You may have your eyes on a luxury hotel break in Bangkok or perhaps a budget-friendly beach stay in Phuket. Or something entirely different. Either way, you’ll want to make the most of your getaway by picking the right time to visit. But when is the best time of year to go to Thailand? This month-by-month guide will help you plan your trip.
It pays to keep in mind that seasons vary for different areas of the country. There are broadly three seasons in most of Thailand: hot, cool and rainy.
The hot season in central Thailand and northeast Thailand runs from February to June. The rainy season in the north is between June and October, with the cool season making up the remaining months from October to February. Bangkok, Lopburi, Kanchanaburi and Ayutthaya are all popular destinations in central Thailand.
Northern Thailand – home to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Pai – has a hot season between February and April, while the rainy season runs from May to September. The remaining months make up the cool season.
In the south of Thailand, there are seasonal variations depending on which coast you happen to be on. Additionally, the southern provinces only really have two seasons: wet and dry. The Gulf coast is dry between January and August, whilst the dry season on the Andaman coast runs from November to March.
January is peak time for tourism in Thailand, with the southern beaches on both coasts seeing hot sunny days and the central and northern areas enjoying cooler temperatures perfect for jungle treks or sightseeing. Don’t forget to pack a lightweight sweater for chillier evenings.
Accommodation prices are at a premium around the country, though you will still be able to find great deals if you explore less-visited areas. Beach lovers could swap Krabi and Phuket for Trang, a gorgeous southern gem. This is also the perfect time of year to visit Sam Phan Bok, a natural wonder in Ubon Ratchathani only accessible during the dry season.
In the north, the small village of Bo Sang springs to life for the annual Umbrella Festival. A great side trip from Chiang Mai, the festival is held over the third weekend of the month. It demonstrates the traditional art of making colourful paper parasols whilst there are parades, live music, traditional dancing and plenty of food stands to enjoy. In the south, the Bay Regatta sees hundreds of vessels in the waters around Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi.
The weather is still good in most areas of Thailand in February, which makes it another popular month for tourism. While many places around the world are getting excited about Valentine’s Day, this isn’t such a big deal in Thailand. Even so, head to the Red Lotus Sea in Udon Thani for a romantic boat ride – the lake blooms in the cool season, covered in beautiful pink lotus flowers.
Chinese New Year typically falls in February, though the exact dates vary from year to year. Go anywhere with a large Chinese population, such as Chinatown in Bangkok, to watch lion dances, acrobatic demonstrations, Chinese opera shows and dragon dances.
The Buddhist celebration and Thai national holiday of Makha Bucha Day often falls in February too, although precise dates vary each year. Observe spiritual rituals in temples and see people making merit, praying and chanting; Wat Saket in Bangkok is especially atmospheric. Alternatively, move away from the mainstream and head to the Makha Bucha fair in Prachinburi for processions, cultural demonstrations and a lantern release.
Beach lovers can soak up the sun on either of the southern coasts, with business booming in places such as Phuket and Koh Samui; Krabi Naga Fest brings music to the beaches.
In March, temperatures really start to heat up. It’s the best time to travel to Thailand for diving in the Similan Islands and other places along the Andaman coast. Environmentalists and nature lovers should check out the Turtle Release Festival in Phang Nga. Chumphon Marine Festival is also lively, with sand sculptures, water sports, marine tourism and seafood galore.
If you’ve ever wanted to soar above the skies in a hot-air balloon, Thailand International Balloon Festival could be ideal. It’s generally held in March, but the dates (and locations) vary so make sure to check in advance. The three-day Pattaya International Music Festival is one of the best music festivals in Thailand, and is free to attend.
National Muay Thai Day, on 17 March, is a great time to learn more about this traditional martial art and its place in Thai culture. Although many stadiums and Muay Thai camps around the country have demonstrations and events, the ancient city of Ayutthaya is the best place for martial arts fans to spend the day.
April is one of the hottest months in Thailand. Drink plenty of water, slap on the sunscreen and make the shade your friend. It is well worth paying the extra for accommodation with air conditioning – fan rooms don’t really cut it in this heat.
April also sees one of the biggest festivals in Thailand: Songkran, Thai New Year. There are huge water fights across the nation and three public holidays running from 13 to 15 April, with extra days to compensate if these fall over the weekend. Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai are some of the best places to get wet and wild.
April is also traditionally the time that Thai men temporarily ordain as monks prior to marriage in order to learn more about Buddhism and how to be a good husband, with large ceremonies to mark the auspicious occasions. There’s also a public holiday on 6 April to remember the start of the Chakri Dynasty – the current ruling royal house.
Another hot month in Thailand, May is the best time to travel to some of the more offbeat destinations in the country and experience unusual festivals.
Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that the pungent durian fruit makes itself known in Thailand. Chanthaburi, famous for the local gem trade, hosts the World Durian Fruit Festival every May (exact dates vary), with competitions and games, sales fairs, parades featuring floats adorned with fruit and lots of tasting opportunities.
If you want to welcome May with a bang, visit Yasothon in northeast Thailand. Usually held on the second weekend of the month, Bun Bang Fai Festival sees locals launching rockets into the skies in hopes of receiving rains. Alternatively, see unusual monk ordination rituals in Chaiyaphum, with monks-to-be paraded around town on bamboo platforms, shaken vigorously along the route. It’s no wonder the unique rituals are known as the Brutal Ordination Parade.
Dates for the Buddhist holiday of Visakha Bucha Day follow the lunar calendar and so vary each year. It’s usually in May or June. A public holiday, it is the most significant event for Thai Buddhists, commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Lord Buddha. Temples up and down the nation are filled with people making merit. Some of the best places to observe local traditions are at the Doi Suthep temple in Chiang Mai and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok.
You’ll probably notice more showers by June and it pays to carry an umbrella and wear shoes that won’t slip. Take extra precautions when riding a scooter; Thailand’s roads can be lethal. Mellow out at Hua Hin Jazz Festival or admire the colourful fields of Siam tulips at Pa Hin Ngam National Park in Chaiyaphum.
If you’re heading north, don’t miss the Phi Ta Khon Festival in Dan Sai district in the Loei province. A local spiritual festival, it features musical parades with people dressed in elaborate ghost costumes with huge masks. The festival seeks to appease spirits and seek rains. The exact dates vary each year and are set by sages and astrologers, but May is a fairly common month for the ghostly festival.
July is generally a pretty wet month all around Thailand and it often feels very humid. Make mosquito repellent your best friend this month and don’t forget leech socks if venturing into the jungles.
Speaking of jungles, this can be a terrific month to visit national parks; the rains fill up the waterfalls and the landscapes are lush and fertile. Khao Yai National Park and Erawan National Park in Kanchanaburi are especially beautiful.
The driest beaches and islands include Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Hua Hin and Cha Am. Fans of underwater explorations should don their diving gear and snorkelling equipment this month, with July and August the best (and busiest) times for diving around Koh Tao.
The King’s official birthday, a national holiday, falls on 30 July. The Buddhist holiday of Asahna Bucha is a national holiday too. Dates vary according to the lunar cycle. It marks the start of Vassa, often referred to as Buddhist Lent. Special ceremonies are held in temples around the country and the central Thai province of Saraburi has a large religious parade. Alternatively, head to Isan for Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival. Huge wax sculptures are paraded through the streets and there’s lots of singing, dancing and music. It’s a great way to enjoy northeastern Thai culture.
August is typically the wettest month all around Thailand. Prepare with rain ponchos, slip-proof shoes and umbrellas. Backpackers should almost certainly make sure they have waterproof covers for their bags. Make a list of the best indoor activities; the many temples, museums, art galleries and malls in Bangkok make it a perfect city come rain or shine.
The Queen’s birthday and Mother’s Day falls on 12 August, a national holiday. If you’re in Phuket in August you’ll witness Por Tor Hungry Ghost Festival, a time when people respect their ancestors and make offerings to spirits.
Foodies should add Hua Hin Food Festival to their itinerary, whilst the Akha Swing Festival in Chiang Rai offers a glimpse into the fascinating traditions of the Akha people.
The rains ease in September, except for on the Andaman coast — this is the wettest time here. Around the country, waterfalls flow with abundance and the rivers are at their fullest.
September usually sees the start of longboat races, held on many rivers nationwide. The atmosphere is often electric, with roaring crowds, carnival-like games, street food galore and traditional performances. Phitsanolok, Petchaburi, Singburi, Naan and Surat Thani are just a few places where you can watch the age-old tradition.
The multi-day Bangkok International Festival of Dance and Music draws large crowds, with musical performances from diverse genres, dance shows, operas, ballets and more. For something really unusual, visit Lam Dome Yai in Ubon Ratchathani. Every year, thousands of little shrimps make their way up the stream, clambering out of the water to march along the river banks to bypass the raging waters of the rapids before climbing back down into the water again.
Central, northern and northeastern Thailand are mostly dry and temperatures start to fall in October. Almost all of the islands, however, are wet. This is the ideal time to visit anywhere from Bangkok upwards before large crowds appear. The popular hippy hangout of Pai is especially great in October.
Also in the north, the Naga Fireballs of Nong Khai are a strange phenomena that usually appear towards the end of the month. Mysterious balls of fire erupt from the Mekong River, said to be the work of the mythical Naga. In Nakhon Phanom, the end of Buddhist Lent is marked with a beautifully illuminated boat procession. Various festivities mark the occasion around the country.
Many southern provinces have large and colourful vegetarian festivals, ideal for any foodie. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is especially well known, with gory rituals that involve self-mortification and fire walking.
Loi Ruea Chao Le Festival on Koh Lanta is a great chance to learn more about the Moken people. The festival sees people float boats on the waves and rejoice with traditional dancing and singing. However, it’s based on the lunar calendar, so dates vary.
There’s also a public holiday on 13 October to remember the passing of the beloved former Thai king, King Bhumibol. It is likely to be a sombre day throughout the country. On 23 October, there’s another national holiday honouring a former Thai king: King Chulalongkorn.
The dry season is well underway in most parts of Thailand, with moderate temperatures and plenty of sunshine. Beach lovers will be delighted the Andaman coast is now at its best, along with Koh Chang and other islands along the eastern Gulf. The western Thai Gulf is, however, still rainy and stormy.
Mid-November (dates vary) sees one of the loveliest Thai festivals: Loy Krathong. People float pretty krathongs (lanterns) on the rivers to give thanks to the water spirits. The north of Thailand has an extra celebration around the same time, known as Yee Peng. Chiang Mai is one of the best places to experience this festival, particularly for the lantern releases.
December is one of the peak tourism months in Thailand, with great weather all around the country. Temperatures are, for the most part, comfortable, without being too hot or too cold. There’s little to no rainfall and the beaches catch lots of sun.
There are several national holidays during this month. The birthday of the late King Bhumibol falls on 5 December, which is also when Thai people celebrate Father’s Day. Constitution Day is on 10 December.
For war history, don’t miss River Kwai Bridge Week in Kanchanaburi (held in November or December). For something novel, visit Loei province; it’s the only province in Thailand where temperatures can dip to freezing in the cool season. The Ayutthaya World Heritage Site and Red Cross Fair has sound and light shows amid the ancient ruins. Phetchaburi hosts one of the biggest and oldest music festivals in the Land of Smiles: Big Mountain Music Festival.
Christmas isn’t such a big deal in Thailand, though many malls do have festive decorations. For a true Thai Christmas, however, head to Sakhon Nakhon province. Home to the largest Christian population in Thailand, the province has an enchanting Christmas Star Parade, with many cultural and religious activities, between 23 December and 25 December. And of course, New Year is huge all around the Land of Smiles.
With such a wide programme of events throughout the year and different seasons and weather conditions depending on the region, there really is no bad time to visit Thailand. There are, however, better times to visit particular areas.
Northern areas can see flash floods, flooded roads and lots of mud in the rainy season. The south is generally best avoided in October and November whilst the Similan Islands are closed between November and March. Avoid Koh Chang and the Andaman coast in June and July. Heavy rains and storms combined with choppy sea conditions mean that you won’t get to experience the best the areas have to offer.
The hot season in central Thailand and Isan can be brutal and uncomfortable, while the cool season in northern Thailand may be a bit chilly for some. The so-called burning season in Chiang Mai normally occurs between February and April, with thick smoke hanging in the air meaning the quality is greatly diminished.
The peak tourist seasons are naturally the most expensive times to travel. If you’re looking to keep costs down, visit in the shoulder seasons.