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When is the best time to visit Thailand?
The climate of most of Thailand is governed by three seasons: rainy (roughly May–Oct), caused by the southwest monsoon dumping moisture gathered from the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand; cool (Nov–Feb); and hot (March–May).
Overall, the cool season is the best time to visit Thailand: as well as having more manageable temperatures and less rain, it offers waterfalls in full spate and the best of the upland flowers in bloom. Bear in mind, however, that it’s also the busiest season, so forward planning is essential.
It’s also notable that the cool season is the bulk of Thailand’s myriad festivals are staged. The months leading up to Christmas in particular are packed – with events spanning boat races and elephant round ups – but January has a great selection too, with highlights including Chinese New Year and the Flower Festival in Chiang Mai.
Weather in Thailand
There are three main seasons in most of Thailand: rainy, caused by the southwest monsoon (the least predictable, but roughly May–Oct); cool (Nov–Feb; felt most distinctly in the far north, but hardly at all in the south); and hot (March–May).
The Gulf coast’s climate is slightly different: it suffers less from the southwest monsoon, but is then hit by the northeast monsoon, making November its rainiest month.
Note that slight variations are found 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.
It’s the northeast that gets 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.
Best month to visit Thailand
As we’ve already described, the cool season – which spans November to February – is the most pleasant time to visit, although temperatures can still reach a broiling 30°C in the middle of the day. Our pick of the best months to visit Thailand is undoubtedly December.
The weather is at its most clement and there’s a festival of some sort on 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.
Visiting Thailand in December to February
Visit Thailand in winter – the cool season – and you’ll find the heat to be at its least oppressive. The rainy season, which hits the Andaman coast of the southern peninsula harder than anywhere else, usually end by November, making way for the driest time and coolest time of year with temperatures that ranging from 22 to 29 degrees celsius.
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 – something to think about when camping on a multi-day hill tribe trek.
It remains the most popular time of year to visit, though, so planning ahead is necessary.
Visiting Thailand in March to May
Visit Thailand in spring and you’ll find yourself squarely in the hot season. It regularly reaches 35 degrees in central Bangkok and so most Thailand travel guides will tell you that the best thing to do is go south and hit the beach.
To support this claim, 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. Bear in mind that many rivers run too low to go kayaking or white water rafting.
The major benefit to visiting Thailand at this time of year is that there are far fewer people, which means you’re less likely to be disappointed if you book accommodation and activities last minute.
Visiting Thailand in June to August
Visiting Thailand in summer, in the middle of rainy season, is known to be the hardest to forecast. Rainfall doesn’t peak until September and October, so some are happy to visit Thailand in June to August when there’ll be rain most days, but often only for a few hours in the afternoon or at night
Those considering a visit to southern Thailand should be aware that the rainy season hits the Andaman coast of the southern peninsula harder than anywhere else in the country – the southwest monsoon dumps moisture gathered from the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.
Visiting Thailand in September to November
Visit Thailand in autumn, during the rainy season, and you can expect the least predictable weather, varying in length and intensity from year to year: there’ll be rain most days, but often only for a few hours in the afternoon or at night. The rains usually peak in September and October, when unpaved roads are reduced to mud troughs and then give way by November.
One area of the country, the Gulf coast of the southern peninsula, lies outside this general pattern. 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.
Festivals in Thailand
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”). See the relevant town accounts for fuller details of the festivals below; some of them are designated as national holidays.
Thailand festival calendar
- 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).
April and May
- Poy Sang Long Mae Hong 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 Yasothon (Bun Bang Fai; 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 Ubon Ratchathani (Asanha Puja; 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 Phuket and Trang (Tessagan Kin Jeh; 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.
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