Prime time to visit Bangkok, beaches and the back roads of Thailand
Crystal blue water lapping on pristine white sand beaches, mischievous monkeys in ancient temples, a lonely road through a lush jungle landscape, a throng of revelers on a city street, or the pulsing energy of a crowded nightclub: What do you think of when you imagine a trip to Thailand? Thailand has all this and more and enough adventure to occupy tourists year-round. But when is the best time to go?
Best time to visit
The best time to visit Thailand is pretty much any time except during a monsoon, which is daunting since the rainy season technically lasts from April or May until October or November. In reality, however, there are plenty of stretches when the rain is sporadic, and the different regions of Thailand experience the season differently. If the criteria for visiting is based entirely on the weather, November to February or March is probably the best time to go.
For those seeking lower prices and sparser crowds, the ideal time to visit Thailand is probably May to August, when it’s rainy, but not too rainy; the crowds that peaked in January and continued through the Songkran Festival in April have dispersed; and the prices for hotels and shopping are at their lowest.
Seasons and the weather
Thailand is more than just beaches, and the climate changes greatly depending on whether you’re in the mountains, in a jungle or on a beach. The interesting thing is that when it’s raining in one place, there’s probably gorgeous weather in another area that’s beckoning. The two sides of the Thai Peninsula, for example, are out of sync with each other.
East coast weather
The east coast has beautiful weather from December to February, with temperatures beginning to rise in March, and the rainy season kicking in with a little bit of rain in June, with the major storms starting in August and peaking in October or November. When visiting Songkhla, for instance, expect temperatures from December to February to reach average heights in the upper 80s and low 90s, as opposed to the high 90s experienced from May through September.
West coast weather
For Phuket, on the west coast, the weather is ideal between November and March, and even though the high temperatures can reach 95 degrees F at that time, they typically hover around 90. The rains begin earlier on the west coast, starting in May and peaking in September or October. One thing both coasts have in common: humidity. For those unused to tropical climates, the humidity, which hovers around 75 percent during most of the year, can be intense. This typically plays out much as it does in other tropical locales, with heat and humidity building during the day, and rainfall bringing relief in the afternoon or evening.
In the southwest, the monsoon season typically begins between May and July, with short downpours in the beginning of the season, and peak rainfall in August and September. In Bangkok, the “cool” 90 degree F temperatures run from October through January, and the humidity at that time is between 50 and 60 percent – much lower than it is farther south.
The northern part of the country experiences a dry season that can last until June, and the weather is hot, with April typically the hottest month, sometimes peaking above 105 degrees F. In contrast to southern Thailand, places like Chiang Mai get very little rain from December to March, for a total of about 46 inches total each year, which is much different from Bangkok’s average 59 inches, Songkhla’s 87 inches or Phuket’s 100 inches. Humidity in Chiang Mai lowers between January and May, ranging from 35 to 60 percent, though for the rest of the year, it can be just as humid as the beaches.
Avoiding traffic and crowds of tourists
Driving in Bangkok is inadvisable and frustrating. It’s a little easier to drive outside the cities, but Americans must adjust to driving on the left side of the road, even as they acclimate to reckless Thai drivers and confusing rules and road signs. Those who decide to brave it and drive will need an international driver’s license.
It’s also possible to rent a driver, but buses are the cheapest and quickest way to get around, even in remote areas. If time is not an issue, trains offer a slow but scenic method of transportation to please the inner romantic in every traveler.
To sidestep the tourists, think outside the typical. Plan a trip to the beach in the early morning, at 6:00 a.m., before the crowds descend. Explore off the beaten path, brave the rainy season, or stop at an island that isn’t on the map. Often, the best memories brought home from a foreign adventure are the ones that weren’t planned from a guidebook or someone else’s recommendations.