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.

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.

Dre’s birthday

Dre decided that we’d go back up to Muang Sing for his birthday, and for something a little different we stayed about 7kms out of town overlooking some ponds and rice paddies.  Our first stop was some new villages we hadn’t been to before, and we bought some local handicraft to hang up in the shop upstairs.  We finally managed to find Elu’s village too, but didn’t go in because she was in Luang Namtha so we thought we might as well wait until she’s there to visit.

Muang SingWe rode around for a while, and went up a steep-ish hill to check out the view up there.  On the way back down the steepest part, a large rock rolled away as our tyre went over it and we fell off the bike!  Neither of us was badly hurt; Dre had a scrape on his leg and a small burn from the engine, but we both felt really lucky for having the best textbook fall possible.

Muang Sing, Luang Namtha
Then it was time to stock up at the Chinese supermarket – pretty much all you can buy there is junk food and alcohol, so it suited our requirements well.

Alcohol from the Chinese supermarketNeedless to say the alcohol wasn’t the best idea we’ve ever had; but lots of food to go with it seemed to work.  We also spent time in other villages, saw cool sunset with a flock of birds flying over it, and just generally relaxed.  It was a great time away and a perfect prelude to New Years Eve.  Our photos are here.

Muang Sing,, Luang Namtha

Kate and Marcos visit us

That Luang Namtha

Kate and Marcos came for a fleeting visit for a few days in early November.  We took them to Nam De waterfall, close to the town of Luang Namtha and spent some time in the village there playing with the kids and seeing village life.

We went up to the temple near to town and got a cool view over town, and then also went into the old town and went to the old stupa as well.

Old Stupa stairs in Luang Namtha

We spent some time riding around on motorbikes to see the various highlights of the area, and also in the shop, chilling out and drinking cocktails.

Cocktails at Forest Retreat Laos, Luang Namtha

We attempted to go to the Kao Rao caves too, but left it quite late in the day and the usual cave guy wasn’t there to give us torches so we ended up waiting a while to see if he showed up, and then hanging out in a rice paddy hut instead. All in all it seemed like Kate and Marcos were here for the blink of an eye, but the time that they were here was heaps of fun. Our photos are here.

Luang Prabang

We spent most of our time in Luang Prabang just chilling out and visiting a few things that we really loved last time, as well as visiting a few new temples. It was nice to spend time around the river, and just wandering around town.

Luang Prabang temple guard, Laos

We climbed Phou Si mountain again to watch the mist float off the mountains in the morning and it was still really cool to do it again a second time.

Early morning mist over the Nam Khan river and Luang Prabangs surrounding mountains, Laos

This time we were quite amazed at how much more touristy Luang Prabang has become – not surprised at the tourism numbers themselves because Laos is fast gaining it’s reputation as an amazing place to visit – just surprised at how it is being handled. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we were quite shocked to find that all of the temples now charge entrance fees, and have shops selling junk food and trinkets to tourists either inside the temple, or just outside. It seems somehow wrong to take these beautiful historical buildings and turn them into crass shop stalls to make another buck from falang. The idea of charging entrance fees for temple upkeep seems a good one, and in many parts of Laos this really does help towards maintaining and repairing the temples; it was sad to see that the temples with the highest entrance fees had rubbish in the grounds from the shop/stall vendors who were selling packaged products, and no rubbish bins around either, so fees are clearly just being pocketed and not used positively.

Also now there are signs up around LP saying that the morning alms giving for the monks has become such a huge tourist attraction that now they are trying to discourage tourists from purchasing sticky rice from the morning vendors – apparently now instead of locals giving to the monks, they prefer to sell products to the tourists to give to them; a strange paradox – the monks are still getting fed which has to be a good thing, but some locals are worried that the religious significance of the alms has gone. Very interesting to see the progress (if you can call it that?) of this town.

One of Luang Prabangs many temples, Laos

Anyway, we had a pleasant few days checking out Luang Prabang again, it was really nice to be back and we’re sure we’ll return again at some point! Our photos are here.


View our location map in Phonsovan.

Rice fields, lake and mountians in Phonsovan, northern Laos

The bone rattling journey to Phonsovan was long. When we boarded the bus at 7.30pm in Vientiane we were told that the bus usually arrives in Phonsovan at about 6am. After travelling through some stunning landscapes, watching the mist swirl around the mountains beneath us at dawn and seeing very different scenery to the rest of Laos, we arrived at 8.30am. We both felt surprisingly good, and were glad of our decision to take the bus; we had considered flying here but as dedicated travellers wanted to see the scenery and have whatever experiences the bus journey threw at us.

The mysterious Plain of Jars in Phonsovan, northern Laos

The main reason for coming here was to see the Plain of Jars, there are fields full of large jars, some made of sandstone, some made of granite and some made of breccia. Throughout the past few decades many researchers have sought to learn the origins of the jars – what were they for, how did they get there, and so far no one has come up with any kind of conclusive evidence. Even dating the jars seems impossible, because no organic remains of any kind have been found in or near the jars. Apparently one Japanese scientist found some human remains quite far from the jars that were from around the 5-6th century, but other than that, nothing. There are theories that they could have been used for burial urns, or making rice whisky, or storage jars, but still no one knows the real use or reason for their existence.

Large Jar at the Plain of Jars, Phonsovan, Xieng Kouang, Northern Laos

We spent a day riding around on a motorbike on the worst roads we have been on in Laos (and that is really saying something!) and our backs and bums still hadn’t quite forgiven us the following day.

Bombs in Phonsovan, Xieng Kouang, northern Laos

The other reason for visiting was to learn more about the province. Xieng Kouang is the most bombed province in Laos, which is the most bombed country in the world. Everyone knows about the Vietnam war, but so few people have heard of the ‘secret war’ that happened in Laos. The ‘passage’ that Vietnamese were using to travel from north to south Vietnam ran through Laos, often directly through Lao villages and during the 60’s America dropped more bombs here (trying to kill the Vietnamese) than it has ever dropped on any other country. What is most shocking about this, is that still every single day in these regions in Laos, someone is killed or injured by UXO’s (unexploded ordnance) left over from this war. Most of the land in these areas cannot be farmed, because around 30% of the bombs dropped didn’t detonate so the land is still riddled with live bombs. This has led to extreme poverty for many people living here; some people still choose to grow rice, and risk their lives by doing so, but feel they have no other way to get food or money. Many rice farmers die or lose limbs when working in their fields. Other people have turned to collecting the bombs, taking them apart (often this is fatal for them and anyone nearby) and selling the metal. Other people simply die walking into the forest to collect food. It really makes you think twice as a westerner – it’s pretty normal for restaurants in Laos to run out of various ingredients because they haven’t bothered to buy it from the market – but when the entire town has actually run out of rice, so you can’t order it, and you compare that to being annoyed when your favourite cafe at home might have sold out of whatever your favourite food there is, suddenly it puts things into perspective.

Bomb Craters mark the landscape around Phonsovan

One amazing organisation who are helping Laos to clear the UXO’s is MAG – we visited their office and were amazed by the work they’re doing here. Over the past 3 months they have cleared around 3000 UXO’s!! It seems unbelieveable that every day, they are still finding more bombs. They teach Lao people how to safely and methodically find and destroy the bombs, we were really impressed by them. We went to visit a waterfall out of town near the Jar sites 2 & 3. As we arrived we saw their truck and they had a team of people at work there, and an area sectioned off where they were currently removing some bombs. Not very confidence inspiring when we were just about to walk to the waterfall! It’s worth saying though, that all of the areas tourists are allowed in have been cleared of all UXO’s, and any areas that haven’t are clearly marked. We would never consider walking on area that wasn’t cleared. Any area that isn’t marked as cleared / uncleared, the rule is to only walk on well-worn paths, or don’t go there at all.

Tad Lang Waterfall in Phonsovan, northern Laos

Onto more positive stuff! On the way to Tad Lang Waterfall we had to cross a river to get there. There were a couple of local guys nearby to the river crossing who assured us we should be able to drive through there on the motorbike. So, even though the water was deep-ish, and the rocks were huge, Dre thought he’d attempt the crossing. We found that the middle section was actually impossible to cross on our bike, the shape of the frame meant that there was no way we could get over the concrete pipe because the bike was scraping the pipe and failing carrying it over, there was no way we could cross. So, we both had to manoevre the bike backwards, through the giant rocks, for a good 10 minutes or so to get it un-stuck from the river. :-) We walked across the river and went to the waterfall from there. It was much more huge and impressive than we could show in a photo, more like cascades with heaps of swimming pools.

We also went to visit a cool stupa surrounded by mountains, in the old town and hung out there for a while.

Stupa with mountain views in Phonsovan, Xieng Khouang, Northern Laos

Anyway, now we’ve just arrived in Luang Prabang after yet another long bus trip – we had hoped to go straight to Nong Kiau from Phonsovan but alas the road are so bad in between there that there is no bus. So we set out for Luang Prabang back along the same road we got here on. The journey started fairly eventfully actually, within about half an hour of leaving Phonsovan our bus got sideswiped by a truck, luckily the impact was very minimal, more just a bit of scraping and neither driver seemed concerned as both just kept driving and waved at each other in their mirrors. Then 2 hours into the trip the road was blocked by an accident – a truck carrying a digger crashed into another truck going around a corner. No one was hurt, it just meant that the trucks were stuck together and taking up the entire road. Eventually a guy who could drive the digger (and very skillfully too!) drove the digger off the truck’s trailer, and used the digger to pull the truck trailer out of the way so that smaller cars could get past. We were in a big bus, so had to wait until they finally managed to break the two trucks apart and move one truck away. So a 7 hour journey turned into a 10 hour one…but we still made it. In many ways having to come here is good – we love Luang Prabang so will spend a few days here now. Our photos of Phonsovan are here.

Boppin’ around Luang Namtha

We have spent a week or so riding around again, we decided we should try to see the old stupa, the Lao Lao distillery, and the local handicraft village.  So far, we only managed the first one, because we rode around for an entire day trying to find the other 2 places (with a map!) and couldn’t find them ;) partly because many roads were impassable due to mud (it’s now rainy season), and partly because reading Lao maps takes a special skill that we haven’t yet aquired.  Lao maps are hand-drawn and depict an alternate reality to the one the appears before us.  Oh well.  Next time we will take Thong with us to show us where they are.  We also rode on the road to Boten, the other Chinese border, which was also really beautiful in a different way to the Muang Sing road.  Every time we ride somewhere around here it reminds us why we’re here – apart from the amazing people – this place is just stunning.  The scenery is like nothing else and we feel on top of the world when we’re here.

In addition to that, we’ve had many more delectable meals with Thong and Paet (including with many of their friends who met us at the funeral and have now invited us for dinner).  Paet still amazes us with her cooking prowess – she cooks at least 5 or 6 dishes for each meal (including lunch, where she comes home from work, gets changed into her cooking clothes, proceeds to cook all of the dishes as well as rice, presents it all beautifully, sits down to eat with us and then rushes back to work in her army nurse uniform!) and all of them are always delicious.  We love it how all of the food changes seasonally depending on what you can get from the jungle that day/week/month.  Lao imports (and exports) almost nothing and eats solely what is available from the land in the local area.  It’s a pretty cool way to live!  Especially when there are about a million different kinds of herbs and vegetables and fruits so there is always plentiful choice of ingredients.  It’s awesome being able to eat tropical fruits as well as temperate species in the same area such as mangoes and lychees as well as nectarines and brocolli.  Frogs are also currently in season, the entire body is eaten, not just the legs.  Ant eggs are very popular now too.

Paet also decided it was time Karen become an honorary Lao woman and made her an awesome Lao skirt with handwoven fabric.  Since then all of the women come up to talk about the skirt and they all think it’s very exciting that a falang has a Lao skirt.

Next we are off to Thailand again, to buy some supplies for ‘Project Laos’ (more information to follow) and to expand Thong’s  horizons – he has never left Lao before and we are taking him and Paet with us (Paet has been to Chiang Rai before for one night).  It should be an interesting adventure!  Our photos 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.

In love with Luang Namtha

Within moments of arriving back in Laos we were reminded of our love for this country.  We had been offered food and drink, seats to sit in, and a shady umbrella all in our first 5 minutes back in the country.  Then our driver suggested he would wait for us while we ate lunch… everyone is just so accommodating and nice here.  Then on arrival in Luang Namtha, Kumbai who met us last time ran after our van and insisted on carrying our luggage up to our room for us.  Then Thong and Paet came around and we went back to their place for dinner, while others in town were waving at us and welcoming us  back to town.  We’ve made no secret of how much we love it here, and so Dre decided it was time for him to do another post:

10 things we love about Luang Namtha:

1. Having a good time is the national pastime, which is much more important than working.

2. The amazing variety and freshness of fruits and vegetables from temperate to tropical species many of which come straight from the jungle.

3. The warm smiles you get from people hundreds of times every single day.

4. People who have very little material wealth inviting you into their homes and giving you their food and drink wanting nothing in return.

5. The lush green-forested hills contrasted with the deep blue skies.

6. Seeing tribes living a hunter gatherer lifestyle from bamboo huts 10 km away from espresso coffee and wifi.

7. The locals not minding if you are looking or buying; they are just glad you came.

8. The amazing, pure children completely uncorrupted by video games, cell phones or TV content to joyously wave at you while playing with bits of stick or the occasional dead snake.

9. The laidback atmosphere, there is no hurry, no pressure, no stress…bopan yang (no problem).

10. The local people are genuinely caring, friendly and kind they are always happy to see you back again like a long lost friend.

We love you Luang Namtha!!!!