Many people dream about it and with airfares having literally dropped over the past few years, traveling to Thailand is now financially accessible. After an old article about where to go in Thailand, I’ll now explain when is the best time to visit this country.
Just to reassure you, there is nothing to be afraid of in a tropical country, except for a few heat, sunburn and torrential rains. Things would be different if you were planning to go to Norway, Iceland, Mongolia, or Patagonia for example, where you could literally freeze to death on site.
In this article, I’ll try to guide you as best as possible, I hope, for your trip to Thailand. The idea is to optimize your stay in the country according to the climate (rain/heat), the local festivals, activities (treks, diving), but most of all the places you will visit. Going 2 weeks on Phuket’s beaches will be way different in terms of climate than discovering the mountains north of Chiang Mai. So, when should you go to Thailand? We are coming to that point. I spent a total of almost 3 months travelling in Thailand, and over several seasons!
Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Not an easy question when we know that Thailand stretches over nearly 1800 km from North to South. Indeed, we agree that temperatures are not the same in Florida than in New-York? Well, it will be the same here between Chiang Rai and Phuket island…
Here are some generalities on the country’s main seasons, according to temperatures and precipitations, characteristic of the tropical climate. There are usually two or even three seasons there.
This is the main point many people will look at before their vacation in Thailand, to avoid being under raining storms. I admit that it can clearly spoil your vacation if there are showers for 15 days in a row. Usually, most of the rain falls between May and November all over the country, with some local specifics we will talk about below. During this period, temperatures are high (29/30°) with a very important humidity level. The country can therefore be affected by major floods, depending on the area, and you may need to adapt your trip. For information, I spent a few weeks there during the rainy season, especially on the island of Koh Lanta in June. So, it’s of course not ideal as it can rain every day for a few hours, but nothing too bad – we still had sunny days! The sea is however not ideal for swimming.
Spreading from December to April, the dry season remains the best time of year to go to Thailand. It is obviously when the biggest part of the tourist season is present (especially December-January). That’s perfect timing for European/US tourists, as these are the coldest months there!
The March-April-May months stand out because they are the hottest of the year throughout the country (which is called hot season). Nothing really unbearable I think, but it is not the best time speaking of climate. During this time of year, countryside and landscapes are very green. It is also the season with the highest prices (especially at the end of the year). Some adjustments have to be made, especially in the south of the country which has climatic particularities depending on the coast we’re staying.
Treks and visits of the north of the country (Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai – Golden Triangle)
Overall, northern Thailand remains less humid than the south. The entire area is subject to the southwest monsoon, mainly from May to September, where rainfall is heavy. The months of July and August are the wettest in Northern Thailand, and the ones you clearly should avoid if you plan to do some trekking there.
Ideally, you should focus on the driest period, starting from October to April in the North. While knowing that March, April and May are the hottest months. Overall, I would therefore recommend you think about the months of November to February, a period where rainfall is almost non-existent and average temperatures are mild (23/25°). Do not forget to bring warm clothes if you go up in altitude at the border of Burma or China. Temperatures can go down to almost 0°, depending on the area… I was in January in the furthest North, and a blanket and sweaters in the evening/night do not go amiss.
The capital of Thailand enjoys a dry savannah type climate. Concretely, the main difference with the North of the country is regarding temperatures, which are much hotter in the center (between 27 and 32° over the year). To avoid rain, you should not go there between the months of May to October. Ideally, December to February is an ideal period for visiting Bangkok.
Ayutthaya & Sukhothai
These are the two most visited temple areas in Thailand, and very many visitors stop by there. Located in the center of the country, they have more or less the same climate as Bangkok. The months of December to March is perfect to visit these Buddhist temples, with very little rainfall and relatively mild temperatures. In the best case scenario, if you can, go in December or January, as the heat starts from March.
L’Isan et l’est de la Thaïlande
I know for a fact that very few foreigners wander into this rural part of the country. Rightly or wrongly? In my opinion, it is a very interesting region, but most importantly very authentic, far from the crowds and mass tourism you’ll find in the South.
If you plan to visit the area, you can consider the same recommendations than for Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, which is ideally December and January, the coolest and least rainy months. From June to September, the area is watered by the monsoon.
The South of the country still is much more visited than the North, with many tourists looking for white sandy beaches, coconut palms, and diving sites. It is the perfect area, but be aware of the particular weather conditions differing on the west (Andaman Sea) and the east coast (Gulf of Thailand).
The west coast
If your travel plan is to go on vacation in Phuket or on the Andaman Sea for diving, be careful of the southwest monsoon which is globally from April to November. Yes, it is long and the rains can be intense, creating big floods in the area. Ideally, the months of December to March should be preferred. Even better, January and February is truly ideal for swimming and diving on the west coast.
The East Coast
While the monsoon acts up between April and November on the west coast of the country, the east coast remains relatively sheltered. The rainiest period is spread over September to November throughout the Gulf. The months of January to April are the least rainy on the islands (Ko Samui, Ko Phangan, Ko Tao), and ideally “the coolest”. However, the climate does vary with the monsoon for diving.
You’re going to say that we can dive all year round in Thailand with these temperatures, right? So, yes, it is possible, but some months will be preferable depending on the coast. I’ll give you wide ranges. If you are going on a diving trip in Thailand, don’t hesitate to look at specialized dive sites to be sure of your choices.
To summarize roughly, the best diving seasons are reversed between the Andaman Sea (November to May) and the Gulf of Thailand (May to October). Thus, the western sites (Kao Lhak, Similan Islands, Phuket, Koh Phi Phi) will be the first choice during November – May. Eastern sites (Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, Koh Chang) will be more suitable for diving from May to October.
In my opinion, this is another very important point you have to consider when planning a trip to Thailand. Climate is a thing, but will you only rely on it to travel in the country? During my year spent in Southeast Asia, I also realized that some places can be literally crowded by tourists depending on the seasons. And there can be like, a LOT of people!
I plan more and more to travel in low season, or even out of season. So, the weather will obviously not be ideal all the time, but you will in return save on your budget (especially on accommodation) as well as avoid hordes of tourists. For example, I recently went to New Zealand in October and I came across only very few people. So yes, it was the beginning of spring and clearly not very hot, but I was more than happy to avoid the full December-January busier season… If I can travel outside of the crowds and enjoy quieter places, I rather do it!
In short, all this to say that, in Thailand, the full tourist season is in full swing during the months of November to February, with a peak in December and January. If you can travel out of season, it’s not so bad, isn’t it?
As an aside, I already told you above I stayed on the island of Koh Lanta during the off season. Everything was closed or almost, not a soul in the streets, no tourists. And honestly, I had such a great time! Sure, it rains from time to time, but it is so peaceful that it doesn’t even matter. Koh Lanta in high season must be packed with people… It’s up to you and your desires! By the way, avoiding the peak tourist season is one of the tips I recommend for a cheap trip to Thailand.
Even if it is probably not the main reason why tourists go to Thailand, I would say that you should consider it. If you are passing through, for example on a world or an Asia tour for several months, you surely are flexible. Then, arriving during local holidays in the country could be a good idea to immerse yourself in Thai culture.
Below are some local festivals or celebrations in Thailand. If you are on vacation there, it would be worth it to take part in one of them:
- Chinese New Year: Celebrated every year in late January/early February, this festival is very important in the country. Many Thai people do have Chinese origins. You’ll see big demonstrations with red colors in the Chinese districts of big Thai cities, and can enjoy nice fireworks.
- The Full Moon party: I grant you this is not a local party at all but rather a tourist party. It takes place on the beach of Haad Rin on Koh Phangan, in the Gulf of Thailand, every month on the full moon day.
- Songkran, the Thai New Year: this is the New Year celebration of the Buddhist calendar. The festival takes place every year around April 12 to 15. Huge water battles are organized in most of the major cities of the country. A very nice festival you should go to!
- Visakha Puja: This festival remains the most important of the country for the Buddhists, as it celebrates Buddha’s birth. Usually in May, huge exhibitions are held in the major cities of the country. Thai people go to temples and shrines for religious processions.
- Loy Krathong, the festival of lanterns: this wonderful festival takes place on the evening of the twelfth lunar month full moon, in November. This celebration marks the end of the rainy season in the country. For the occasion, locals build lanterns and send them to the sky in order to wipe out the mistakes made and chase away the daily annoyances.
I am coming to the end of this article. I hope you have now a better idea about when you should go to Thailand. In my opinion, the climate is important, especially to avoid monsoon season. Nevertheless, traveling in Thailand out of season can also be very interesting. If you are preparing your trip, I have written a complete travel guide on budgeting a trip to Thailand. If you are going to visit Thailand and like to plan ahead, you should look at accommodations in the country and try to book ahead of time, especially if your trip is in the busiest season.
Last but not least, even if Thailand is relatively safe, it is always a good idea to check with the Thai embassy in your country if there are any areas to avoid.
See you soon and have a nice trip to the Land of Smiles,