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Soi Bar in Chiang Mai

Soi Bar in Chiang Mai, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

Ah, Chiang Mai. I’m not even sure how many days we’ve been here, but it’s been a while. We’d been talking about finding a place to hang out and relax for a while, and it seems we’ve found it. The old city at the heart of Chiang Mai is full of temples and surrounded by the remnants of the old city walls and moat. The eastern section of the old city doubles as the tourist quarter, and this is where we have spent most of our time. It’s run through with leafy lanes, called sois (pronounced ‘soys’) meandering between guesthouses, coffee shops, bars and restaurants. ‘Walking the sois’ has actually become a favourite pastime of ours, as they often provide a surprise. Such as the cute cocktail bar set up by a local family, with two tiny flower-painted tables and a few teak chairs atop a metre-wide wooden deck in front of their home. Or being startled by the otherworldly screech of a lone goose patrolling another home’s front yard, neck outstretched, wings spread (we think it actually is a ‘guard goose’—for reals!). The sois have become a real form of cheap entertainment for us. An ancient Buddhist temple seems to exist on every corner, and saffron-robed monks rub elbows with tourists at the night markets. It’s nothing like the noise, speed and intensity of Bangkok.

It’s been nice to stop and catch our breath, read a book or two, play some scrabble, and get to know a place. We have favorite restaurants (Prego, and the noodle soup stand by Wawee Coffee), coffee shops (MoRooms) and bars (UN Irish Pub) that we return to. In fact, we’ve become regulars at the UN, thanks to Canucks games on delay and Thursday night trivia. Not to mention the inexpensive Sang Som sets: a bottle of Thai rum, two frosty old-school bottles of coke and a bucket of ice, all for about $8. Just don’t drink the whole thing before the first round of trivia.

It hasn’t been perfect, though. Food poisoning finally got us. Well, one of us. A street food dinner at the night market took Janelle out for a couple of unhappy days and nights. For those keeping track at home, Janelle has, since we started traveling, had a root canal, been dragged behind a motorcycle by thieves, subsequently re-injured her arm ziplining, and now, the food poisoning. I, on the other hand, got a sore tummy from eating too much fruit, but I’ll be okay.

Aside from that, though, it’s been pretty good. We got our Chinese visas this morning, and spent the afternoon sketching out the route we’ll take to get there, hopping through towns in northeast Thailand and northern Laos en route to Yunnan province.