us are seriously considering staying here yet another week, and going up to Muang Sing again next weekend as well.  (There is no internet in the town so we can’t stay during the week.)  Maybe.  We’ll see.  Our photos are here.