Shimmering modern cities, bustling colourful markets and legendary street food. Enchanting historical sites and golden Buddhist temples. Lush mountain landscapes, steamy rainforests and stunning white-sand beaches. With so much on offer, the main question is: when is the best time to visit Thailand?
Perhaps the greatest factor affecting your trip is the climate: not only are there months of rain during the monsoon season, but temperatures can swing from comfortably warm to swelteringly hot. With this in mind, broadly speaking, the best time to visit Thailand is during the cool and dry season, from November to early April. As well as more manageable temperatures and less rain, waterfalls are in full flow, the upland flowers are in full bloom and most activities are on offer. This is also when the bulk of Thailand’s myriad festivals are staged.
The climate of most of Thailand is governed by three seasons: rainy (the least predictable, but roughly May–Oct), caused by the southwest monsoon dumping moisture gathered from the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand; cool (Nov–Feb; felt most distinctly in the far north, but hardly at all in the south); and hot (March–May).
The climate of the Gulf Coast is slightly different: it suffers less from the southwest monsoon, but is then hit by the northeast monsoon, meaning it gets most of its rainfall between September and December, with November being its rainiest month.
Note that there are variations from region to region. The upland, less humid north, experiences the greatest range of temperatures: at night in the cool season the thermometer dips markedly, occasionally approaching zero on the higher slopes, and this region is often hotter than the central plains between March and May.
The northeast experiences the very worst of the hot season, with clouds of dust gathering above the parched fields, and humid air too. In southern Thailand, temperatures are more consistent throughout the year, with less variation the closer you get to the equator.
Winter, which spans the cool and dry season, is the best time to visit Thailand to tick off the broadest range of activities. You’ll find the heat to be at its least oppressive, although temperatures can still reach a fierce 30°C in the middle of the day in some parts, and most of the country is spared the rain.
The rainy season, which hits the Andaman coast of the southern peninsula harder than anywhere else, usually ends by November, making way for the driest time and coolest time of year, with temperatures ranging from 22°C to 29°C – time to hit those famed white-sand beaches. Krabi is a hopping off point for the region’s islands and beaches, including Ko Phi Phi, Ao Nang, Ko Lanta and Laem Phra Nang (Railay), and snorkelers and divers are enticed by the reefs of the island chains of Ko Surin and Ko Similan.
The best time to visit Thailand for the Gulf Coast’s string of sheltered sandy beaches, and for the idyllic islands of the Samui archipelago is from late December – after the northeast monsoon has done its worst.
If you’re looking for adventure involving mountain trekking and jungle exploring, the dry season is also (inevitably) the best time to travel to Thailand. However, the north sees temperatures fluctuate the most: nights can be chilly, leaving a nip in the air in the mornings, and higher altitudes can be pretty cold at night, even dropping to freezing – something to bear in mind when camping on a multi-day hill tribe trek, such as around Chiang Mai.
For city buzz in Thailand's capital, the (relatively) cool season gives you Bangkok at its least hot and humid – although with average temperatures at 28°C that's pretty sizzling by western standards. From here, it's only 120km to World Heritage Site, the Khao Yai National Park, in the densely forested Phanom Dangkrek mountains.
Within the cool, dry season, the best month to visit Thailand is undoubtedly December. Not only is the weather at its most clement, there’s also always a festival of some sort nearly every day. Don’t miss the Silk and Phuk Siao Festival in Khon Kaen, where weavers from around the province come to town to sell their lengths of silk. January has a great selection of festivals too, with highlights including Chinese New Year and the Flower Festival in Chiang Mai.
Bear in mind, though, December is also a busy time, particularly around Christmas, as people look for a warm winter escape during the holidays – so do plan ahead.
Visit Thailand in spring and you’ll find yourself squarely in the hot season, regularly reaching 35°C in central Bangkok. So most Thailand travel guides will tell you that the best thing to do is head for the beaches down south, where you can regularly cool off in the sea.
It’s worth noting that temperatures in southern Thailand are more consistent throughout the year, with less variation the closer you get to the equator. But bear in mind that many rivers run too low to go kayaking or white water rafting.
The major benefit of a trip this time of year is that fewer people have the same idea, which means you’re more likely to be able to book accommodation and activities last minute.
The weather in summer, during the rainy season, is known to be the hardest to forecast. Rainfall doesn’t peak until September and October in southern parts, so many are happy to visit Thailand in June when there’ll be rain most days, but often only for a few hours in the afternoon or at night, and there’s still plenty of sunshine.
In fact, there's a case to be made for visiting Thailand during the rainy season: it's quieter for a start and the rain keeps the air fresh. You'll probably want to avoid the monsoon drenchings on the Andaman Coast, but you can hop over to the Gulf of Thailand and enjoy the lovely beaches and islands there instead.
July and August are generally wet, particularly in the north, central Thailand, and on the west coast, and you can expect high humidity.
The rains typically peak between September and October over most of Thailand. It can be harder to travel around, as unpaved roads are reduced to mud troughs, which often give way by November. These conditions can put off all but the hardiest of travellers, but if you’re looking for a cheap getaway, September is the best month to travel to Thailand for the lowest prices on flights.
Lying outside this general weather pattern is the Gulf coast of the southern peninsula. With the sea immediately to the east, this coast and its offshore islands feel the effects of the northeast monsoon, which brings rain between October and January, especially in November, but suffers less than the Andaman coast from the southwest monsoon.
Nearly all Thai festivals have a religious aspect. The most theatrical are generally Brahmin (Hindu) or animistic in origin, honouring elemental spirits and deities with ancient rites and ceremonial costumed parades. Buddhist celebrations usually revolve round the local temple, and while merit-making is a significant feature, a light-hearted atmosphere prevails, as the wat grounds are swamped with food and trinket vendors and makeshift stages are set up to show likay folk theatre, singing stars and beauty contests.
Many of the secular festivals (like the elephant roundups and the Bridge over the River Kwai spectacle) are outdoor local culture shows, geared specifically towards Thai and farang tourists. Others are thinly veiled but lively trade fairs held in provincial capitals to show off the local speciality, be it exquisite silk weaving or especially tasty rambutans.
Few of the dates for religious festivals are fixed, so check with TAT for specifics. The names of the most touristy celebrations are given here in English; the more low-key festivals are more usually known by their Thai name (ngan – usually religious – and tetsagaan – usually organized by the municipality – are the words for “festival”).
Check our calendar of events to find out the best time to go to Thailand for one of its many festivals.
Chinese New Year, Nakhon Sawan (Truut Jiin; three days between mid-Jan and late Feb). In Nakhon Sawan, the new Chinese year is welcomed in with particularly exuberant parades of dragons and lion dancers, Chinese opera performances, an international lion-dance competition and a fireworks display. Also celebrated in Chinatowns across the country, especially in Bangkok and Phuket.
Flower Festival, Chiang Mai (usually first weekend in Feb). Enormous floral sculptures are paraded through the streets.
Makha Puja, Nationwide (particularly Wat Benjamabophit in Bangkok, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai and Wat Mahathat in Nakhon Si Thammarat; full-moon day usually in Feb). A day of merit-making marks the occasion when 1250 disciples gathered spontaneously to hear the Buddha preach, and culminates with a candlelit procession round the local temple’s bot.
Ngan Phrabat Phra Phutthabat, near Lopburi (early Feb and early March). Pilgrimages to the Holy Footprint attract food and handicraft vendors and travelling players.
King Narai Reign Fair, Lopburi (Feb). Costumed processions and a son et lumière show at Narai’s palace.
Ngan Phra That Phanom, That Phanom (Feb). Thousands come to pay homage at the holiest shrine in Isaan, which houses relics of the Buddha.
Kite fights and flying contests, Nationwide (particularly Sanam Luang, Bangkok; late Feb to mid-April).
Poy Sang Long, MaeHong Son and Chiang Mai (early April). Young Thai Yai boys precede their ordination into monkhood by parading the streets in floral headdresses and festive garb.
Songkran, Nationwide (particularly Chiang Mai, and Bangkok’s Thanon Khao San; usually April 13–15). The most exuberant of the national festivals welcomes the Thai New Year with massive waterfights, sandcastle building in temple compounds and the inevitable parades and “Miss Songkran” beauty contests.
Ngan Phanom Rung, Prasat Hin Khao Phanom Rung (usually April). The three-day period when the sunrise is perfectly aligned through fifteen doorways at these magnificent eleventh-century Khmer ruins is celebrated with daytime processions and nightly son et lumière.
Visakha Puja, Nationwide (particularly Bangkok’s Wat Benjamabophit, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai and Nakhon Si Thammarat’s Wat Mahathat; full-moon day usually in May). The holiest day of the Buddhist year, commemorating the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha all in one go; the most public and photogenic part is the candlelit evening procession around the wat.
Raek Na Sanam Luang, Bangkok (early May). The royal ploughing ceremony to mark the beginning of the rice-planting season; ceremonially clad Brahmin leaders parade sacred oxen and the royal plough, and interpret omens to forecast the year’s rice yield.
Rocket Festival (Bun Bang Fai), Yasothon (weekend in mid-May). Beautifully crafted, painted wooden rockets are paraded and fired to ensure plentiful rains; celebrated all over Isaan, but especially raucous and raunchy in Yasothon.
Phi Ta Khon Dan Sai, near Loei (end June or beginning July). A re-enactment of the Buddha’s penultimate incarnation provides the excuse for bawdy, masked merry-making.
Candle Festival (Asanha Puja), Ubon Ratchathani (usually July, three days around the full moon). This nationwide festival marking the Buddha’s first sermon and the subsequent beginning of the annual Buddhist retreat period (Khao Pansa) is celebrated across the northeast with parades of enormous wax sculptures, most spectacularly in Ubon Ratchathani.
Tamboon Deuan Sip, Nakhon Si Thammarat (Sept or Oct). Merit-making ceremonies to honour dead relatives accompanied by a ten-day fair.
Vegetarian Festival (Tessagan Kin Jeh), Phuket and Trang (Oct or Nov). Chinese devotees become vegetarian for a nine-day period and then parade through town performing acts of self-mortification such as pushing skewers through their cheeks. Celebrated in Bangkok’s Chinatown by most food vendors and restaurants turning vegetarian for about a fortnight.
Bang Fai Phaya Nak, Nong Khai and around (usually Oct). The strange appearance of pink balls of fire above the Mekong River draws sightseers from all over Thailand.
Tak Bat Devo and Awk Pansa, Nationwide (especially Ubon Ratchathani and Nakhon Phanom; full-moon day usually in Oct). Offerings to monks and general merrymaking to celebrate the Buddha’s descent to earth from Tavatimsa heaven and the end of the Khao Pansa retreat. Celebrated in Ubon with a procession of illuminated boats along the rivers, and in Nakhon Phanom with another illuminated boat procession and Thailand–Laos dragon-boat races along the Mekong.
Chak Phra, Surat Thani (mid-Oct). The town’s chief Buddha images are paraded on floats down the streets and on barges along the river.
Boat Races, Nan, Nong Khai, Phimai and elsewhere (Oct to mid-Nov). Longboat races and barge parades along town rivers.
Thawt Kathin, Nationwide (the month between Awk Pansa and Loy Krathong, generally Oct–Nov). During the month following the end of the monks’ rainy-season retreat, it’s traditional for the laity to donate new robes to the monkhood and this is celebrated in most towns with parades and a festival, and occasionally, when it coincides with a kingly anniversary, with a spectacular Royal Barge Procession down the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok.
Loy Krathong, Nationwide (particularly Sukhothai and Chiang Mai; full moon in Nov). Baskets (krathong) of flowers and lighted candles are floated on any available body of water (such as ponds, rivers, lakes, canals and seashores) to honour water spirits and celebrate the end of the rainy season, and paper hot-air balloons are released into the night sky. Nearly every town puts on a big show, with bazaars, public entertainments and fireworks; in Sukhothai it is the climax of a son et lumière festival that’s held over several nights.
Ngan Wat Saket Wat Saket, Bangkok (first week of Nov). Probably Thailand’s biggest temple fair, held around the Golden Mount, with all the usual festival trappings.
Elephant Roundup, Surin (third weekend of Nov). Two hundred elephants play team games, perform complex tasks and parade in battle dress.
River Kwai Bridge Festival, Kanchanaburi (ten nights from the last week of Nov into the first week of Dec). Spectacular son et lumière at the infamous bridge.
Silk and Phuk Siao Festival, Khon Kaen (Nov 29–Dec 10). Weavers from around the province come to town to sell their lengths of silk.
World Heritage Site Festival, Ayutthaya (mid-Dec). Week-long celebration, including a nightly historical son et lumière romp, to commemorate the town’s UNESCO designation.
New Year’s Eve Countdown, Nationwide (Dec 31). Most cities and tourist destinations welcome in the new year with fireworks, often backed up by food festivals, beauty contests and outdoor performances.