The Start of Lent

We travelled back to Luang Namtha a bit short on time – we had to get back to meet Ryan, who wanted to check out Luang Namtha and Forest Retreat Laos because he is interested in coming to work with us.

Temple at the start of Lent, Luang Namtha

We also wanted to be here for the start of Buddhist Lent, a lovely day where all Buddhists visit their temple and give food and money to support the temple and give to the monks entering Lent.

Start of Lent of Luang Namtha

This also coincided with our 3 month anniversary since the accident, so we celebrated by taking Ryan, Lindsey and Keala to the Chinese disco and dancing until the music got so bad we had to leave.

Start of Lent

We only managed 3 days back in Luang Namtha before heading back to Chiang Rai, to finish the stuff we didn’t get time for last time, and have a chance for some chill out time too.

Luang Namtha sunrise

Getting out and about again in Luang Namtha

Our return from Chiang Rai has seen Karen being able to walk around a bit and starting to increase her fitness walking around the town.

Snail eating birds

The rice fields are filled with huge birds that eat all the snails living in the water.  With a wingspan of almost 2 metres, it’s awesome to watch them swirl on the air currents each time before it rains.

Wildlife in Luang NamthaLuang Namtha animals

One of the days we were driving around we saw this snake with a brightly coloured head on the road. It was light blue, white, yellow, red, green and grey around it’s head – beautiful. Also we saw this big moth, almost the size of Karen’s hand.

Handicrafts of Luang Namtha

We headed out to one of the local villages we support, Ban Nam Ngaem, to buy some hand woven cloths made from cotton grown in the village and woven by women in the village. This is the same village that Forest Retreat and Stray will be building a handicraft centre in and sending tourists to for the women to sell their beautiful products.

Rambo Fusion restaurant Luang Namtha

On our last night we took Keala and Lindsey out for dinner at one of the local Lao BBQ hotpot restaurants. We had awesome fun and it was a cool way to round off this couple of weeks before heading back to Thailand.

Beautiful Luang Namtha

The past few weeks back in Luang Namtha have mainly been spent with Dre beginning to increase his fitness again and Karen learning how to walk again.  Dre has been able to start running again in the past week and for the most part his leg is coping with it pretty well.

Luang Namtha views

Karen is now walking reasonably well without her crutches, which are still needed to get up and down the stairs to our top floor apartment, and also in the evenings when her leg is tired and sore.  In the past few weeks Karen’s exercises have increased a lot and her left leg is now almost back to its normal size and strength, with the exception of the ankle and heel which were most immobilised in the healing process.

Luang Namtha rice fields

It is now beginning to be the most beautiful time of year in Luang Namtha once again, with clear days and the rice fields all being planted and beginning to grow into their green expanse.  It has also begun to rain – usually about half an hour a day, so it’s a much more pleasant temperature than super-hot April and May.

We are lucky we can see the sunrise and sunset from our house, and so have been lucky to see some incredibly beauty in Luang Namtha even without being able to leave the house very often.

There are huge numbers of birds now in the rice fields, and before it rains the circle on the currents over the town.  There are also the cool and different insects coming to visit us again, this time of year really is the best here!

We have this week been able to go on our first 2 outings outside the shop and house – this has been harder than in Chiang Rai where there are smooth roads and smooth footpaths.  Here the bumps in the road have meant that Karen has been limited to her 100-odd metre walking ability because going on the motorbike is too bumpy.

Even though we have been a bit limited in what we’ve been able to do, we’ve still had a really enjoyable time over the past few weeks and are both excited for the coming weeks when Karen will become crutches-free!

Rice fields of beautiful Luang Namtha

For Karen’s birthday we even managed to get out to the rice fields, prior to this it was too bumpy and there was no way we could walk out there with Karen’s mobility issues.  We were really lucky though that for a few days before this there was no rain and Karen’s walking ability increased a fair bit, so we were able to slowly drive and then walk out to the middle of the fields and spent a bit of time admiring the views.

Pizza at Forest Retreat Laos Luang Namtha

The girls in the shop made a gluten free cake and pizza and we had a pretty chilled evening too.  Next stop is back to Thailand, to the northern mountains for some nature appreciation!

Luang Namtha with Tim

Tim’s second visit to Luang Namtha was pretty low key since we’d all just had the Mae Hong Son Loop adventure. So for the most part we hung out eating pizza and drinking Gin and Tonics!

Luang Namtha province

We decided to do an overnight trip to Boten, on the Chinese border (a different location than the Muang Sing border). We had been up there with Karen’s parents and decided it would be a cool place to stay the night at some point.

We found a pretty nice hotel to stay in that had nice views of the jungle and explored the town. It’s amazing that such a place exists, with huge brand new apartment buildings that have never been lived in. We managed to find a good noodle soup place for an afternoon snack, and a Chinese restaurant for dinner so we were sorted.

Boten abandoned buildings

Spending time admiring the views from the temple was fun too, and Tim’s time here passed so fast that we were soon saying goodbye as Tim headed back to Thailand to fly back to NZ.

December in Luang Namtha

This month it has finally gotten really cold in the mornings (much belated compared to last year) and we have stunning blue skies every single day.  December has seen us achieving many different things and attending quite a few events.

Baci ceremony for Bounmee and Sai's babyThe first one was Bounmee and Sai’s baby party for their newborn baby girl.  We attended the Baci ceremony and spent the day with them.

Then we went to a wedding with Thong and Paet for the son of the largest hotel owner in town.  It was exceedingly lavish with a Chinese stretch 4WD limo and a lot of non-Lao alcohol on every table.  It was quite different to other Lao weddings we’ve been to, and a good time was had by all.

Lao wedding in Luang Namtha

After this we moved into our new home, which is so big and with beautiful views of the mountains and valley of Luang Namtha.  We also spent a couple of days repairing the pizza oven, with new thick stone tiles so now the pizza is even better.  Homemade bread from the oven is now really popular too.

Forest Retreat Laos Christmas

Christmas was celebrated with the customers and staff with christmas pizza and turkey in the pizza oven.

Japanese food in Chiang Rai

We made a trip to Thailand for Dre’s birthday where we stayed in flash place and went to our favourite sushi restaurant.  This was combined with finally picking up our new sofas and chairs!  We were so excited to get the long awaited furniture for upstairs in the shop and also stopped to get some more plants to move ever closer to our Forest Retreat office in town becoming very foresty.

Forest Retreat Laos new couches

We are super excited about the upcoming months when we finally have some westerners coming to help us with the business here and having some more time to work on our next upcoming project and visit some awesome places!

Rice, Rivers, Waterfalls & Wildlife

The past few weeks we’ve spent a lot of time exploring new areas of Luang Namtha we haven’t been to before, as well as visiting a few tried and tested favourites.

Wildlife in Luang Namtha

It has involved finding many insects we haven’t seen before, and many days contemplating the beauty that is so easy to find here.

Luang Namtha

We started out by finishing off the pizza oven, which has now pretty much just been sitting and waiting for it’s new chimney to arrive for a few weeks now.  Once we’ve got the chimney and the new bench beside it to make pizzas on, we’re good to go!

Forest Retreat Laos, Luang Namtha

After our last trip to Thailand we decided it was time to spend a lot more time exploring LNT again, and so almost every day in the past few weeks we’ve gone and done something new or something that we know is fun.

Rice in Luang Namtha

We’ve spent many days out in the rice fields, including many fields which we didn’t know were there before, watching the thousands of dragonflies which are now here in Luang Namtha.

Here is a video of not-great quality that shows the huge numbers of dragonflies:

One of the days we followed a new road we drove along through a tiny village, past their extensive rice fields until a river crossed the road.

Luang Namtha

We got off the bike and walked down to the river, and after 5 minutes or so a guy drove up, also jumped off his bike and asked why we weren’t going to drive through the river and keep going.  Ummm, well because we are quite happy here playing in the cold water of the river and have no real desire to cross a reasonably deep river on motorbike.  He encouraged us to go across, and then demonstrated by walking across himself and beckoning us to follow.  We managed to convince him that we really were happy staying at the river and so he eventually left, telling us if we changed our minds we could find him further up the road.  We settled down to have a quick swim in the cold water which was so nice on the steaming hot day.  A group of kids came down to see what we were up to and played in the river next to us for a while until we decided it was time to leave and headed back to town.

Namha National Protected Area, Luang Namtha, northern Laos

Another day we spent on the Nam Tha riverbank watching river life go by.  It’s been amazing this month how much the river has filled up, both with rain flowing down from China and also the rains that have fallen here.

Nam Tha river running through Luang Namtha

One morning Dre suggested a day out in the jungle at one of our favourite waterfalls, during which time we saw a huge number of awesome insects including a giant wasp drag a spider back to it’s underground burrow.  You can read a detailed account of that here.

Luang Namtha waterfall

And we also spent some just wandering around, finding more cool insects and admiring the beautiful abundance that is everywhere.

Beautiful Luang Namtha

Now it’s time for us to head back to Thailand, this time we’re missing the ocean, so we’ve decided to head down south to spend a few weeks at the beach again.

The month of the Pizza Oven

It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole month that we’ve been back in Laos after our last trip to Chiang Rai.

This month our lives have pretty much been all about building our pizza oven, and we’ve kept a detailed account of the daily process on our Forest Retreat Laos website.

Forest Retreat Laos Pizza Oven

During the entire process we’ve had perfect people arrive at the perfect time to help us, as well as learning lots of news skills ourselves along the way. It’s been so much fun to do!  Ella and Grant, Mark and Sarah, Gra and Rinat have been great friends to us and we will always remember the help they gave us here.  We hope to be able to return the favour to them in future.

We also spent quite a few afternoons out in the rice paddies, watching many sunsets, and generally enjoying life.

Travelling northern Laos

Our friends Anic and Manylin had their baby boy by caesarean which was really interesting for us to hear about. It seems that the doctors made a mistake with Manylins due date and because the baby was breach had to do a caesarean. They told her they couldn’t perform the caesarean until she went into labour….. and then at our insistence Anic made the doctors proceed. When the baby came out they realised her placenta had already been used up and the baby wouldn’t have survived much longer if they hadn’t taken it out. They ended up in hospital for a couple of weeks and the baby on a drip, luckily though all went well and they are now home as a family and the baby is doing well. They also told Manlyin that her diet had to consist of only rice, and a small amount of meant, and hot water. She couldn’t eat any fruit or vegetables until she finished breastfeeding. We also cleared this up and thankfully the American doctor Leila who lives in Muang Sing came to visit them and verified our wild ‘theory’ that Manylin really should be eating fruit and vegetables in her diet.

We also celebrated our chef Toc’s birthday, which mean typical Lao style drinking and music so loud your ears almost bleed.

Other than that we have pretty much just been doing the pizza oven, training new staff in preparation for high season, and enjoying the thousands of insects that we’ve found because they’ve come out for rainy season. This year rainy season so far has been great – we’ve had the cool animals and only about half an hour of rain every day, with many days of no rain at all and only a few with more than that.

Our photos are here:

Life in Luang Namtha

Luang Namtha

We’ve had a chilled out few weeks, mainly motorbiking around Luang Namtha.  We’ve also been renovating the kitchen with new larger benches, and also upstairs in the shop, putting bamboo on the walls up there as well and getting it ready for next high season.  There’s been lots of laughs again with the builders and lots of minor mishaps that have been worked out.  We had to wonder why the guy who made the new benches brought his tape measure along and measured everything, when the benches that turned up were completely different measurements to what we needed.  In the end though we managed with a bit of ingenuity to make it fit along with the other one so everything worked out fine!

Forest Retreat Laos, Luang NamthaOur friend Shahu who owns the Indian restaurant in town and his wife San had their baby and we attended the baby party.  Traditionally when a baby is one month old the parents have a baby party which is a Baci ceremony (string tying ceremony) where everyone wishes good luck to the parents and child and asks all parts of the child’s soul to come into his/her body for the best possible start and protection in life.

Luang Namtha Baci CeremonyBaci Ceremony Luang Namtha
The rice fields are now beginning to be planted so it’s really nice to see some green returning to the area.  We’ve spent a lot of time in rice paddy huts watching a lot of sunsets over the newly planted rice, it’s really cool to see the new fields filled with water and the sunset reflecting them. We’re now really looking forward to the return of the thousands of dragonflies that hover over the rice fields once the rice has grown some more.  Living here really is so interesting and so much fun for us – the diverse wildlife and views dependent on the time of year are constantly inspiring.  We even continue to discover new fruits – we thought that now we’ve been here over a year that we would have seen all the jungle fruit, but this month there have been two new ones that we didn’t see last year – and one of them is even a little bit like feijoa which is pretty cool!  Now that the shop is running itself, we’ve also started planning our next project for Luang Namtha – this one’s going to be even more exciting… we can’t wait!

Luang Namtha rice fields and sunset

A day on the Nam Tha riverbank

Luang Namtha's Nam Ha NPA & Nam Tha riverWe were thinking of visiting Muang Nale for a couple of days, which we are still yet to do after over a year here.  In the end though, we decided instead to spare ourselves the long journey out there on a really bumpy road, and spend the day about half way between Luang Namtha and Muang Nale on the Nam Tha riverbank.  One of our friends, Lat, owns the beginnings of a resort out there so we thought we’d go check it out and hang out in his riverside bungalows for a bit.

Nam Tha riverIt was a really peaceful day that we both enjoyed a lot, the river is so beautiful and the views across to the Nam Ha National Protected area are stunning.

River hut on the Nam Tha riverAn awesome way to spend the day.  We returned to town to see yet another awesome sunset over the newly planted rice paddies – now is a really nice time to see the rice because it’s all freshly planted and still visibly filled with water so everything reflects amazingly in the still surface of the bright green water-logged fields.  Luang Namtha and it’s surrounds give us so much joy, it’s amazing to think that just over 18 months ago we’d never even heard of this place.  What an awesome, life-changing find it has been!

Luang Namtha's Nam Tha river

New Year Getaway

Mountains around Luang NamthaWe decided to spend a few days motorbiking around northern Laos again.  These days we are fully staffed usually 3-4 days a week, so we like to take advantage of these days and go away usually every second week or so.  This time we pretty much just spent time admiring the scenery here (yeah, so what’s new?) and chilling out.  The day before we left, Guan, our Lanten tribe staff member had the day off to make sticky rice parcels in her village, so she brought one in for us to sustain us on the first day of our journey.  It was pretty good, but extremely sticky, and it resulted in having very sticky fingers until we arrived at the hotel because no amount of washing would get it off!  (The one time we left our hand sanitiser at home!)

Northern LaosDre’s burn from the motorbike is healing really nicely too, he has been telling everyone a tiger scratched him and some people actually believe him so it’s pretty funny!  Our next adventure will be to the Lanten and Sida new year celebrations in late January, Korlee (Sida tribe) and Guan (Lanten tribe) have asked us to go and support their village so we’re closing the shop and taking everyone with us to party!  Our photos of the past few days are here.