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Planning a trip to Thailand and Cambodia for 2014! Feedback wanted!

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My husband and I have recently returned from our wonderful trip to India, and I can only cope with the withdrawals from that trip with planning another trip. Before India, I'd never really thought much about traveling to Asia, but now am so excited to be planning a trip to SE Asia for next year. We'll have 3 weeks to travel, and am thinking about mid/late January to early February 2014.

We are a 60 to mid-60s couple who like to travel budget/moderately. We generally prefer to stay in smaller hotels/guest houses/b&bs for a personal connection, although we’ll stay in larger hotels when it seems right.

We like a mix of urban and rural locations in our travels and our interests lie in understanding, experiencing and (to whatever extent possible) the culture of the place we're visiting. We like history/culture, scenery/nature, and like to walk but are not serious hikers or trekkers. Small villages, off the beaten track places are especially appealing for me. If any festival is taking place, that would be wonderful to know about. We're thinking about Thailand and Cambodia, as follows (early, preliminary outline):

Bangkok (5 nights)
Chiang Mai (3-4 nights)
Chiang Rai & region (4-5 nights)
Siem Reap (4-5 nights)

Bangkok and Siem Reap are absolute musts. Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai both sound intriguing to me and seem to offer the things I’m interested in. I

I will hire guides as needed. Recommendations for good guides are most welcome!

In CM, a visit to an Elephant conservation camp (ie, Elephant Nature Park, Thai Elephant Home), possibly a cooking class, the night market. Lots of wats. Visit a hill tribe outside of CM?

CR & northern region:
-Hill tribes (not overly commercialized)
-Golden Triangle
-Raft ride to view village life
-White Temple
-Opium Museum
-Scenic vistas
-markets

I’ve read many good reports about the guide, Jermsak, and I like the types of activities and places he goes. I'll certainly contact him as I start to solidify the plans.

Bangkok and Siem Reap have more than enough to keep us busy and I won’t list them all now. I would also like to visit a floating village outside of Siem Reap. Any other sites or places that are not to be missed that you’d recommend?

Finally, the flights. I noticed that Korea Air flies from NY (stops in Seoul). Although it’s more expensive, we can fly into Chiang Mai and return from Siem Reap. This seems to be seriously worth considering as the costs would be made up in not having to go in and out of Bangkok several times. The trip would be very easy without any backtracking.:
Chiang Mai – Chaing Rai – Bangkok – Siem Reap. Other than cost, is there any reason why I shouldn’t travel this route or airline?

If we do fly in and out of Bangkok, what would be the best/easiest way to coordinate these places? Since there are no direct flights from NY to Bangkok, I would simply get the least expensive tickets that are also the most efficient (fastest, one stop).

Finally, how does this trip sound to you? I'm so torn, would love to visit so many places, but I'm afraid that I'm limited by work demands and I'm lucky to have 3 weeks from my office. I'd love to add Vietnam, but would prefer not to rush through places, so I'm sticking with my current itinerary for now. I'd also really love to go to Southern India (we just came back from Rajasthan/Varanasi/Delhi and loved it), but I think the SE Asia trip makes sense for a next trip.

Please feel free to critique, suggest, or even reassure.

Many thanks,
Paule

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