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When’s the best time to visit Thailand?

Low, high, dry or rainy - which season is best for my Thailand tour

If you were to search for ‘when’s the best time to visit Thailand’, most travel sites and guidebooks will simply say – the cool season from November to February. However, Thailand is a relatively large country with varying climatic zones and our answer would be more complicated – read nuanced. To optimise your Thailand holiday it’s worth thinking a bit more outside the box.

Thailand’s surface area is roughly equivalent to that of France so, hardly Canada or Australia, but significant by European standards however, it is an odd shape. The fertile central plains of the Chao Phraya River extend northwards from Bangkok until they meet North Thailand proper – a wide swathe of mountains bordered by Myanmar and Laos. A second, large bulge, in the northeast, corresponds to the Khorat Plateau – known as Isan – bordered by the Mekong River to the east and north and Cambodia to the south.

When's the best time to visit Thailand
The Mekong forms Thailand’s eastern border

South of Bangkok the Peninsula stretches nearly 1000 km to the Malaysian border with the Gulf of Thailand to the east and Andaman Sea to the west. At its narrowest point, the Isthmus of Kra, the country is less than 50 km wide.

The Gulf coast includes the popular islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phan Ngan and Koh Tao; the Andaman side has Phuket, Krabi and Trang while the north’s most visited destinations are Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The central region features the World Heritage Sites of Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and Khao Yai National Park as well as historic Kanchanaburi while we’d add a mention for the spectacular and lesser-visited Angkor period temples of the northeast. A second narrow strip on the east side of the Gulf of Thailand is home to Koh Chang, Koh Mak and Koh Kut.

Thailand, Koh Chang, relaxing
Koh Chang – ok weather-wise most of the year

This makes for some complicated geography and while seasons – as with neighbouring Cambodia and Laos – are broadly divided into cool-dry, (November through to February), hot and dry, (March and April) and rainy, (May to September), there is a lot of regional variation. For instance, the Andaman Sea coast typically sees rain from June to October while, at the same time of year, the Gulf side of the Peninsula often boasts fine weather.

The next important consideration for ‘when’s the best time to visit Thailand’ is what style of tour or holiday you intend; which destinations would you prefer to visit and what do you want to do there? A tour of north Thailand is about scenery, mountain landscapes, historical sites and local culture while south Thailand involves more beach-island time plus national parks such as Khao Sok.

With regards the north and northeast, we’d skip the hot-dry season as temperatures can get uncomfortable, the dry scenery is not looking its best and skies are often hazy with smoke and dust. The winter months are great in the north with cooler temperatures and generally clear skies although this is the high season and certain destinations can get busy. Also surprisingly good is the rainy season when the landscape is at its lushest and greenest and far fewer visitors are around, although there is always the chance of a shower and humidity is higher. For a beach extension at that time of year, you can head to the Gulf Coast or the drier, eastern islands such as Koh Chang. (Another of our suggestions is the quiet, unspoilt and at that time of year sheltered island of Koh Thalu.)

Thailand, Koh Thalu kayaks
Koh Thalu – good rainy season option

The south doesn’t see the hazy skies of the north and higher temperatures are compensated for by the proximity of the sea so March and April are generally fine for the Andaman Coast and, for instance, Khao Sok. From November to April, our South Thailand tour features beach stays on Andaman Coast islands such as Koh Lanta and Koh Libong.

Between May and October, it’s not so much rain that is a problem – precipitation generally consists of short, sharp showers – but the sea will be choppier so not so good for boat and snorkelling trips and lacks that classic, clear, turquoise appearance.

Thailand, Koh Rok boat trip
Koh Rok in the Andaman Sea

So, our answer to when is the best time to visit Thailand is…like the geography – complicated! For the north and northeast; play it safe and expect a few more visitors around, or put up with some showers and extra humidity (not to mention paying considerably less for flights). Avoid March and April although note that the intermediate months – sometimes termed the shoulder season – of May and October are also good compromises. For the south – with a choice of three coasts – most times of the year are worth a punt.

You can find more detailed Thailand climate information at the Met Office site but we’d also point out that weather is very localised and, as with much of the planet, weather patterns in Thailand are increasingly unpredictable so you can be lucky or unlucky at any time of the year.