Traveling to Thailand in winter is ideal as the monsoon rain moves out and drier, pleasant weather returns. But better weather certainly draws bigger crowds. The busy season ramps up for Thailand in winter and continues until the heat becomes nearly unbearable in late spring.
The Busy Season in Thailand
As with most countries that experience monsoon seasons, improving weather lures more and more travelers to enjoy sunny days. However, Thailand can certainly still be enjoyed during the monsoon season (May to October), but the weather may be less predictable for those wanting to take advantage of the many outdoor activities.
Thailand is becoming a tourist destination year-round so trends are becoming more blurred each year. In general, the high season begins to wind up in November. Popular destinations get busier as winter in Thailand proceeds.
Christmas is a busy time in Thailand, but even more travelers turn up in January and February after holiday celebrations at home are finished.
December, January, and February are typically the months with the best weather in Thailand. From November to February, daily humidity drops to 50 to 60 percent, and temperatures stay at a relatively comfortable 86 - 96 degrees F (30 – 35 degrees C), so the winter months are Thailand's most pleasant season.
What to Pack
Nighttime temperatures in places such as Pai in the mountains of Northern Thailand can feel a bit chilly after hot afternoons, but temperatures never really dip below the mid-60s Fahrenheit. A light cover-up or thin jacket will suffice; you’ll want one anyway for the freezing temperatures on buses due to the drivers’ overuse of air conditioning.
The default, footwear of choice in Southeast Asia, and many other parts of Asia is the simple flip-flop sandal. From the islands to big cities, locals wear them daily. If you are visiting temples, it's easy to take them off before going in. In fact, if you didn’t plan on going to up-scale establishments or doing any serious trekking, you could get by just fine on your trip with a single pair of flip-flops.
Haze and Smoke in Thailand
Each year slash-and-burn agricultural practices start fires that burn out of control, primarily in Northern Thailand. The haze and smoke from these fires linger, causing respiratory issues and even occasionally prompting the shutdown of Chiang Mai’s international airport.
The haze really peaks in March and April, however, there’s a chance that some fires will already be burning in February or sooner. Travelers with asthma or other respiratory problems should check the particulate matter levels for Northern Thailand before traveling there.
Winter Festivals in Thailand
Most of Thailand’s biggest festivals, aside from Chinese New Year, tend to be in either spring or fall rather than winter. Other areas of Asia do have key winter festivals. For Thailand, you can expect to see these winter celebrations:
- The King’s Birthday: December 5 is the King of Thailand’s Birthday, an event celebrated with pageantry, a candlelight vigil, and a rare motorcade appearance by the king himself when his health is good. Bangkok is the epicenter of the celebration.
- Chinese New Year: Chinese New Year is observed in Thailand with lion dances, parades, stage shows, and lots of fireworks. The holiday can be a very busy time to travel in Bangkok and Asia in general. Prices for flights and accommodation sometimes spike as demand increases. Chinese New Year, usually in January or February, is based on a lunisolar calendar, so dates change each year.
Christmas in Thailand
Christmas is observed in big cities around Thailand, particularly Bangkok and Chiang Mai which large expat communities call home. The many malls in Bangkok’s Sukhumvit area will have Christmas trees and decorations in place, although not nearly as early as Western countries do. You may even see a Thai Santa Claus.