Traveling in Thailand During High Season

How to Thrive in Thailand's Peak Season

Beach in Thailand during high season lined with boats

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Traveling in Thailand during the high season is obviously the busiest, most expensive time to do so. But there’s a reason everyone wants to come at the same time: the weather is great! Warm sunshine and very little rain are irresistible lures for travelers fleeing winter in their home countries.

Just as there are some advantages to traveling during the monsoon season in Thailand, busy season certainly has its perks. Along with lovely weather for enjoying the many open-air locales in Thailand, you’ll have more choices of open businesses.

Some islands such as Koh Lanta that basically shut down during monsoon season will be open again for high season. The Andaman Sea will be bluer than ever—offering good visibility for snorkeling and diving that isn’t affected by rain runoff.

The High Season in Thailand

First things first, when is the high season in Thailand? The answer is actually debatable, but most people generally consider high season in Thailand to coincide with the dry-season months from November to April. The “shoulder” months on either end of that range can be wet or dry. If you’re willing to take a small risk with the weather, they are often enjoyable months to travel.

Tourist numbers begin dropping rapidly a couple weeks after Songkran (the traditional Thai New Year celebration) ends on April 15. Not only is April typically the hottest month in Thailand, monsoon season begins shortly after, usually sometime in May.

Thailand is a popular holiday destination. Christmas, New Year, and especially Chinese New Year (in January or February) cause crowds to surge as holiday travelers take advantage of time off of work.

Festivals During High Season

Aside from the three big holidays mentioned above, a number of festivals will cause high season to get even busier. Be ready!

  • Loi Krathong: The beautiful combo-festival to celebrate Loi Krathong and Yi Peng causes things to get busier each November. Chiang Mai and destinations in Northern Thailand will be affected the most.
  • Songkran: The days before and after April 13 can only be described as total chaos in Chiang Mai. Tens of thousands of travelers will arm themselves with buckets or water cannons for the biggest water fight in the world. Traffic and accommodation in Bangkok and Chiang Mai are affected.
  • Wonderfruit Festival: Thailand’s biggest arts and music festival is hosted on the outskirts of Pattaya each year in December. The beaches near Bangkok along the coast will be affected by larger numbers of backpackers than usual.

Weather During High Season in Thailand

Ordinarily, monsoon rain in Bangkok peaks in September, tapers down a bit in October, then eventually drops sharply by mid November. But as all farmers and tour operators in Thailand will attest, the weather has changed in the last decade and is much less predictable. When seasonal rains will start and stop each year is anyone’s guess.

Temperatures between November and February are warm but bearable. The average high in Bangkok for January is 90.5 F. These are the most ideal months to visit Thailand for pleasant weather. By March, temperatures and humidity start to rise and expect three-showers-a-day levels of rain through April until storms begin in May.

Because of Thailand’s shape, the islands on opposite sides of the country experience slightly different weather patterns. For instance, November may be considered the start of the dry season in Bangkok, however, it’s the rainiest month to be on the popular island of Koh Samui!

Prices to Expect During High Season

For obvious reasons, prices are at their worst during high season in Thailand. Discounts are often trickier to score. Drivers and vendors are a little less likely to agree on your negotiated prices. They can wait five minutes for an uninformed traveler to come along and pay the asking price!

Hotels often have dual-pricing schemes based on seasons, however, they get to decide when busy season begins for them. Expect hotels in popular places such as Phuket to hike prices as much as 50 percent.

Food and drink prices pretty well remain consistent no matter the season.

How to Avoid the Crowds

Let’s be realistic: A majority of people planning a trip to Thailand will rely on a limited number of sources for planning their trips. One or two popular guidebooks and review websites tend to dictate the flow of traffic in Thailand. Choosing the top picks or best-rated hotels recommended by these guides is a sure way to end up in the busiest places, spending the most money.

Travelers tend to congregate in the same areas. Staying outside of hotspots along the Banana Pancake Trail in Thailand is one way to avoid crowds. But you’ll still have to contend with long lines at popular attractions such as the Grand Palace in Bangkok. If you want to avoid tourist hordes altogether, you’ll need to travel to lesser-visited places in Thailand such as the beautiful Isaan region in northeast Thailand.

For any serious shopping, arrive early at malls such as the popular MBK in Bangkok, preferably on a weekday. Weekends and evenings get busier as malls are inundated by locals who go to socialize.

Best Places to Travel During High Season

You’re going to have to share beaches and attractions during high season. But there are some places to go for a little more breathing room.

  • Koh Lanta: Rather than squeeze into tiny Koh Phi Phi or bloated Phuket, Koh Lanta is an excellent, nearby alternative. The big island has enough room for everyone, and you can still easily visit the other two from there.
  • Ayutthaya: Only two hours north of Bangkok, Ayutthaya is the ancient capital. You’ll have your choice of archaeological sites and ruins to explore without having to compete for space in temples such as Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew.
  • Kanchanaburi: Located along the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi is an excellent option for escaping the crowds in Bangkok. It is also a must-see for war history enthusiasts.
  • Koh Phangan: Although synonymous with the monthly Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan is a big island! The party action is mostly contained to the small peninsula of Haad Rin in the south. Many pleasant bays and interesting retreats are dotted around the island. Koh Phangan is only a short boat ride away from busy Koh Samui, but remember the moon phases will affect travel throughout the Samui Archipelago.

When to Book If Traveling During High Season

Booking your flight and hotels for high season in Thailand a few months ahead of time seems to be the best plan. But research shows that booking flights too far in advance may result in higher airfare. Airlines sometimes dip fare prices 30 – 45 days before departure if they feel too many seats are left.

Prices for rooms and flights surge during Christmas and New Year. Because dates for these holidays are fixed, booking months ahead doesn’t help all that much. Regardless, you should book rooms in popular destinations early in case availability is a problem.

No need to book tours and activities online far in advance, even during high season in Thailand. In fact, doing so will ensure that you pay maximum price and lose some flexibility for your itinerary. Do some research, but wait to book activities once you arrive in Thailand. Travel agents on every corner, maybe even with a desk in your hotel reception, will gladly book tours for you.

Trains in Thailand tend to book up even faster than the tourist night buses. To get the ticket class you want, make reservations several days before planning to travel. Get tickets more than a week in advance to travel during big holidays in Thailand.

Don’t panic if many places already seem full when making reservations during the high season in Thailand. Remember: For every hotel you see online, there are likely many more along the same street that aren’t listed! Also, hotels often only mark a handful of rooms as available to the booking sites. They save the rest for walk-in customers.

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