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Bangkok & Chiang Mai - hotel & travel choice

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I will be flying to BKK at the end of January. I will have 2 nights (my late night arrival and 1 Saturday night) on my own before meeting friends in Chiang Mai. I have been to Bangkok once, but this is my first time in Chiang Mai.

1) I have a choice of staying at an airport hotel and flying to Chiang Mai the next day (Saturday) and spending a day/night on my own in Chiang Mai. OR
Spending 2 nights in BKK on my own, including my late night arrival and then flying on a Sunday morning to Chiang Mai to meet friends. We will fly back to BKK for 5 nights after spending 3 nights in Chiang Mai.


2) I am leaning towards the extra night in Chiang Mai, but looking at hotels, Novotel is twice the cost of the Best Western. I know the Best Western is a 15 min shuttle ride away and the Novotel is right at the airport. I will probably spend 9 hours at the airport hotel before flying to Chiang Mai on Saturday morning. Is it worth it to spend double on the Novotel?

3) Also, any recommendations for Chiang Mai restaurants? And advice on things to do in Chiang Mai? We have a visit scheduled at the Elephant Nature Park and will visit the temples, of course.
Thanks!

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