The Best Time to Visit Thailand for Island-hopping, Scuba Diving, Fun Festivals, and More
Thailand is one of the most accessible and well-loved travel destinations in Southeast Asia. But just because this tropical paradise hovers near the equator doesn't mean it offers year-round balmy bliss. Weather varies dramatically throughout the year, and crowds and prices fluctuate accordingly. Thailand's seasons fall in three main buckets:
- High Season: November to March
- Shoulder Seasons: April to June and the month of October
- Low Season: July to September
One caveat is that Thailand is a big place stretching more than 1,000 miles north to south, so conditions will also depend on where you are within the country. For example, October marks the beginning of the sunny high season on the Andaman coast, but the start of monsoon season on the Gulf side. So, before you book your jungle tree house and island boat tour, read on for the best times to plan your trip to Thailand.
The Best Times to Visit Thailand for Great Weather
For ideal weather, visit Thailand during the dry season, which for most of the country kicks off in November and lasts through March or even into April and May. (A major exception is the Lower Gulf — home to the island paradises of Ko Samui, Ko Phangan, and Ko Tao — which is rainiest from October through December.)
Overall, November through February has the coolest, most comfortable weather, with average temps in the low 80s, clear blue waters, little chance of rain, and gorgeous scenery that's lush from the previous monsoon season. On top of perfect weather, this time of year sees major Thai festivals and the Western Christmas and New Year holidays, so you're looking at Thailand's biggest crowds and highest prices. Time your trip for early November and you might just beat the throngs.
Days get hotter in March and into April, but this is a smart time to visit, as crowds have calmed from the November-to-February peak. To hone in even further, April is a great option, as crowds have waned, festivals are aplenty, and summer rains are still a few weeks off.
The Best Times to Visit Thailand for Low Prices
Thailand is a relatively affordable destination throughout the year, though travelers may find the steepest discounts on accommodations, flights, and tours during the low/monsoon season (July through September). Naturally, visiting during the wet season is a gamble. Rains could be little more than strong, short bursts or they could be days-long downpours affecting island access and boat service. But for travelers who are flexible and prepared, the low season promises smaller crowds and big savings.
To split the difference, consider visiting during the shoulder season (April, May, and June), when rains are generally of the brief afternoon storm variety. July brings more summer tourists and August tends to see cloudy skies and regular heavy rainfall. September is the wettest and least crowded month.
The Best Times to Visit Thailand for Festivals
Thailand's many festivals, from springtime fruit festivals to the late-November Lopburi Monkey Festival, are big factors, too. The beloved Lantern Festival (usually in November) consists of Yi Peng, where thousands of rice paper lanterns are released into the sky, and Loy Krathong, where candlelit baskets are set into water. Chiang Mai is the Yi Peng epicenter (tourists can participate with ticketed entry, starting at around $140) and Loy Krathong is feted across the country.
The Chinese New Year in January or February turns Bangkok's Chinatown into a sea of visitors, worshippers, dragon dancers, and drummers, all under the red glow of firecrackers and hanging lanterns. Another major February event is the three-day Flower Festival in Chiang Mai — an awesome spectacle of chrysanthemums and damask roses.
Songkran (a.k.a. Water Splashing Festival) in mid-April ushers in the Buddhist New Year with parades, parties, and performances in Chiang Mai and across the country. The Vegetarian Festival takes place in late September or early October.
The Best Times to Go Scuba Diving in Thailand
Divers from all over the world flock to Thailand to dive its famous underwater sites and stunning marine national parks. Thailand's east coast is largely divable year-round, but for Andaman Sea diving in Phuket, Krabi, the Phi Phi Islands, Ko Lanta, and Khao Lak — gateway to the extraordinary Similan and Surin Islands — time the trip between November and April when the seas are calm and visibility is clearest. Similan and Surin marine parks close from mid-May to mid-October.
Related: The Best Beaches in Thailand
The Best Times to Go Island-hopping in Thailand
Boating from one jungle-topped limestone island to another is a great thrill of Thai travel. Yet wet forecasts between May and October can put the kibosh on island fun, with some southern Andaman resorts even closing for the rainy season. Time your bouncing around Phuket, the Phi Phi Islands, Ko Lanta, and other Andaman isles between late October (when the rains taper off) and May or June. A word on Ko Lanta: It is effectively closed during the monsoon season. You may be able to get there, but accommodation options are seriously limited.
On the flip side, Gulf of Thailand idylls Ko Samui, Ko Tao, and Ko Phangan are at their rainiest and windiest between October and December.
June and July are busy months, as students from Australia and Europe flock to popular Thai islands to work and party during their summer break.
The Best Times to Visit National Parks in Thailand
Check ahead: Like Surin and Similan marine parks, several national parks are closed for various months throughout the year by Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP) in order to aid ecological recovery.
The Best Times to Go Shopping in Thailand
No matter what time of year you visit Thailand, try to time at least one weekend in Bangkok so that you can experience the mystifyingly vast Chatuchak Weekend Market, open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays. Chiang Mai also deserves weekend timing in order to experience its Saturday and Sunday night markets. The Sunday market starts at Tha Phae Gate and flows up closed-to-traffic Ratchadamnoen Road, crammed shoulder to shoulder with food vendors, artisan stalls, and massage stations.