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Safety and Precautions
Malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases are rare in northern cities, but if you're traveling in the jungle during the rainy season (June to October), consider taking antimalarials. If you're trekking in the mountains or staying at hill tribe villages, pack mosquito repellent. Spray your room about a half hour before turning in, even if windows have screens and beds have mosquito nets.
Chiang Mai and other communities in northern Thailand are generally safe. However, it's a good idea to leave your passport, expensive jewelry, and large amounts of cash in your hotel safe. Keep a copy of your passport with you at all times, as police can demand proof of identification and levy a fine if you don't produce it. Always walk holding bags on the side of you facing away from the street, as Chiang Mai has its share of motorcycle thieves who snatch your bag as they drive by. In a medical emergency, head to Chiang Mai. The police hotline is 191.
Expatriate volunteers assist the Tourist Police. The volunteers' powers are limited, but they can at least direct you to someone who can assist you further.
ATMs are everywhere in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, and most towns and larger villages have at least one machine. Every bank has at least one ATM, but if there are no convenient banks, head for a branch of the ubiquitous convenience store chain 7-Eleven, where an ATM is invariably to be found next to the entrance. Banks open Monday through Friday 9:30 to 3:30, closing on weekends and public holidays. All banks have an exchange counters; money can also be exchanged at some outlets in central Chiang Mai. Most businesses and restaurants accept credit cards (usually preferring MasterCard or Visa). Simpler Thai restaurants accept only cash.
Northern Thailand has the full range of accommodation, from simple guesthouses to five-star resorts. Optimistic prognoses by Thailand's tourist authorities led to a boom in hotel construction in recent years, mostly in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai but also studding the region's mountains with resorts and spas, many of them lacking none of the luxury and facilities of Chiang Mai's top hotels. Chiang Mai, particularly, is witnessing the construction of so-called "boutique" hotels—small, comfortable, and well-appointed establishments of no more than 40 or so rooms. Most of these are built in "Lanna" style, reminiscent of this region's earlier architecture, with the accent on dark teak and white stucco. Some of the top hotels—the Chedi, for instance—are internationally known for embracing a "contemporary Asian" look, combining sleek lines with decorative Oriental features. Any visitor interested in architecture or interior design is recommended to visit either the Chedi or the Rachamankha hotel for afternoon tea or pre-dinner cocktails.
Tours of northern Thailand are offered by Bangkok travel agencies, but it's best to book with one of the many reliable companies in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, which are likely to have a deeper local knowledge of the region. Mountain tours of one or two days, pack-in elephant riding, white river rafting, jungle trekking, and visits or overnights in hill tribe villages are very popular. They are invariably led by guides with close knowledge of their region and with acceptable English. If you're touring alone or as a couple, you can draw up your own itinerary (omitting, for instance, visits to "Long Neck" villages, a controversial issue in Thailand), but it's far more fun to join a group—and, of course, it's cheaper (B800-B100 a day).
Tours are also arranged by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (or TAT; www.tourismthailand.org), which has offices in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, and Nan.
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