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Thailand - do we need a tour company?

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Hello - I'd like to start planning a trip to Thailand for next year. I'm thinking we would go to Bangkok, Chang Mai, Chang Rai, and a beach area (maybe Phuket). Our favorite part of traveling is usually seeing wildlife or exploring ancient ruins.

My main question is -- do I need to book a package deal through a tour company to do something like this? Or, is this something that I can/should piece together on my own? For example, when we traveled to Africa last year, that was not something you could just piecemeal on your own -- you needed a guide to take you to the parks, etc. Is Thailand like that? I have no problem traveling with a group but, because we like to take LOTS of pictures, I wouldn't want to have to be dependent upon other travelers' schedules.

If I book through a tour company, are there any other "must see" places, particular for animal lovers like us?

Thanks so much! Gerie

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