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Travel through Thailand - Planes, Trains, Ferries?

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Hi all,
We (family of 5 - 2 adults, 3 kids aged 11, 11 and 8) are headed to Thailand from San Francisco for 2 weeks over the holidays (Dec 23-Jan 7) and while I have the basics of our itinerary sorted out, I'm struggling a bit with some of the transportation.

We will be in Bangkok Dec 23-27, then flying up to Chiang Mai where we will stay until 1/1/13. From CM we are headed south to Koh Lanta, but getting there seems to be more complicated than I thought. Per our hotel, we can fly either Chiang Mai -> Phuket, and then van/ferry over to Lanta (about 5 hours from Phuket), or we can fly CM to Bangkok to Krabi, and then ferry to Lanta from Krabi (2+ hours from Krabi). While I'm ok with either, arranging flights that work out time wise and still being able to catch the ferries is a bit concerning. We will be in Lanta until Jan 6 when we head (somehow?) back to Bangkok and fly out just after midnight that night.

My other idea is to rent a car in Phuket (suggested on some TripAdvisor forums) and make the 4-5 hour drive/car ferry to Lanta ourselves. Might be a fun adventure, but don't want to do this if its not a good idea!

Any suggestions/ideas/tour companies/etc on the above would be most appreciated. Thanks!

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