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Thailand Newbie

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An update to my last thread - I am now traveling to Thailand alone and I'm a little nervous.

I will have 9 days. Would like to spend some time in Phuket for the limestone cliffs and the weekend night market. I would also like to visit Chiang Mai to volunteer at the Elephant Nature Reserve. I've heard mixed reviews about CM in general though - Would it be better to skip this area altogether? Is there another area in Thailand that I could volunteer for a similar place? Or should I just stick to Phuket and Bangkok?

Trying to figure out how best to lay out my days. I know it's not much time at all to see such a big country, but I'm always moving, I like to see/experience as much as I can. I'm VERY active (big into fitness), I'll be just shy of my 30th birthday, and am traveling in late May (monsoon season, I know).

Also, being that I'm staying alone would a hostel be a better choice for me? If anyone has recommendations, that would be great. I'm shy, but I'm figuring I might be able to meet some people this way and maybe have some companions throughout the trip. I know AirBnB has some options to stay with locals, but wasn't sure if that would be a better option over a hostel type environment.

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