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.
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.
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!
Reliable climate - not too hot, not too cold
Clear skies mean clear views
Cost of flights
Bring a jumper and some fluffy socks
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.
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!
Sun, sun, and more sun
Flights are cheaper and it's not too busy
For some, the heat is unbearable
Smoke season obscures views and irritates asthma sufferers
Keep a hat, sunscreen, and long sleeved shirt in your bag at all times - anything to shield you when the sun gets too much
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.
Inconvenience of big storms
Don't bring leather shoes - crocs or slides are great in the wet, but make sure they've got decent grip