With more than fifteen million tourists visiting the country each year, Thailand is Asia’s most popular, diverse and vibrant travel destination. The country offers a myriad of attractions to its visitors: pristine rainforests, spectacular coastal scenery, sun-kissed beaches, floating markets, UNESCO protected ruins, and remote hill tribes. And then there’s Bangkok, Asia’s most exciting city and a sublime destination in its own. Despite being a magnet for budget and backpacker travelers, Thailand also happens to be home to some of the world’s most ultra-luxurious resorts, whether it be beach enclaves, urban hotels or jungle retreats.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Thailand experiences four annual seasons:
- The cool and dry season – which lasts from November to February – is considered the best time to visit Thailand, with plenty of sunshine and day temperatures in the high 70s°F to low 80s°F (26°C-29°C). Sporadic showers may occur in the cool season but are infrequent events.
- The hot and dry season lasts from March to May, with humidity reaching uncomfortable levels and temperatures averaging in the upper 90s Fahrenheit (mid-30s Celsius). Although this period usually remains dry, rains may gather force in the month of May, which is more of a transition period towards the wet season.
- The hot and wet season, which lasts from June to August, is marked by daily heavy downpours, which bring relief for the sticky, humid weather. The days often start sunny, with showers mostly occurring in the (late) afternoon or evening, lasting for 3 to 4 hours.
- The cool and wet season occurs in September and October and sees the return of more comfortable temperatures, although it’s probably the worst time to visit Thailand because the torrential rains are coming to a peak, often bringing floods and making roads impassable. Most days are cloudy and beach conditions are poor. It’s not all bad news since low visitor numbers means great hotel deals.
- The mountainous, northern part of Thailand (where Chiang Mai is located) is less humid and experiences the greatest variation in temperatures. Throughout the cool and dry season, evenings can be chilly here due to the lack of clouds, with temperatures occasionally approaching the freezing level on the higher levels. However, this region is often hotter than the rest of the country between March and May, when it is not unusual for the mercury to break into the 100s Fahrenheit (above 30 Celsius).
- The southern, tropical part of Thailand enjoys more consistently warm temperatures throughout the year, with less variation the closer you get to the equator, although there are significant differences in the precipitation in this area:
- The Andaman coast – where the resort areas of Phuket and Krabi are located – experiences the wettest rainy season in all of Thailand, with downpours starting in April and usually persisting until November.
- Conversely, the Gulf Coast and its offshore islands – such as the popular island of Koh Samui – are sheltered from the southwest monsoon by mountains and suffer less from the rainy season than the Andaman coast: Koh Samui’s great weather lasts from about February to September, with the northeast monsoon bringing heavy rains between October and January, especially in November.
How to Get There
Most tourists will arrive in Thailand via one of the following international airports: Suvarnabhumi Airport and Don Mueang Airport near Bangkok, Chiang Mai Airport in northern Thailand, and the airfields that serve the resort areas of Phuket, Krabi and Koh Samui.
- Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), also known as (New) Bangkok International Airport, is the main international airport serving Bangkok and one of the biggest international airports in Southeast Asia. Click here for a list of airlines that offer direct flights to Suvarnabhumi Airport.
- Don Mueang International Airport (DMK), also known as (Old) Bangkok International Airport, is the other international airport serving the greater Bangkok area. Don Mueang Airport was closed and replaced by the new Suvarnabhumi Airport in 2006, before reopening in 2007 after renovations. Since the opening of the new airport, it has become a regional commuter flight hub and the de facto low-cost airline hub. Click here for a list of airlines that offer direct flights to Don Mueang international Airport.
- Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) is the international airport serving Chiang Mai, the capital city of the Chiang Mai Province, and the major gateway to Northern Thailand. Click here for a list of airlines that offer direct flights to Chiang Mai.
- Phuket International Airport (HKT) is an international airport located in the north of Phuket Island, Thailand’s most popular resort destination. Click here for a list of airlines that offer direct flights to Phuket.
- Krabi International Airport (KBV) is the international airport serving Krabi, which is located across the bay from Phuket island. This airport is expanding rapidly with airlines such as Qatar Airways and Finnair now serving the destination. Click here for a list of airlines that offer direct flights to Krabi.
- Samui International Airport (USM), also known as Koh Samui Airport, is an airport that serves the island of Koh Samui. It was built by and is still privately owned by Bangkok Airways, the major airline serving the destination. Click here for a list of airlines that offer direct flights to Koh Samui.
Requirements for entry into Thailand differ from country to country, and are subject to change. Prior to departure, always check with your government and your nearest Thai embassy or consulate what documents you need for travel to Thailand.
- Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of your entry into Thailand.
- The visa exemption rule allows tourists from 55 countries – including the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and most European countries – to enter Thailand without a visa. They are granted to stay a maximum of 30 days if they are entering Thailand via an international airport or entering through a land border checkpoint from neighboring countries. Nationals from other countries need a visa to enter the country.
Thailand’s domestic transport system is efficient and cheap, albeit not always speedy. Flying is the most convenient way to cover some of Thailand’s large distances, especially when you are on a tight schedule. But if you have the time to take in the countryside, there is the possibility to travel by bus, train, or private car, although long-distance journeys over land in Thailand can be arduous events.
- A domestic flight within Thailand can save you days of traveling: a flight from Chiang Mai to Phuket takes two hours compared to two days over land by a combination of train and bus travel. There are several domestic airlines that serve all of Thailand’s larger cities in addition to the resort towns. There is stiff competition between carriers, meaning that great bargains are often available, especially if you book in advance. Tickets can be booked online via the airlines’ websites:
- Travel by train in Thailand carries a certain romanticism. The rail network is managed by the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), and consists of four main lines and a few branch lines. The Northern Line, which connects Bangkok with Chiang Mai, is a popular route with tourists and takes about a day (or night) of travel. The railway system also extends all the way to Thailand’s southern border, where it connects with Malaysia’s Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTM), with service to Penang, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. The SRT runs a number of different trains, each at a different speed, and priced accordingly. First-class sleepers are the trains you want to be booked in, since they usually provide air-conditioned, two-bunk compartments with wash basin.
- Travel by bus is the cheapest and most convenient way of getting around Thailand, especially to the farthest and most remote destinations in the country. They come in several categories, ranging from public or private to air-conditioned or non-air-conditioned buses. Longer bus trips usually depart in the evenings to arrive at their destination early in the morning. Whenever you can, opt for the VIP buses, especially for overnight trips, since these buses feature reclining seats with extra legroom, a toilet, and limited onboard service (e.g. snacks).
- Regular ferries connect all major islands with the mainland, and for the vast majority of crossings you simply buy your ticket on board.
It has to be noted that the safety standards of Thailand’s domestic transport system are suboptimal, and getting around by public transport in the kingdom carries an inherent risk. Safety regulations, when they exist, are hardly ever enforced. Bus accidents are frequent events, especially due to poor maintenance, excessive speed, and exhausted drivers. Also, a small number of ferry sinkings have happened in recent years, so try to avoid traveling on boats that are in poor condition or clearly overloaded. Finally, although traveling by air remains the safest way of transportation within the country, Thailand’s aviation industry has been downgraded in 2015 over safety concerns by the USA’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).