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.

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.

Seen in one day

Seen in Chiang Rai, Thailand

We’ve had a funny day seeing spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and sentences that just don’t make sense at all.  We are the first to admit that we can’t read or write (yet!) in Thai or Lao. And we probably make plenty of mistakes in English too. So sorry Laos and Thailand, but we saw all of these things in one day on the way from Luang Namtha to Chiang Rai, and by the end of the day we had to admit that it’s pretty funny.

Where do we even begin?

We even had another group of tourists ask us ‘What is a sandwich cup?’ erm… order it and find out? Guess? And as for trying to do western food… well this pretty much sums up what we were talking about in the last post – real western food doesn’t really exist in most of Laos. Anyone who wants to eat ‘grill bread with ham, mackerel, and cheese’ or ‘ham, egg and orange sandwich’, please order here! Click on the pictures below to see the larger versions of the photos.

Not Cambodia

View our location map in Krabi

The following day from when we wrote the last post, we spoke to our Cambodian border guard guy and he assured us that he could stamp us through the border and get us a taxi to Siem Reap, and he said it would be safe. However contrary to this, we found out on the internet that the border was officially closed, as ordered by the Thai army, (although a few border guards were still working there to make money from tourists and ex-pats doing border runs!) and the 15,000 people living in the area near the border had been evacuated. Not a good sign. Then, we found out on an ex-pat forum, that someone who lives in Surin had crossed the border the day before, and could hear bombs going off in the distance! We also got told that the Poipet border (the main one between Cambodia and Thailand) had been closed briefly also… all of this lead to the realisation that there was no way we could go to Cambodia just now. We were so sad because our entire journey since leaving Laos up to this point was to get to Cambodia. The second choice was to go into southern Laos, but this would mean either backtracking to where we are now to leave Laos, or see if we could get to Cambodia from there. We just didn’t have enough time to be backtracking when we have to be in Singapore so soon, so we took the only option left, and travelled further down Thailand.

We have to say, that originally when we left Chiang Rai the only reason we got the bus was because all flights were fully booked for the following 2 days. So it was going to be quicker on the bus. We didn’t realise how amazing the first class buses are here – they are way more comfortable than the trains and planes, you get food, have a ‘bus hostess’ who brings you drinks and blankets and pillows, plus most of them have in seat massage functions… very impressive. So when we were leaving Surin, we went to check the train times and also the buses, and immediately decided on the bus – it’s faster, more luxurious, and includes food! The Thai roads are so smooth and well maintained that this option just made the most sense.

So we have now arrived in Krabi, en-route to Singapore. Today we are off to Koh Lanta in the hope that it’s not just a tourist town like Krabi is, in any case a few days or a week in a bungalow on the beach will be good (and much needed after all the travelling to get to Cambodia and now here) before we head further south.