The Best Time to Visit Chiang Mai

Colorful Lanterns at Wat Lok Moli, Chiang Mai

Pakin Songmor / Getty Images

You might call Chiang Mai Thailand’s “capital of cool,” if only for its more refreshing weather relative to Bangkok. Chiang Mai’s location in Thailand’s north gives it a tropical savanna climate with less humidity and lower temperatures compared to the rest of the country. The best time to visit Chiang Mai is during the cool season from November to February. The cool, dry weather is ideal for both city exploration and for climbing up into the mountains, when trekkers need not concern themselves with floods and mud.

Chiang Mai has the same three seasons experienced by the rest of Thailand (cool, hot, wet), but its key attractions—as well as its easy access to places like Mae Hong Son, Chiang Rai, and Pai—attract tourists all year round, regardless of season. But not all seasons are created equal.

Weather in Chiang Mai

Thanks to Northern Thailand’s more mountainous inland terrain, Chiang Mai’s weather feels more temperate compared to southern and central Thailand. That said, the same two opposing monsoon winds that affect all of Thailand blow over Chiang Mai as well. These winds alternate throughout the year to create three distinct seasons (including the sunny transitional period between monsoons):

  • Rainy Season: Hot, wet southwest monsoon winds from over the Indian ocean bring in water-saturated ocean air, causing pouring rains from June to October
  • Cool, Dry Season: A cool, dry northeast monsoon blows southward from Siberia, causing dry but cool weather from November to February
  • Hot, Humid Season: A transitional period with sweltering but rain-free weather from March to May

These three seasons determine the sights you see (and the price you pay to see them) at the time you visit Chiang Mai. During peak tourist season in the “winter” months, Chiang Mai experiences excellent weather, with accompanying high tourist volume and high prices. Prices are correspondingly low during the rainy season, but not all attractions are open due to the weather.

For a more detailed look at the local climate from month to month, read our overview of weather in Thailand.

Tourist Attraction Availability

Chiang Mai is open to tourists all year round. While the majority of tourists come during the cool, dry season, the area doesn’t close to tourists when the monsoon rains arrive—far from it.

During Chiang Mai’s rainy season, tourism continues nonetheless. During exceptionally rainy weather, certain tourist areas will be closed, such as waterfalls are in Doi Inthanon National Park and Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. Thai authorities routinely close river- and waterfall-based attractions after periods of heavy rains. July and August coincide with the heaviest rains in Chiang Mai.

Excepting days with heavy downpours, trekking is still permitted around Chiang Mai’s trails, though one should prepare for plenty of mud (and plenty of leeches).

Crowds & Peak Prices in Chiang Mai

Travel to the Chiang Mai during high season can get pretty expensive pretty fast: hotel rooms, attractions and experiences will all bring their prices up to deal with the surge in demand.

Chiang Mai’s absolute peak month occurs on the second half of November, coinciding with Loy Krathong: expect prices at this time to hit their all-year high. If you insist on visiting during this time, purchase tickets at least 10 months in advance, so you can get more reasonable prices and available seats.

Not even mountain attractions are spared in the peak season. Traffic to Chiang Mai’s national parks will be terrible during these months, as tourists rush to enjoy the frigid mountain air and watch flowers in bloom.

For a good compromise between crowds and weather, try visiting Chiang Mai during its “shoulder” months. During May to June (end of the hot, dry season), and September to October (end of the rainy season), prices in Chiang Mai feel relatively reasonable, balanced against a more manageable tourist crowd. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of festivals in Chiang Mai during these months.

Best Time to Visit Chiang Mai City

Don’t be turned off by the crowds that visit between November and February; the cooler months are the best time, bar none, to explore Chiang Mai Old City on foot. At this time of the year, the temperature hovers around 77 degrees F (25 degrees C) in the daytime, going down to 55 degrees F (13 degrees C) at night. The temperatures upland can even go as low as 37 degrees F (3 degrees C). Low humidity and cool breezes mean that walking around feels positively refreshing.

What to bring: pack summer clothes, with cool-weather add-ons if you’re planning to explore the countryside. Bringing both comfortable walking shoes (for city visitors) and trekking shoes (for country visitors) will see you through whatever terrain Chiang Mai throws at you.

Boy feeding elephant in Chiang Mai

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The Best Time to Explore Northern Thailand’s Natural Spots

While natural tourist spots in Chiang Mai are great to visit during the peak season, you’ll also find them at their least pristine if you’re visiting with a huge tourist crowd nipping at your heels.

Instead, time your visit to coincide with one of the “shoulder” months during May to June, or September to October. Crowds won’t be as bad, and the rain adds an overgrown lushness to the natural backdrops. Elephant sanctuary visits, too, are great during this time of year. Expect cancellations if heavy rains happen during your visit.

What to bring: Rain-ready trekking clothing, moisture-wicking shirts, and umbrellas will see you through the rainy season in Chiang Mai. Don’t wear raincoats—they’ll feel absolutely hellish in Chiang Mai’s rainy-season humidity. Take some mosquito repellent to ward off the bugs.

Rainy Season in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai’s rainy season between June and October lasts a bit longer than the equivalent season in Bangkok. Average temperatures in the rainy season reach an average of 89 degrees F (32 degrees C) during the day and drop to a more pleasant 73 degrees F (23 degrees C) after dark.

The rains reach a crescendo between August and September—rainfall during this time averages about nine inches. You’ll experience the rains falling in sheets during the late afternoon and early evening, but clearing up after an hour or two. Occasional super-heavy rainfall lasting hours can lead to roads and tourist attractions being closed. Lightning storms in the evening are commonplace.

Events to check out:

  • Bun Bang Fai (Rocket Festival): This traditional Isaan festival takes place in June or July; rockets are fired by locals to remind the mythical Sky King to send the rains down. Locals also keep tabs on the rockets’ flight paths, betting on how high and straight they can fly!
  • Khao Phansa: The Buddhist equivalent of Lent kicks off the three-month period when monks traditionally remain within their monastery. During the beginning of Khao Phansa in July, local devotees visit Buddhist temples to offer robes and large candles, as a way of making merit.

Cool, Dry Season in Chiang Mai

Between November and February, Chiang Mai experiences the perfect weather for tourists: cool, dry weather that makes it a positive joy to be outside during the day. The temperature in the cool, dry season reaches a peak at 86 degrees F (30 degrees C), with temperatures in the city dropping after dark to as low as 50 degrees F (10 degrees C).

Events to check out:

  • Loi Krathong Festival: In November, Thai people pay homage to the goddess of water by releasing Krathong (small containers made of leaves, banana trunks, or plastic that hold a morsel of food and a candle) onto nearby rivers and canals.
  • Chiang Mai Flower Festival: This three-day festival takes place on the first weekend of February when Suan Buak Haad Park comes to life with various flower vendors and flower-based attractions.

Hot, Humid Season in Chiang Mai

Between March and May, Chiang Mai starts to switch from a dry, cool climate to a hot, humid one. In this season, the temperature feels no different from what you’d experience south in Bangkok: daytime temperatures hit 104 degrees F (40 degrees C), with average humidity falling between 52 and 71 percent.

Many locals rush for the nearby mountains as soon as they have free time; the cooler air at higher elevations makes a visit to, say, Doi Inthanon a positive relief compared to the city.

From February to April, local farmers tend to burn waste materials out in the open, causing a thick smoky haze to settle on the city. The “burning season” can cover the mountains in smoke, only breaking up when the rainy season finally arrives in late April.

Events to check out:

  • Songkran: One of the most highly-anticipated festivals in Chiang Mai, the Thai New Year lasts for three days in April; many celebrants line the roads around the Old City to spray each other with water—all in good fun, of course!
  • Inthakhin Festival: Between May and June, locals gather at Wat Chedi Luang to pay respects at the city pillar. Thais believe that this week-long ritual conveys blessings on the city and its inhabitants, ensuring rainfall and prosperity for the year to come.