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Chiangmai, Thailand

Near the tip of northern Thailand and roughly three hours by car, both east and west, from the Burmese (now Myanmar) and Laotian borders lies the centuries old provincial mountain town of Chiangmai. It's here, both inside -- and in the teak-treed forests outside -- the old moat and crumbling stone walls that centuries ago protected the town from invasion, that I've holed up for the past few days and nights. It's here, smack in the middle of the infamous Golden Triangle -- that tropical slice of the planet which once supplied poppies for the illicit opium trade -- where I have snorted out (pardon the pun) and found the local darts scene.

Sometimes in a foreign land the search for a game is limited only by one's command of the language necessary to get pointed in the right direction. The thing is -- there's a world of difference between setting off with a list of handy vocabulary and actual command of that vocabulary. Pronunciation is often critical to the successful communication experience.

Just as in English where the same word, depending on the context, can mean entirely different things (as in "can": "Hey! Find some cigarette ashes so I can rub this crayon off the scoreboard"; "Beer in a can tastes like puke"; "Hold it a minute -- my partner's in the can"; "Look at the can on her!") words in Thai, particularly when one factors in the complexities of intonation and how people from different cultures actually hear words spoken by another, can mess up the untrained big time.

The point of all this is just to say that it took me two days to find a board in Chaingmai. Locals who at first thought I was shopping for a puppy pointed me to the heart of the darts scene when I finally learned that the word for dart ("look dog") was pronounced "loo dah".

It turns out, as is the case most anywhere, that darts is more than just alive in Chaingmai. There's an organized league -- the Changmai Pub Darts League (CPDL) -- that competes weekly throughout the small city. Teams are fielded from ten locations. I hit four of them.

At the top of the list has to be The Pub (189 Huay Keow). Once rated by Newsweek Magazine as one of the world's best pubs, The Pub is Chaingmai's oldest tavern and founding sponsor of the CPDL. The set up is excellent. If the shooters I met -- Jeep, Goi and Nga -- knew their out shots I'd have had a hefty Singa beer tab at the end of the night.

Next is a tossup between the Red Lion and the White Lotus both located near Charoen Prathen inside the old moat in the center of town. The Red Lion is owned by a British guy named Kevin who maintains the CPDL's statistics. The place is small, the crowd is international and the one board is in a small room in the rear. Kevin gave me a few games, lost them all, paid me in beer and then wandered off to talk with other patrons, unlike me, who appeared to actually give a rat's ass about the Liverpool Football Club and other things British.

As the name implies, the White Lotus is very much a local hangout. Here you'll find three rock hard boards and some of the softest competition I've come across in my travels. Still, the atmosphere is one-of-a-kind, thoroughly Thai, and entirely worth an evening of your time.

Finally, if you feel like mixing in a round of golf with your darts, you might hit the Gymkana Club (on Nong Hoi). There's just one board in the clubhouse but it's better than the golf course and on Monday evenings the best of the CPDL gather for a Luck of the Draw tournament.

At the end of the day, regardless of where you choose to step to the line in this spectacular mountain getaway, you won't be disappointed. Moreover, you'll be pleased with what you find when your darts are tucked away in their case. The city is quaint, compact enough to navigate by bicycle, relaxed and about as friendly as you'll find anywhere in the world. A visit to one of the more than 300 Buddhist temples can be an experience in itself. A walk in the cool night air past the remnants of the old walls and fortified gates which bound the old city is simply surreal.

Then, be certain to stop at the Good View restaurant set on the banks of the tree-lined Ping River which winds through the center of town. Pass on the things that look like potato chips -- they're actually fish stomachs. I recommend the pizza. But be careful. I asked for a pizza with pepperoni on it and received a circle of baked dough smothered in pepper.

As I've said, pronunciation can be the key to a successful communication experience!

From the Field,

Dartoid

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