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.