We’re dipping our toes in winter but one hardly thinks of Thailand and imagines cold, frost or even rainstorms. But don’t pack away your cozy sweaters just yet; Thailand does have its winter perks. From November through to February, the country finds itself in a perfect period just after the monsoon-like rains and just before it’s overcome with the hot season.
Other than the odd downpour, you can expect smooth sailing, should you decide to jet off to any islands whilst you’re here – something that can’t be guaranteed should you come in Thailand’s rainy season instead. Cool season in Thailand also coincides with the tourist high season, which means that you will inevitably have to pay a premium to visit this beautiful country in its most temperate climate. Although most of the country will still be experiencing a temperature of around 30° Celsius, there will be far less humidity, making for a much more comfortable travelling and sight-seeing experience, and the islands will still be as pristine and inviting as ever. The only exceptions to high temperatures will be in the north of the country – the likes of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in the northern highlands will be pretty cool, making for perfect hiking conditions and backdrops of lush green mountains and rice terraces enveloped in mist.
Most people arrive in Thailand to escape the cold, their destination being mostly Phuket or Krabi but there are some places that you must visit
1. Wang Nam Khiao
Wang Nam Khiao is reputed to have the purest air in Thailand and the temperature here is no joke—it can drop to 10 ° Celsius at night. Winter is the best time to visit this district in the northeastern part of the country. The name literally translates to “Castle of Green Water” because the waters are so clear they reflect the vibrant greenery around. Indeed, with its soaring mountains, lush greenery and the delicious fresh air, you’ll find it aptly nicknamed the Switzerland of Isan.
Whilst you will encounter many beautiful vistas as you travel around Wang Nam Khiao, some of the most picturesque views can be admired from Thap Lan National Park. The second biggest national park in Thailand, gaze out across the towering mountains and verdant jungles, peer down into yawning valleys, inhale the fresh air, and feel at one with Mother Earth. Also, the vibrant Flora Park is open to the public during the months of December to February. The scene of the yearly Flora Fantasia Festival held in January, the park is a magical riot of color with blooms from all around the world used to create gorgeous displays.
2. Khao Kho
The district of Khao Kho is home to Petchaburi’s most beautiful mountains. Less than a 5-hour drive from Bangkok, the weather here is cool all year round and can drop to 12ºC from late December to early January. The breathtaking mountain range is reminiscent of the hilly peaks of Switzerland. From the picturesque hills to the fountains and lavender fields, this place is an absolute dream getaway.
Khao Kho is a treasure trove of mountain viewpoints but the best one would be an hour away, at Wat Prathat Phasornkaew. Hidden up in the mountains, this place of worship has everything from intricately adorned pillars to a grand pagoda that stands majestically in the center. The walls, floors and pillars are plastered with different shards of ceramic, beautifully arranged to give a mosaic effect and a unique finish to the place. The impressive Buddha structure is an all-white statue jazzed up with silver embellishments that help to reflect the sunlight, giving the illusion that the statue is glowing.
If you visit during November to January, you can take a walk in Thailand’s biggest sunflower fields, Muak Lek Sunflower Fields which has been described as the “field of a thousand blooming suns”. Khao Kho is the best place to find the sweetest strawberries in Thailand so don’t miss out on that but most especially, do take the time to enjoy the stunning views from Phu Thap Boek Mountain, an hour away from Khao Koh. You don’t need to climb up the mountain for this, as you can easily drive to the viewpoint. There’s also Khao Takhian Ngo where you’ll get a view of the fog surrounding the mountains like a sea of clouds. But even if you decide to visit during the hotter seasons, you’ll still be able to catch the sun creeping up from behind the mountains with a little sliver of mist shadowing them.
3. Chiang Rai
In comparison to its more popular neighbor, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai doesn’t get much visitors but that is precisely why you should go. There is a real mystique to the surrounding mountains and hill towns, and winter flowers weave in color at every turn. The cool breeze sweep in from November to February, making it one of the coldest places in Thailand. Clear blue skies and relatively cool temperatures encourage ticking outdoor adventures off your list, from cruising down the Mekong River to joining a guided trek to visit hill tribes in the Golden Triangle, where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet.
One of the best places to visit would be Phu Chi Fah (translates to mountain pointing to the sky) mountain area and national park where you’ll find a spectacular view of the sunrise and sunset. The mountain is part of the Phi Pan Nam range and its tallest peak stands at 1628 meters. It’s most iconic view, is at sunrise where you can see the mountain tops, peaking above a sea of morning fog. Even the site of this viewpoint itself, is a dramatic image. Standing from afar you can see the silhouette of its jagged cliff-top edge, and the outline of the dramatic cliff-drop, which overlooks a sweeping valley below.
The district of Pai is a three hour journey from Chiang Mai but it is definitely worth it. The streets of Pai town seem quaint at first glance but it is the countryside that will make you stay.
Pai has a number of awesome waterfalls to visit, which is perfect because the area can get pretty hot during the day. But as the temperature drops, head over to the Muang Pang Hot Springs. Just an hour away from town, a cold-water stream flows over boiling-hot rocks to create a soothing, heated pool surrounded by lush scenery. Soaking in the hot spring here is just as good as an onsen in Japan but if you would rather be alone, then you need to search for the secret of Pai—the super-secret hot springs. They’re a bit out of the way, near the Ban Tin That village but the trip itself is breathtaking. Here, the water from the hot spring flows in and mixes with the cool river water, making it a place to cool off and warm up at the same time . And don’t miss the sunset from Pai Canyon, 7 kilometers away from town.
Pai is part of Mae Hong Son province and the village of the same name is just two hours away from Pai, should you decide to visit. Tranquil and rugged, it is a small Chinese village and it is just the place to be if you want to experience a blend of Thai and Burmese culture.
A part of Northern Thailand with much to be discovered, Lampang is a small and peaceful town with a rich history infused with Lanna, Mon and Burmese culture. The exquisite beauty of Lampang is evident throughout the area and if you are looking for a unique and offbeat location to explore, this is the place. The name of Lampang, which is also called “mueang rot ma”, translates to “horse carriage city”. It is the last city in Thailand where you can still find horse-drawn carriages in regular use for transportation. So travel back in time and look at Lampang as the locals did a century ago.
During the cold season, Lampang has an all-day sweater weather of 16ºC. You can head down to the hot springs at Chae Son National Park and pamper yourself at their hot and cold mineral pools. However, don’t mistake all their hot springs for bathing pools. Lampang is known to have pools with temperatures as high as 39ºC, and since they’re too hot to bathe in, they’re used to cook eggs instead.
While you’re here, don’t miss this once in a lifetime opportunity to visit Lampang’s most mesmerizing attraction – a literal “Castle on a Hill”, Wat Chalermprakiat. The name may be a mouthful, but it’s the way the complex is perched among the mountain pinnacles that will make you stutter in awe. It may be a long climb, but you won’t be complaining once you reach the top and set your eyes on the 360º panoramic view of Lampang.
Far and away, Thailand’s cool season is the most comfortable time to visit. This is when the northeast monsoon blows in cool and dry air, which offers a much-needed reprieve from the heat. This also marks the celebration of different Thai festivals such as Loy Krathong Festival where people release small boats made of banana leaves and decorated with flowers and a candle in the center into ponds, lakes, or rivers to thank the Goddess of Water, to honor the Buddha and to let go of the past and welcome in the future. Thousands of flickering lights floating quietly in the water make this a truly magical sight. Just prior to that would be the Yee Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai where people release thousands of paper lanterns with candles in the center into the sky. And although Thailand isn’t predominantly Christian, Bangkok gets into the holiday spirit every year and in a pretty extravagant manner. In a country where the seasons barely change, the cool season is one of the best and most popular times to explore Thailand.