Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai

Old Apr 27th, 2007, 07:47 AM
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Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai

After Bangkok, sailing the islands off Phuket and spending a little beach and rainforest time around Khao Lak & Khao Sok, we want to head north in Thailand. We would like a good sampling of northern topography - mountains & waterfalls, a glimpse of hilltribe life, a good cooking class, maybe an introduction into the life of elephants, some craft markets that aren't overly touristy, Thai massage, some nice R&R.

What are the Fodorites opinions? CM, CR, a little of both, someplace completely diffrent? We could have as few as 5 or as many as 8 days to spend. As examples of our type of consideration we have looked at the Phu Chaisai Mountain Resort, but wonder if it is too isolated.

The Kao Hom Cooking School in Chiang Mai seems wonderful and I'm not seeing anything like it near Chiang Rai.

I've heard that the elephant conservation camp near Chiang Rai is quite different than most of the circus sideshows put on for tourists in other places. That would be a good thing.

Your advice will be greatly appreciated.

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Old Apr 27th, 2007, 08:40 AM
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This question gets asked with some frequency. Do a seach and you'll find lots of opinions.

I'm not a fan of CM, but some others are. It's a huge, sprawling city with lots of particulates in the air and no public transportation. If you are interested in nature, hilltribes, etc, I don't recommend that you access it from CM. I like the Golden Triangle area, and if your budget can acommodate a stay at thr Anantara at the Golden Triangle, I'd highly recommend it. It has a branch of teh Elephant Conservation camp on the grounds and it has a great cooking school. It would be a good few days entry or exit from northern Thailand.

You may want to get more off the beaten path, so Mae Hong Son or Pai might be good stops for you. Ther are lots of places to stay that are out in the country. Whether it's "too isolated" depends on what you are looking for. If you want access to a variety of places to eat or shop, if you object to using the hotel's transport, etc., then yes, it's too isolated. If you want somewhere out in the "wilderness" and know you'll be using your hotel's services for almost everyhting, then it's fine.
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Old Apr 27th, 2007, 01:13 PM
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Thanks Kathy. I have read much of what is posted here about both CM and CR. Anatara sounds lovely, but I think its just a little too upscale for our taste. We're just not sure what to do. While many commentaries make the elephant encounters and the hilltribe visits sound wonderful, others call them circus acts and human zoos. We are interested in neither of the last two. I'll keep reading.
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Old Apr 27th, 2007, 01:33 PM
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My son and his wife did a trek through Sergeant Kai two years ago. They were picked up at CM airport and transported into the hills. There was a guide and an asistant. They trekked for two days and never saw another farang. They slept in the villages, helped in the cooking and rode elephants (I think they saw some farangs at this part, but just in passing). They loved the exposure to the hilltribes. Sergeant Kai can be reached at It wasa not very expensive. There are many other trekking possibilities. Some touristy and others not.
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Old Apr 27th, 2007, 02:31 PM
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I love Chiang Mai but I haven't been to Chiang Rai.

A beautiful place near Chiang Mai that you may be interested in checking out is Chiang Dao, about an hour from CM. It is a beautiful area in the hills.

For more info go to

We loved it there!
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Old Apr 27th, 2007, 02:52 PM
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My husband and I had many of the same thoughts and wants from our trip to northern Thailand as you have posted. While we haven't been yet, I share what we decided to do. We ended up splitting our time between the two places.

We are doing the special elephant package at the Anantara. We have never stayed at a place this nice before and it isn't our preferred method of traveling. However, the experience offered by the three day mahout camp was just too much for us to pass up. So we'll enjoy our one little side trip into the lap of luxury That takes care of our elephant needs.

We are then doing three days/two nights in Chang Mai, staying at the Baan Orapin and that's where we'll be doing our cooking class. We're following KimJapan's advice and taking a cooking class through

After that, we're heading outside Chang Mai to stay at the Baan Rai Lanna. This is where we'll get our trekking in at. We'll be there for four nights.

So in total, nine nights in the Golden Triangle.

Like I said, we haven't been yet so I can't give personal reviews, but this is just what we thought was the best itinerary for us, based on our wants.
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Old Apr 27th, 2007, 03:57 PM
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The Thai Elephant Conservation Center is very good. We did the 3 day mahout training in December 2005. This summer we are going to the Anantara in the Golden Triangle and doing their 3 day program, main difference being real beds, pool and spa. The Anantara also has a cooking school that gets good reviews. The elephant man at the Anantara has a very informative website and keeps a blog as well. Good reading whether you go there or would help you in choosing an alternative should the Anantara not be your style. was the only place in Chiang Mai that would customize a course for our family of 2 experienced cooks (1 of who was a chef before living in Japan) and a 7 year old girl who is also experienced and eager. We did a private course of dishes we selected with Yui that went well beyond the usual cooking school menu of relatively simple dishes like pad thai, curries, sticky rice and mango. We would recommend them without reservation as being very professional, clean, friendly, fun and flexible.

Be very careful in arranging hill tribe visits. has very good information that we should all consider when planning our trips.
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Old Apr 27th, 2007, 04:11 PM
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You also might be interested in these places.

Fern Resort

Mut Mee's

Maekok River Village

Joy's House
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Old Apr 27th, 2007, 04:57 PM
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Kim - Have you used for a tour? If so, how was your experience?
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Old Apr 27th, 2007, 05:03 PM
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We haven't used them, but their general info is very good. The man, Randy, posts on on the Thailand board often and a few there have used them happily. Randy posted here a couple of times, too...posts listed here and also on trip advisor, same screen name, allthai.

We tend to not use tours...we will have Tong in Bangkok this year for some time, and it's really our first time to book any kind of tour after having a nightmare tour guide for a private tour in BKK our first visit there. Since then, we've done it on our own or met a driver we liked and used again during a stay somewhere.
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Old Apr 27th, 2007, 05:18 PM
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Thanks Kim, we don't usually do tours either, but have found that we do like a driver and someone (guide) to explain things to us. We are definitely not interested in any kind of group tour. Thanks for the info!
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Old Apr 27th, 2007, 05:40 PM
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I think both are worth visiting although CM has more to offer in activities (shopping, cooking school, restaurants etc. I might suggest the you fly into CR and from there explore the golden triangle with a car/driver for a day trip. The Legend, Central River House and the Dusit Island are good places to stay. From CR take a longtail boat down to Thaton (4-5hrs) and stay at the Maekoh River Village Resort for a couple of days. Nice quiet river town that does not get many tourist staying only passing though to take the boat to CR. You can visit hilltribe villages which are less touristy than other places. From here take a taxi to CM (4hrs).

Or alternatively hire a car/driver for the trip from CR to CM and after a few days in the city consider staying at Baan Rai Lanna an hours drive north in the mountains. Here you can do elephant camp, river rafting, waterfalls, hot springs, biking, visit villages or just enjoy the pool and mountain scenery. Has gotten very good reviews and is very reasonable priced.
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