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Beach/Hotel in southern Thailand

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Hi everyone! This is my first Fodor's forum post- I hope I post this properly!

My friends and I (we are over 40+) are flying from Chiang Mai to Phuket airport in April- we havent picked a place to stay and must choose something soon. Is it too broad to ask where a good place that doesnt take hours to travel from the airport that puts us in a place where we get the best of all worlds (great surroundings, great hotel but close to local fare and also access to islands). Rawai seemed like a location that might be close to everything - but Im sure there are more options than that. My price range for a hotel is no more than $170/night.

Thanks in advance!

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