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5 days in north Thailand--would it be unthinkable to leave out Chiang Mai?

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Jan 27th, 2013, 09:11 AM
  #1
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5 days in north Thailand--would it be unthinkable to leave out Chiang Mai?

Hello, Everybody who might have an opinion on this.

We're starting to put together an itinerary for Hong Kong/Thailand for October. Hong Kong/Bangkok/Chiang Rai area. Hong Kong is a revisit for us as is Bangkok. It's the north that I have a question about. We'll have between 5 and 6 days allotted to that area, 1 1/2 to 2 days of which will be to visit friends who are in a volunteer work in the Chiang Rai area. Our main purpose is to visit with them and be folded into their work for a few hours, but we would also like to have a bit of cultural immersion outside of that. Something with elephants, a cooking school, historical sites, a trip to the Golden Triangle possibly.
I've been pouring over posts here and on Trip Advisor, and it appears that while Chiang Mai is a bigger draw than Chiang Rai, it is actually a sprawling city and a large percentage of the cultural activities take place on day trips outside of town. My question is this: since we'll need to be in the Chiang Rai area for our friends, would we be "missing out" just to use that as our base and not include Chiang Mai?
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Jan 27th, 2013, 09:32 AM
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Chiang Mai certainly is a huge, sprawling city. If you want to see countryside and smaller cities and towns, you can skip it.

If you want to do something with elephants, choose carefully. There are two elephant camps I recommend: The Elephants Nature Park and the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. Don't go to the commercial camps if you care how the elephants are treated. If you budget can take it, consider a stay at the Anantara at the Golden Triangle - they have a small division of the Thai Elephant Conservation Center on their grounds.
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Jan 27th, 2013, 09:40 AM
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Thank you, Kathy. I always love your input, and I appreciate so much the info you shared when we were planning our Borneo trip a few years ago. Yes. We care about animals. Not just elephants, but here at home with three rescue dogs, four rescue cats, and two bearded dragons(Grandsons).
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Jan 27th, 2013, 09:49 AM
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Wow! I just checked out the Anantara. Staying there would be a dream, but unfortunately it's way out of our price range. My travel has has always been in the mid price range, and I've been happy with that. It would be nice one time, though, to just splurge. Not feasable this time, though.
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Jan 27th, 2013, 10:42 AM
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I wouldn't say, all things being relative, that Chiang Mai is huge. I'm not fond of huge and I like Chiang Mai just fine, have spent chunks of time there on several occasions. But Chiang Rai is smaller and there's really no particular reason to use time in CM if your friends are in Chiang Rai.

The Golden Triangle, for tourists' purposes is just a pleasant area along the Mekong River and if one didn't know the history it's just kind of a lazy place to hang out and, a bit south of the "triangle", to cross to Laos for the boats down to Luang Prabang. However, one thing I found very interesting was the small opium museum on the main north/south road that runs parallel to the river. I recommend a stop of you are in the area.
www.houseofopium.com
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Jan 27th, 2013, 01:02 PM
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It's hard for me to believe how expensive the Anantara is these days (though it is downright cheap in comparison to the Four Seasons tented camp!). We stayed there right after it opened and paid something like $120 a night! The excellent Opium Museum is directly across the road from the entrance to the Anantara. I don't know if this is the location where MmePerdu saw it or not, as it was moved to this location maybe 10 years ago.
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Jan 27th, 2013, 01:29 PM
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The location of the House of Opium we visited is the one on the website so, presumably, yes. Glad you agree, Kathie, that the place is fascinating.
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Jan 27th, 2013, 05:47 PM
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that museum had/has a few rooms which it rents..

one of the best museums i have visited

i could and do skip chiang mai most trips..
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Jan 28th, 2013, 12:48 AM
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I am clearly in minority here but I much prefer Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and have vistited the city probably 5 or 6 times over the last 25 years. It is Thailands second largest city and there is a degree of urban sprawl but it still only takes 20 mins or so to drive from the old city into the countryside. There are many activities to keep you occupied or simply just wander the old town on foot. With its many Wats and markets and some of the best food in Thailand, there is plenty to keep your interest. There are plenty of cookery schools in and around town. We spent 4 days and nights at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School last year and it was one of the best experiences we have had in Thailand in a long time.

Chiang Rai is a good base for visiting some of the Towns near the Lao and Burmese borders and the town itself is ok but doesn't hold a candle to CM. these are not the only two options of course. Mai hong sorn, Mai Sariang are more "authentically Thai" towns but take a bit more time to get to and for countryside pursuits and scenery, Chiang Dao is definitely worth a couple of days it is only a couple of hours from CM but there are loads of activities available and some great scenery close by http://nest.chiangdao.com/
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Jan 28th, 2013, 01:45 AM
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Just a minor correction for crellston's comment above. Chiang Mai is the 5th largest city in Thailand in term of population size.

With 5 days in the North of Thailand I would based myself in Chiang Mai or on the outskirt of town (Mae Rim etc). Chiang Rai and the attractions around there are only 2 - 3 hours drive away but at night Chiang Mai has more to offer especially for restaurants.
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Jan 28th, 2013, 06:40 AM
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Decisions. Decisions. Thank you all for your input. Anybody else who would be willing to weigh in....welcome.
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Jan 28th, 2013, 07:35 AM
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Crellston & Hanuman, I absolutely agree that Chiang Mai is the more interesting of the 2 cities by far. But given that the OP's friends are in Chiang Rai and they only have 5 days... So, unthinkable? No, not really. Unfortunate, yes, because you've allocated so little time to a very nice part of the world. You should give yourself time to do both.
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