King Mangrai established this small town, which is similar to Pai as far as the available activities goes, after coming across the site in a hunt for his favourite elephant, which had run away. Although the town itself is nothing special, many better-funded travellers will appreciate the better selection of up-market accommodation available in the surrounding countryside, which includes the infamous Golden Triangle, a formerly lawless drug-running area. For camping as you have never known it before, try the five-star Four Seasons Tented Camp Resort, where the only similarity with Western camping is a canvas and, a novelty for Thailand, a log fire. Another major draw is the world-class Santiburi golf course.
Don't forget to buy a jar or two of the local speciality, slightly sweetened and pickled one-clove-per-bulb garlic. To eat it the traditional way, go to a bakery and buy some bread, then to 7-11 for some cheese, brown sauce and butter. Put the picked garlic, brown sauce and cheese between slices of buttered bread for a traditional meal - traditional English, that is, as the result closely resembles a cheese and Branston pickle sandwich.
Why bother to go to Chiang Rai when you can access pretty much all the same attractions from Chiang Mai? Chiang Mai is a fairly big place and to get anywhere out of the city requires a bit of a journey there, then back, which for most people entails a group tour. From Pai or Chiang Rai you can be more impulsive and relaxed. Instead of signing up for group-tour cultural voyeurism, you can just jump on your bike and disappear into the landscape, which is an infinitely more authentic experience than traipsing around after a tour guide while people attempt to sell you things - why not have a cup of tea or a cigarette with a hill-tribe lady or gentleman, rather than just taking their picture? Don't be fooled by the happy smiles on these peoples' faces, though, as the hill tribes are some of the country's poorest and most vulnerable people. The reason you don't see many young women is because so many of them are off working flat out in Patpong, Patong and Pattaya.
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