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Understanding beach destinations in Thailand

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We are beginning to put shape to a Thailand vacation this coming winter (we gave up on our original idea last year when I realized how hot the summer months would be). Depending on airline prices we are looking at some time in January or February. We will probably have about two weeks and I'm thinking of dividing it something like 5 nights Bangkok, 5 nights beach destination and 5 nights Chang Mai (could be in different order).

I am bewildered by all the beach options. The more I read, the more confused I get, and it's hard to picture what they are like in a part of the world that is so outside of our prior experience, so help.

thoughts are:
1. relatively simple to get to so that we don't spend too much time in transit
2. (and this may contradict one) not too crowded. We are not party people - more walk on the beach, explore towns, snorkel, quietly enjoy, good food, take in the beauty.

so any suggestions of particular towns that you would suggest given the above, or that you've enjoyed staying in, or that you would recommend for that time of year?

and any particular hotels - we would probably be looking at the higher end places as comfort does matter to us, but we're not really into big resorts - maybe a small to midsize resort or boutique hotel would be good. All advice appreciated. Thanks

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