Enjoying Thailand's Diverse Delights
Thailand attracts throngs of visitors who are drawn to the small nation's astonishing diversity. Your family will love the exotic mix as well: bustling Bangkok, pristine beaches, scenic mountains and tranquil rainforests ... not to mention the delights of a vast range of deliciously spicy food.
Thailand's geography is diverse as well, which makes its climate vary. Take a look at a map and you'll find that the country has a unique shape, like a geographical cutout of a flower with a long, slender stem. The rounded flower part to the north is all inland, having no coastline. The stem has two coastlines, the Andaman Sea/Indian Ocean to the west, the Gulf of Thailand to the east. Both coasts have wonderful beaches as well as scattered islands with more beaches.
While you can generally describe Thailand's seasons as rainy, cool and hot, no hard and fast rules apply. You'll find variations between the country's regions that make the best time to visit Thailand dependent to some degree on exactly where you and the kids want to go. Beaches should be on your list.
Thailand's Seasons: Rainy, Cool and Hot
Thailand generally has three seasons: the cool season, the hot season and the rainy season. You'll need to get a feel for each of them as you are planning a trip.
As a rule of thumb, the cool season runs from November to February, while the hot season extends from March to May. May through October is considered the country's rainy season, and this is the time southwest monsoons dump water collected from the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.
Cool Season is Coolest
Cool season—November through February—is the high tourist season across Thailand. It's considered the best time for a visit to Thailand and is probably the time you want to vacation here with your kids.
Although these winter months are called the cool season, no parkas are needed, even for the youngest kids. The cool season isn't literally cool, it's just less sweltering than the other seasons. Temperatures can still soar to 86 degrees F in mid-day, but that's considered cool when compared to hot-season averages.
And you'll find other benefits of traveling during the winter months. The cool season is when Thailand's waterfalls rush and splash down mountain passes. It's also the time upland flowers are in bloom.
Variations on a Theme
Although the entire country experiences three seasons, there are variations between regions. The north of the country (the flower) is higher and less humid than the southern portions (the stem). Nights are cooler in the north than in the south, and upland temperatures can be higher. In the south, you won't see these dramatic temperature swings.
Rainy Season Quirks
The rainy season lives up to its name, with rain falling almost every day. Sometimes it's all day, sometimes just a few hours in the afternoon or evening. You can't predict it. But by September and October, unpaved roads can be impassable.
The rain is most abundant in the south, along the Thai Peninsula (the flower stem). That's where you'll need to take careful note of any pending monsoons, since the two coasts don't have the same weather.
The Andaman coast in Thailand gets the most rain, and the rainy season is extended. It can arrive on the Andaman coast as early as April and persist through November. If you decide to visit, stay near Phuket, which has great surf schools, or head for one of the family-friendly islands.
The Gulf coast is entirely different. The Bay of Thailand to the east exposes this coast (and nearby islands) to the northeast monsoon, not the southwest monsoons. These bring rain between October and January. The best season to visit the Gulf coast is between December and February, when there's little rain and refreshing breezes.
The seas on the eastern seaboard are shallow and gentle for young swimmers, while low tides in the evenings offer the delights of beach-combing. Older kids and teens love beaches too, but they won't want to miss adventuring into the nearby jungle to see elephants and kayak through mangrove forests.
If you want to take the kids to more southern spots on the Gulf coast, note that Hua Hin has a lovely, long sandy coastline as well as hillside temples where kids can spot monkeys. In Phetchaburi, they can find bats in the cave temples. Snorkeling is great at Koh Tao without worry.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.