Timing your travel: when is the best season to see Thailand?

The pros and cons of every season

 Cooling off in the river!

Cooling off in the river!

For those of us in the west who are used to a temperate climate, the tropics' seasonal pattern may feel confusing. Is the rainy season really that rainy? Is the cold season actually cold? At Chai Lai we regularly recieve enquiries from guests asking when is the best time to come and visit us here. This guide is here to put your mind at rest and help you make the right decision.

Cold season

Widely understood to be the most pleasant and beautiful season to travel in South East Asia, the period between November and January is cool in the mornings and evenings and wonderfully sunny in the day time. Predictably, the luxury of such a pleasant, reliable climate will cost you, as airlines cash in on travellers' desire to see Thailand at its best. Return flights from New York to Chiang Mai will set you back over a thousand dollars.

 Misty mornings and chilly nights

Misty mornings and chilly nights

The magical festivals of Loy Krathong and Yi Peng fall in November, so you may want to plan your holiday to include these celebrations. Chiang Mai is the place to be for Loy Krathong as thousands of locals head to the banks of the river Ping to release candle-studded floats onto the water, representing their wish to let go of the past and welcome future joys into their lives.

Cold season provides particularly great driving weather. Roads are dry, views are clear, and you won't get too unbearably sweaty in your protective clothing. Intrepid travellers choose this time to do the Mae Hong Son Loop by motorbike. This incredible drive of 600km with over 2000 curves takes a minimum of three days, but can take upwards of a week if you choose to wander off route to any of the other surrounding sights - including a highly recommended detour to see us here at Chai Lai!

Pros

Reliable climate - not too hot, not too cold

Clear skies mean clear views

Cons

Cold mornings

Cost of flights

Packing tip

Bring a jumper and some fluffy socks

Hot season

If a great tan is a priority for you, hot season is the time to go to Thailand! Sun is an absolute certainty between March and June, so you don't have to worry about rain ruining your plans to hit the beach. Party islands like Koh Phangan and Koh Samui are always busy, but if you prefer the slow life there are much quieter beaches on Koh Chang, Koh Muk or the Surin islands.

Back up north, Chiang Mai is hot and smoky. This season, particularly March, is when many farmers burn their fields and since Chiang Mai is in a bowl-like valley, it collects the smoke as drifting south from Mae Hong Son. If you have health concerns or asthma, better to head to the islands where the sea breeze keeps the air clean or escape the heat by retreating up into the mountains. Otherwise, get your camera ready - the smoke in the air makes for very dramatic sunsets.

 Visitors flock to Mae Wang to play, drink and relax in the river at Songkran

Visitors flock to Mae Wang to play, drink and relax in the river at Songkran

The heat is relieved in April with Thai New Year. Visitors from all over the world descend on Chiang Mai to celebrate this festival, known as Songkran in Thai. The streets fill with crowds of people dressed in bright colours throwing buckets of water at each other and ducking and diving to avoid being shot by water guns. It's basically a city-wide, three-day-long party!

Pros

Sun, sun, and more sun

Flights are cheaper and it's not too busy

Cons

For some, the heat is unbearable

Smoke season obscures views and irritates asthma sufferers

Packing tip

Keep a hat, sunscreen, and long sleeved shirt in your bag at all times - anything to shield you when the sun gets too much

Wet season

Expect rain! Rainy season demands flexibility, as your plans may be rained off at a moment's notice. Whether this is with an epic three day storm or a short, sharp afternoon downpour is at the whim of the weather gods. You might have three days of beautiful sunshine - or you might hit the tail-end of a typhoon.

Still, this shouldn't stop you. Flights are cheap and there are fewer tourists clogging up the hotspots. And if you love beautiful misty mornings, lush green spaces, and dramatic skies, rainy season is for you. Pack an umbrella and leave your fancy shoes at home: if you are prepared to get a little muddy and damp, you will have plenty of adventures.

 Waterfalls are particularly stunning in wet season

Waterfalls are particularly stunning in wet season

Pros

Quiet

Cheap flights

Natural beauty

Cons

Inconvenience of big storms

Humidity

Packing tip

Don't bring leather shoes - crocs or slides are great in the wet, but make sure they've got decent grip

Umbrella!

In reality, this stunning and fascinating country is a wonderful place to be at any time of year. Each season brings its own challenges and benefits, but forewarned is forearmed. As long as you are prepared and pack the right kit, you'll have an amazing time regardless of when you choose to book those tickets.

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Kelsie and Matt's Chiang Mai Wedding

Elope in the jungle

Tuesday morning we got a call at 8:00 am from a couple camping at a Karen homestay in Mae Wang. They wanted to stay the night, and they also wanted to know if it would be possible to have a wedding that day. We love LOVE and spontaneity so we said YES! The monks at the temple seemed to be surprised by the last minute request for such and important day but happily agreed to prepare the Buddhist blessing ceremony. Kelsie and Matt started the day with rafting on a bamboo raft to take in the beauty of Mae Wang national park. Then they has a riverside picnic where they were greeted by an elephant. Then it was time for Thai massage and the blessing at the forest temple. Serendipity was the theme that day. One of Chiang Mai’s best photographers, Toon, came up to document the day. The weather, elephants, and our favorite cake baker all conspired to make the day perfect and magical. Thank you Matt and Kelsie for letting Chai Lai be part of your love story.

Happy World Elephant Day

World Elephant Day, August 12, is dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world's elephants.

The goal of International Elephant Day is to create awareness of the urgent plight of African and Asian elephants, and to share knowledge and positive solutions for the better care and management of captive and wild elephants. African elephants are listed as "Vulnerable" and Asian elephants as "Endangered" on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.  One conservationist has stated that both African and Asian elephants face extinction within twelve years.  The current population estimates are about 400,000 for African elephants and 40,000 for Asian elephants, although it has been argued that these numbers are much too high.

Who are the Karen?

Karen People in Thailand

The Karen are one of more 70 ethnic minorities in Thailand. The Karen, Kayin, Kariang or Yang people refer to a number of individual Sino-Tibetan language speaking ethnic groups, many of which do not share a common language or culture.

These Karen groups reside primarily in Karen State, southern and southeastern Myanmar. The Karen make up approximately 7 percent of the total Burmese population with approximately 5 million people. A large number of Karen have migrated to Thailand to escape war. The fighting began in 1949 and is one of the world's longest running civil wars. Like indigenous people in most of the world do not have land rights.


KAREN LANGUAGE

The Karen languages are tonal languages spoken by some seven million Karen people. They are of unclear affiliation within the Sino-Tibetan languages. The Karen languages are written using the Burmese script. The Karen languages are also considered unusual for not having any Chinese influence. Would you like learn some useful phrases? Check out Noon's online Karen language lessons.

Karen hill tribe woman and elephant

 

Noon teaches Karen, Thai, and English at Chai Lai.


History

Karen legends refer to a 'river of running sand' which ancestors reputedly crossed. Many Karen think this refers to the Gobi Desert. There are few written records of the Karen origin story. The Karen people began to inhabit what eventually became Burma about two thousand years ago. They traveled from Tibet and China and settled largely in the hills bordering the eastern mountainous region of Burma. Ethnic groups around this region included the Mon, Shan, Thai, Burmese and Karen. When the British colonized Burma in 1886, these groups all became part of Burma.

Hundreds of thousands of Karen fled to refugee camps while many others are internally displaced persons (IDPS) within the Karen state. The refugees were concentrated in camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border. The camps have suffered from overcrowding, disease, and periodic attacks by the Myanmar army. Many Karen are stateless and do not have access to basic human rights. Thailand does not recognize them as refugees but as illegal immigrants. Life in the refugee camps is difficult and uncertain. Refugees are not allowed to venture outside the camps, and can be arrested if caught. They apply for resettlement to a 3rd country, which can take many years or never materialize at all. The Burmese army has planted landmines in Karen state making it unsafe to go back.

Karen IDPs in a temporary shelter

 

The majority of Karens are Theravada Buddhists who also practice animism, while approximately 15% are Christian. Karen animism is defined by a belief in klar (soul), thirty-seven spirits that embody every individual. Misfortune and sickness are believed to be caused by klar that wander away, and death occurs when all thirty-seven klar leave the body.

Rotational farming is a type of forest management used by the Karen which has been a part of their culture for at least several hundred years. Sacred forests are often seen as reservoirs of local biodiversity that preserve a unique fauna and flora including their medicinal plants. Depending on location and management, sacred forest provide a number of other ecosystem services such as cultural amenities but many of these aspects remain poorly explored. Ecosystem services in the form of medicinal plants from sacred forest can be important for indigenous people in remote areas, since many rural communities depend on wild plants for their diet and livelihood.

 

Karen hill tribe woman weaving

 

KAREN CLOTHING

Karen clothing is handwoven with a loom. Our clothing has meaning. Not all Karen people wear the same clothing, they have identity with age. When they are young and have not already married, they used to wear a long white dress. Once they marry they have to wear colorful shirt with skirt that is wrapped around at their waist. In their own culture if they didn’t obey this tradition, a tiger will come eat them or take them away. Wearing Karen clothes shows our loyalty to our ancestors.