A chill in the air at the lodge, Jim sits atop his minibus throne, and meeting folk in a local bar.

Day 182: Soppong & Chiang Mai, Thailand. We woke to a pretty chilly morning at the Cave Lodge. Mist was hanging in the valley, and for the first time this year, the fire pit in the central house had been lit. Suddenly shorts and flip flops (even with Jim’s groovy socks) seemed a little light.

We had breakfast huddled around the fire, chatting to a guy called Ian who lives on the Isle of Wight. He’s a lawyer who’s been on a business trip to Bangkok, and took the opportunity to add a side trip to Northern Thailand for some hiking and caving.

Ian was heading off on a day long caving expedition with a guide (it sounded like pretty serious stuff too, involving lots of crawling and swimming through caves). His guide kindly gave us a lift to Soppong, where we were catching a minibus back to Chiang Mai.

Tuesday is market day in Soppong (as it seems to be in a lots of Northern Thai towns). We spent a while wandering up and down dozens of stalls, mostly selling locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables, along with heaps of t-shirts with witty slogans, often with unfortunate typos. Jim was a little disappointed to find there were no insects for sale.

We had lunch at a local restaurant; really good stir fried chicken with chilli and basil and stir fried tofu with rice, cooked by a lovely lady who spoke hardly any English, but had a smile that lit up the world.

Our minibus arrived early, but left late. We’d pre-booked the front passenger seat for Jim (which Lil now calls his throne), with Lil in seat 2A right behind him. She got to sit next to two Thai ladies who snoozed their way through the journey, and took up more than their fair share of the bench seat. Lil’s elbows were flapping the entire time trying to keep them out of her space.

We mentioned in a previous blog post that there are 762 bends in the road between Pai and Chiang Mai. Today we got to experience all of them in one continuous wiggle – and at often terrifying speed. The minibus driver was a bit of a loon, spending most of the time overtaking cars and trucks on very narrow roads, often with vehicles coming the other way. He managed to do 80 km/hr in a 30 zone, and at one point was rattling along at 120 km/hr.

Despite leaving 10 minutes late, we arrived in Chiang Mai an hour earlier than scheduled (for all of the above reasons). Jim hopped out with a grin on his face, having enjoyed the amazing scenery this time, with no sign of the travel sickness he’d endured on the way out to Pai. Yay to his throne.

We caught a taxi to our hotel, which is close to the airport, in readiness for our flight out tomorrow. After settling in, we headed to a local laundromat to tackle a heap of washing. While the washing machine was doing its stuff, we wandered around the corner in search of a cold beer. We found one, in the coolest little bar ever, at the front of a store selling all kinds of stuff. A young girl still in her school uniform served us.

The bar had a big fridge full of beer, and a selection of local Thai whisky which is sold by the shot. We also got to try a new snack – slices of unripe tamarind with salt. A bit mouth drying, but delicious and probably great with a nip of the hooch.

While we were sitting drinking our beers (feeling slightly precarious given our bums were sticking out onto a fairly busy street), an elderly man on a motorbike pulled up. He ordered a large shot of whisky, sat next to us and started chatting. His name is Porn (short for an unpronounceable and very hard to spell Thai name), and he’s a security guard. He’s a really lovely guy – now 72 years old, and has previously worked as airline crew, a taxi driver and a tuk tuk driver. He gave Lil his Facebook name so she can friend him (though his Facebook page is in Thai, which should be interesting).

After Porn headed off, another guy pulled up on his motorbike, ordered a whisky shot and chatted to us for a bit. His name is Au, which sounded like he was saying Oh!. He was very interested to hear where we’d been in Thailand, and delighted to hear that we loved the place. He was meeting a friend somewhere, so quickly knocked back his large glass of whisky and jumped on his bike again.

After our clothes were washed and dried, we dropped them back to the hotel, then wandered around the corner to a local restaurant and bar for dinner. We were the only ones there (perhaps not surprisingly, given it was Tuesday evening, in an out-of-town area). A pretty quirky bar, with an eclectic selection of photographs and memorabilia on the walls, a loud TV showing the Thai news, and a bunch of cats rambling around the tables.

We ordered two lots of fried rice, one with Chiang Mai sausage and the other with chicken, and a Thai beef and lime salad – our last Thai dinner for now.

Tomorrow we’re catching a flight to Taipei, which we’re super excited about. Our hotel is only 1.5km from the airport, so we’ll enjoy a leisurely walk to the terminal. And Jim, of course, is already wondering what insect delights he’ll encounter in Taiwan.

More then.

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