Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai?

Old Mar 14th, 2008, 08:05 PM
  #1  
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Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai?

Ok, I think I have overloaded my brain with information, and now cannot for the life of me decide whether to spend our 4 nights in Northern Thailand in CM or CM. We'll be there middle of next month, if it makes a difference.

Here's what we are looking for:
*Reasonably easy access to restaurants (don't have to be able to walk, but would like to be somewhere where we can easily and inexpensively take a taxi/shuttle and have a few options)
*Nice "nature" views from our hotel
*A smaller hotel with a lot of character/local flavor (I know there are a ton of these--I think I have looked at every hotel in both areas! I am just having a very hard time narrowing down, plus I am a little uncertain of exact locations/true distance and travel time between hotels and restaurants, markets, and so forth.

We are looking to do a cooking class one day, a tour to the Golden Triangle area and to visit a Hill Tribe, and spend some time with elephants. Any suggestions on the best companies/guides/places for these would be greatly appreciated as well!

Any opinions/recommendations would be so helpful! Or if you just want to make the decision for me, that would be even better. LOL

TIA!
travelgirlatl is offline  
Old Mar 14th, 2008, 08:07 PM
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CR is far more limited in every way when compared to CM....
rhkkmk is offline  
Old Mar 14th, 2008, 08:56 PM
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Based on your interests I would definitely go to Chiang Mai and stay at Baan orapin. You won't have "nature views" but you will have plenty of trees of flowers etc and it's a great place. Go to the elephant conservation center in Lampang and take a full day cooking class. You can also take a full day trip to Chiang Rai and visit a hilltribe enrounte.

Poon is an excellent driver whom you could use for the Chiang Rai trip and to go to see the elephants. you can reach her thru her sister in Bangkok at [email protected] or [email protected]. I have used her for 12 or 13 days and love her.

If you want a guide you can try Chaiya or Sgt. Kai. I have not used either but both get good reviews.
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Old Mar 14th, 2008, 09:34 PM
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Your interests can't all be filled at one of those places. If you go to CM, you probably don't want to spend a whole day in the car to and from the Golden Triangle. If you stay in the Golden Triangle (especially the Anantara at the Golden Triangle) you won't have the variety of restaurants to get to easily, but you'll have a more rural setting, with "nature" views from your room. There is also a small division of the Elephant Conservation Center at the Anantara, so you can spend time with elephants there. There is also an on-site cooking school that we thought was excellent.

Chiang Mai is a large, sprawling city. As such, it has a much larger variety of restaurants and such, but it also has terrible traffic and air pollution worse than Bangkok.

In either location, you can arrange for visits to hill tribes. But let me warn you that most hilltribe visits are hardly to unspoiled places. You would need a good guide and the willingness to walk for several hours to get to a hilltribe that is not tourist-filled or a "human zoo" (especially the long-neck women are displayed that way in many tourist-oriented villages).

You'll just have to save some things for your next trip.
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Old Mar 15th, 2008, 03:00 AM
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While the full day trip to Chiang Mai is long and you spend a lot of time in a car it can be very very pretty and there are plenty of things to see enroute (in fact the enroute is more interesting than the destination in some ways). Many people love the day trip.

I must admit to being very partial to Chiang Mai. While it is a big city, I love the "vibe" of the place. It's actually my favorite place in thailand.
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Old Mar 15th, 2008, 07:13 AM
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CM definately has more to offer than CM. How about three nights in CM and one night in the Golden Triangle. We stayed at Anantara there, which is fairly but has lovely nature views. Haven't stayed at Baan Orapin in CM, but those who have loved it. We used Sgt Kai, who was great and very knowledgeable about hill tribes in remote areas that were not touristy.
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Old Mar 15th, 2008, 07:19 AM
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In Chiang Mai, my daughter and I arranged a full day with Sgt Kai that included a bamboo raft trip and a 2-hour (quite lovely) hike to a hilltribe (not longneck) that really was pretty remote - no souvenir stands, no other tourists at all. For that day we had one of Sgt Kai's guide (Sutee). He was great. On another day, we went with Sgt Kai himself to the Lampang Elephant Conservation Centre and also to Doi Suthep. Both were wonderful days. My trip report (now getting a little old) can be found at:
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=34762799

Can't comment on Chiang Rai as we didn't have time for it. Maybe next time!
Whatever you decide, hope you have a great trip.
Karen
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Old Mar 15th, 2008, 07:10 PM
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Oops. Meant to type CM has more to off than CR.
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Old Mar 16th, 2008, 09:58 AM
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Thank you so much for the wonderfully detailed responses! I love reading all the different opinions and suggestions. I think at this point we are actually leaning towards Chiang Rai, but haven't decided 100% yet. It just may make a bit more sense since it's closer to the major activities/excursions we want to do. Still considering Mai though, as it does sound wonderful as well! Ah, decisions, decisions... I would love to do some time in both, but we are already going to be moving around a great deal on our trip so I think that might be overkill.

Anyway, thank you all again for your help--it is greatly appreciated!
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Old Mar 16th, 2008, 12:13 PM
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If you want to see elephants, I agree with Gloria that the best place is the Thai Elephant Conservations Center, which is a bit south of CM. Also, although we didn't do a cooking class, the choice in CM seems to be the best. Do a search on this forum and you will find some excellent recommendations.
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