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Birding in Chiang Mai - tour operator suggestions needed

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I am planning to be in Chiang Mai in December and would like to go bird watching in Doi Inthanon Natl Park. Does anyone have a knowledgable tour operator to recommend?

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    I don't know of a tour operator, but when we were there last December, we stayed at Unlcle Dans Guesthouse in Doi inthanon, near the park headquarters. he is an acknowledged bird expert and I believe organises bird watching trips from his property. You could rent a car and drive there, it is an easy drive out of CM, and stay overnight or maybe hire a car and driver. I am pretty sure Uncle Dans Guesthouse has a website -try google.

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    Thank you, Crellston. As usual, I will follow your suggestion & contact Uncle Dan's. I would love your feedback on staying in Chiang Mai. We are staying 5 nights at the 3sis hotel. That seems like a long time but my thinking is that rather than take off & stay overnight some other place, we would just do a series of day trips. My kids only have 10 days total in Thailand with us, so I don't want to spend a lot of time changing accommodations. We are spending one day at the Elephant Nature Park, one day in cooking school, one day at Doi inthanon, & possibly a day trip to the Chiang Dao caves. I have been hesitant to ask for feedback on staying that long in Chiang Mai as there seem to be a lot of Fodorites who don't like the city & others that love it. We are real nature lovers and while I would like to stay out in the country somewhere, it would mean not seeing another area. If we are based in Chiang Mai, it seems as though we would be able to see more of a variety of places in Northern Thailand. What do you and others think?

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    If you are really nature lovers, why not stay at one of the lovely places outside of CM instead? Since you are primarily going on day trips, I see no reason to be in the city. I'm not a fan of CM, the city has a bad case of urban sprawl, no public transport, and lots of particulates in the air (they burn their trash). Staying outside of CM takes car of a lot this. You'll just need a car and driver for your time there, but that is easy to arrange and reasonably priced.

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    I agree with Kathie on most things but clearly not Chiang Mai. As regards the air quality in the city, it is a problem in CM and the rest of north Thailand, Laos and Burma at the end of the dry season when the farmers slash and burn the fields and forest. It is a major problem in some years but doesn't happen until the end of March/ beginning of April. We were there in 2007 when it was really bad and difficult to breathe, but in December you won't have a problem. If you google " air quality Thailand" you will get historical data from the government site and, I might be wrong, but doubt that this will show any real difference in air quality compared with Bangkok or other cities in the country at that time of year.

    There is no mass transit system in CM but then you don't really need it as the old city, where you are like to spend most of your time in the city, is quite compact and easy to navigate on foot. Sorngthaews also ply routes all over the city and are fun and easy to use and of course there are always taxis. But as you are spending much of your time 

    My real concern with your approach, is the amount of time you will spend going in and out of the city. Chiang Dao is only about an hour away once out of the city but getting out of the city on that side of town will take some extra time due to the traffic , unless you make an early start. Chiang Dao Nest (1 and 2 ) would be a great place to stay and they do have lots of hikes and activities direct from the propery, caves, mountain hikes, village visits etc. It is a long time since I stayed there but it still gets good reviews.

    Doi Inthanon is more or less in the opposite direction from Chiang Dao and so would be difficult to get to directly from there ( although there is now a ring road which makes things a bit easier) so staying in CM  makes sense but it is 2-3 hour drive to Doi Inthanon. Staying at Uncle Dans would make sense but be warned that, because of the altitude, it does get very cold at night. The thermometer in our bathroom register 4 degrees C when we were there. There is a bigger hotel at the park headquarters which may have heating.

    As for the city itself, there is a lot to see and do and most of it is within the city walls and easily walkable from 3 Sis. The 3 Sis owners were very helpful and, if you are not hiring a self drive car, would I am sure sort out transport arrangements for you.

    The problem with staying somewhere outside of the city as Kathie suggests is that the places you want to visit are all in different directions which means navigating either through the city or around the ring road and I am not sure how long that would take.

    In the end, I think you will spend time either driving in and out of the city or packing and unpacking and switching hotels. Personally, I like the freedom that a self drive car provides and would probably go that way it just depends in on how comfortable you are driving on the left. I am from the UK where we drive on the left but am staying in Spain for a few months and driving on the right (i.e. wrong side!) is proving challenging and causing my wife no small concern at times!

    Otherwise, I would spend 3 days in CM and do the Elephant Park, Cooking school and Doi Inthanon as day trips from there and explore the city at night ( great food btw) and a couple of nights at Chiang Dao and partake of some of their activities. Hope this helps rather than adds further confusion!

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    Thank you for your very thoughtful replies. I've been concerned about spending so much time staying in Chiang Mai but my husband kept insisting on it as he didn't want to move around. I previously booked at Chiang Dao nest & then changed my mind. I didn't think about the time it would take getting in & out of Chiang Mai so your point is very well taken. I've read that the birding around Chiang Dao is supposed to be very good and there are other sites, like the caves, that I think my kids would be very intrigued by. I was able to rebook the Nest for two nights and feel very relieved that we aren't spending all of our time staying in Chiang Mai. My husband does not want to drive on the opposite side of the road from what he's used to so we will probably hire a driver. We may even spend one day heading up to the Golden Triangle. Unfortunately, we will have to eliminate Doi Inthanon from our plans but we won't have enough time to do all we would like to.

    Thank you again for your suggestions. Any restaurants you would particularly recommend?

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    Aroon Rai is 5 mins walk from 3 Sis and does a very good Khan Toke dinner which is a selection of around 10 taster type northern style dishes in nice surroundings. It is in a lot of the guide books so a lot of other tourists get there but the food is really good. We also ate at Huen Pen on the main road close to Thae Pai Gate. Very much a family run local Thai restaurant. It is always busy but is basic and doesn't look anything special but the food is authentic, superb and cheap! We ate there several times when in CM last year.

    If you are into music then seek out the Pinter Blues Bar. A small bar which plays excellent blues music every nigh and hold live blues nights regularly.

    Hopefully Hanuman will see this post as I am sure he will have some great recs..

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