An Eventful Few Weeks

Nature in northern Laos

We started off our time back in Luang Namtha exploring all of the new insects around the stupa, and taking our new friend Jonny around the place to show him some of our upcoming projects.

River fun time in Luang Namtha

Luang Namtha's beautiful natureWe have spent an increasing amount of time out in nature, appreciating the most stunning time of year.  All sorts of animals can now be discovered out in the rice fields and jungle, amazing us yet again with the huge eco-system that develops when it rains, and when the rice grows.

The rice fields are especially interesting this year, as we have been able to literally see the rice grow from day to day.  After our first week or so back in Luang Namtha, when it  rained every day, we started to have nice sunny days again and so started to venture out back into the rice fields.  Karen discovered that it is exceedingly hard ground for her to walk on, with it being very uneven, so we decided to make visiting the rice fields a daily activity to strengthen Karen’s leg, and with the added bonus of getting to see all the animals and sunset every day.

Wildlife in Luang Namtha

There are thousands of spiders each day faithfully extending and remaking their webs, and when the sun is almost about to set the entire fields light up with their webs stretching as far as the eye can see.

Pizza in Luang Namtha

It was also time to re-surface the inside of the pizza oven with some new fire bricks that we bought back from Thailand. Dre also thought that it was time to render the bricks on the bottom of the pizza oven, and painted them also. The new bricks are working really well and the pizza is tasting even more awesome.

Dinner in Luang Namtha

We took Korly out for dinner and Thong at a Chinese restaurant, which Korly was particularly excited about since she has only eaten food other than Lao food (and food in the shop) a couple of times in her life.

Insects in Luang Namtha

There are so many dragonflies and beetles around now. The other night we were driving to a restaurant and a giant beetle flew into Dre and then wouldn’t let his t-shirt go for about half an hour. The guy at the restaurant told Dre it would be better if he put the beetle back in nature but despite everyone there trying to prise the beetle off Dre’s shirt or hand it wouldn’t let go so we just let it chill out on his hand and then our table for the following hour while we ate.

Wildlife in Luang Namtha

We also welcomed Josh and Jillian to our team, joining us and Lindsey and Keala. They are the perfect fit for us to get to the next level and help more people in Luang Namtha. Now we’re heading to Thailand to buy supplies for Project Laos 2, and meet Wilke and Sandor, who are also joining our team in a few days time. Hooray for more people helping us help Luang Namtha!

Cocktails at Forest Retreat Luang Namtha

SEA sunsets rock
Sunset in the rice
Luang Namtha Culture
Lady coming back from fishing in the rice fields


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.

Waterfall Adventure

When Dave and Tara joined us in Luang Namtha to volunteer at the shop, and our new friends that we met in Chiang Mai, Carley and Kurtis arrived in Luang Namtha, we decided it was time to show them the nicest swimming waterfall here.

Carley, Tara and Karen swimming in Luang Namtha

As the heat builds throughout April and May (May is the hottest month), it’s nice to swim in the cold waters of the rivers or waterfalls of Luang Namtha.

We pretty much spent the whole day chilling out. We drove through the beautiful national park and then walked for about a kilometre into the jungle and just relaxed and cooled down. The water was surprisingly cold, which was exactly what we needed. An awesome day out with new friends!

Nong Kiau

Nong Kiau Northern Laos

This year we decided to spend our wedding anniversary in Nong Kiau.  We pretty much spent our time watching the river and view, eating good food and even managed to catch up with some new friends who we met in Luang Namtha.

Beautiful scenery in Nong Kiau

We also spent the best part of a day walking around and looking at all the new development in Nong Kiau as well as the limestone karsts and river.  The town has come quite a long way since we were last here with sealed roads, and lots of new accommodation and restaurants.  Once again we didn’t manage to make it up to Muang Ngoi, (each time we go to Nong Kiau we think about going to Muang Ngoi) because we were having too much of a good time in Nong Kiau.  Maybe next time…

Ken and Jude’s adventure in Luang Namtha

Pizza at Forest Retreat Laos!

No sooner had we arrived in Laos than Ken and Jude set about helping us with all things shop-related.  On the very first day Ken made a pizza bench for the girls to use to make pizza on, and made some pizza paddles out of some wooden boards bought from New Zealand and some bamboo for the handle.

At a Tai Dam ethnic minority village in Luang Namtha

One of the first things we did after this was visit a small Tai Dam ethnic minority village, where Forest Retreat was in the process of setting up  a homestay with the families in the village (this is now underway).

The ghost town of Boten near Luang Namtha

We then set off on an adventure to Boten, where after all this time we still hadn’t managed to visit.  We’d heard it had become a ghost town and were still surprised at what it was really like.  There were giant multi-apartment complexes that are empty, malls and shops all deserted and completely empty streets everywhere.  We found the now-closed casino (which used to be the town’s livelihood) and the now-abandoned hotels surrounding it.  What an interesting place, for so many different reasons than we imagined.

Rice harvest Luang Namtha

During the trip we had several stops for various Lao sights, including the rice harvest and water buffaloes.

Muang Sing (Luang Namtha) Ahka village

Back in Luang Namtha we decided to head up to Muang Sing and so took the stunning drive through the Nam Ha NPA.  While there we visited a remote Ahka village, where all of the kids performed a song and dance for us.  It was awesome!

Wildlife in Luang Namtha's Nam Ha NPA

We also visited the waterfall and saw yet another new insect/caterpillar type thing, and stopped for Jude to buy some handwoven fabrics in another village.

Luang Namtha Tai Dam village

Ken and Jude accidentally timed their visit perfectly to see some Buddhist celebrations too.  We went to the end of Buddhist Lent at the new temple, gave offerings and had our fortunes read for the year.  We also went to the Loi Krotong festival where we released Lanterns and set off banana leaf and flower boats into the river.

New Stupa at the end of Buddhist Lent Luang Namtha

Luang Namtha Loi Kroitong

Our staff loved seeing new creations in the pizza oven with Jude’s cooking and enjoyed eating them too.

Luang Namtha by motorbike

Their visit was over far too soon, we had planned to do so many more things including travelling around some more of Laos; time flew too fast though and before we knew it they had to head back to Chiang Rai to catch their flight home.  Here’s hoping they come back really soon, we had so much fun!

Lanten and Sida New Year

We spent the day at Nam Dee village, visiting their New Year celebrations.  Nam Dee is primarily a Lanten tribe village, and they also have some people from the Sida tribe living there also.  The Sida village is 4kms walk from Nam Dee, and the Sida people who want to be closer to town have moved in at Nam Dee.

Lanten women, Luang NamthaSida women, Luang Namtha












It was so fantastic to see the tribes in their full tribal dress; the Lanten women almost always wear their traditional dress but the Lanten men, and the Sida tribe, don’t wear their’s very often. So it was really a once a year opportunity to see this display of beauty.  We spent part of the day hanging out with Jacob and Nate, Jacob is our friend in town who has been here a few months doing his PhD, and Nate has been in Laos on and off for about 10 years studying the cultures here and setting up the university, so it’s nice to have some ‘regular’ friends instead of only transient ones.

Lanten and Sida New Year, Luang Namtha
This is Guan and Korlee showing off some dancing moves for us. We got to join in on the dancing throughout the day, and also watch the dances specific to the different tribes. We were thoroughly impressed with the whole event, it really reminds us how different cultures in Laos can really be. It was really different to any Lao party we have ever been to (and there have been many!) and it was really enjoyable.  Our photos are here.

Ban Nam Dee New YearBan Nam Dee New Year

New Years Eve in Luang Namtha

We had a fantastic time at our party in Luang Namtha.  Early in the day we thought that it might be a fairly quiet night, there didn’t seem to be too many people in town, and we were pretty much happy to just party ourselves and if people came along it would be a bonus.  Karen and our staff Tot, Korlee and Guan made lots of food and vodka jelly, and we all prepared to party.  As the night drew on, we started getting more and more people turning up, and before we knew it we had over 70 people partying with us!  It was so much fun and we really couldn’t have imagined it turning out better.

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.