We took a late night six hour bus ride from the Laos/Thai border to Chiang Mai. Our lodging, the Royal Guesthouse, which turned out to be one of those ubiquitous flophouses for the "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" set. We were so tired the first night, we slept through the din. After the second night of all night frat party audio, we planned our escape.

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Lovely and relaxing Karinthip Village was a splurge for the rest of our stay, and the pool came in handy in the ninety-some degree heat. Their logo and mascot is a regal wing-ed elephant — a sort of elder statesman dumbo.

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We were surprised Chiang Mai was so hot (between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit), as we’d heard it was cooler than Bangkok.

We’d heard so many good things about Chiang Mai in general, that it was disappointing to discover that many of its pretty old wood buildings were torn down in favor of ugly sixties low-rise office and apartment buildings. A few old houses are still around though, and we ate at several that had been converted to restaurants.

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The small town scale of the downtown streets is still nice, but after Luang Prabang, Chiang Mai had the vibe of, say, a nice yet unassuming industrial Midwestern town with a large liberal arts college.

We did really enjoy the shopping. Chiang Mai is a great place to look for Southeast Asian antiques, furniture and handicrafts. We bought some nice older pieces from Burma.

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Another big draw of Chiang Mai are all the day trips one can do from there. The town is at the base of some beautiful mountains, and you can visit hill tribes and artisan villages (which seem mostly like factories mass-producing stuff for tourists now), go white-water rafting or trekking, or see any number of other attractions.