Wait until it’s night time, go outside and tilt your head up towards the sky. You should see thousands of stars lighting up the sky above you. In Thailand, you see about five.
Sure, in Bangkok, the big city lights and fumes from the road lessen the visibility. But why can’t you see many stars in more rural places like Kanchanaburi or Koh Chang?
Thailand has high humidity for 12 months of the year. When humidity is high, the water vapour in the air reduces visibility and makes the stars harder to see. You can imagine it like how it’s difficult to see through mist or how it’s harder to see in a steam room or sauna.
The humidity compounds other factors like light and air pollution to make this country a poor place to watch the cosmos.
It is possible to have a good experience watching stars in Thailand. Stick around and I’ll throw some battle-tested tips at you.
What makes star gazing hard in Thailand?
Here are the factors that make seeing the night sky difficult in Thailand, ordered from most to least important.
Moisture in the air. Thailand is a suffocatingly humid place with levels of 70%+ humidity all across the country throughout the year. The air is saturated with water which muddies long-range visibility and makes it impossible to see a starry sky. This is the most important factor and the reason why even if light and air pollution were completely nonexistent, you’d struggle to see the stars here.
Air pollution. Thailand has regular air pollution crises with PM2.5 levels reaching unhealthy for all groups so often that schools frequently cancel sports events and don’t let their students outside. As well as clogging up lungs, these PM2.5 particles reduce visibility and adds another hindrance to seeing stars clearly at night.
The country has a unique problem where in addition to the pollutants that come from the numerous factories and exhaust pipes, it has to deal with the mass burning of farmland to prepare for the new crops. This year, Chiang Mai even achieved the distinction of being the most polluted place on earth, at least temporarily.
Light pollution. If we take a look at light pollution levels in Thailand, we can see that the country is lit up with the illumination reaching its highest point around the capital of Bangkok. The darkest parts of the country appear to be in the East or North, likely around the National Parks, but vast areas of darkness like Australia or Africa or even the surrounding countries of Myanmar or Cambodia are sadly absent.
Tips to see stars in Thailand
You will not find a sumptuous cosmic ballet of twinkling starlight anywhere in Thailand. You will never see the milky way here, either. But if you’re deadset on seeing some stars then in the right conditions you can have a lovely experience.
Timing. Avoid rainy season and ‘pollution’ season. To see stars, you will want to time your stargazing trip so you miss the May to October rainy season when the sky will be filled with clouds the whole time. The worst time for pollution is during the hot season and when the farmers are burning their field which is around January to March. The months between November and December would be ideal.
Go on a new moon. Good stargazing advice, not limited solely to Thailand, is to time it with the lunar cycle. On a new moon, when it’s fully black, is the best time to watch the night sky. The moon reflects a massive amount of light that overshadows the rest of the light in the sky making it hard to see other stars and comets and things.
Get away from the cities and towns. The light and air pollution will be at its worst in and around the large urban areas. Your best bet is the National Parks in the East and North. I’ll go over a couple of favourites in the next section.
Where is best to see stars in Thailand?
Although Thailand will never be great for stargazing due to the humidity, some places are better than others. We want to avoid air and light pollution which means getting as far away from towns and cities. Here are a couple of options that happily fit this criteria.
Khao Sok National Park. This national park, mostly the preserve of Thais looking for somewhere peaceful or “in the know” expats, welcomes few visitors and is something of a hidden gem in tourist-heavy Thailand.
Khao Sok lies isolated in the Southwest some distance from tourist hotspots Phuket and Krabi. Its lakes, rainforests and iconic Karst cliffs are simply beautiful. You can even take overnight boat trips on the lakes where you can fit in a spot of stargazing!
Doi Chiang Dao Mountain. This stunning mountain sits in the North of Thailand and is a manageable 75km trip from Chiang Mai. A trek to the summit will see you at 2000m above sea level where you’ll peek over much of the poor visibility and see the stars better. In theory, anyway.
The route is doable for even novice hikers and you can camp overnight to see the stars and then the sunset. Here’s a great in-depth guide to climbing the mountain that’s full of useful tips like the fact that you NEED a guide – not having one is illegal.
Where to see stars in Bangkok?
I wish you the best of luck to see more than three or four stars on any given night in the Big Mango. It’s the worst intersection of all the factors I listed above that make visibility worse. One option you’ve got in the city is to visit the Bangkok Planetarium.
Ok, so it’s not the real thing. But the Bangkok Planetarium is conveniently located next to Ekkamai bus station, is a fun outing and might just scratch that stargazing itch.
The planetarium itself is pretty cool. It’s comprised of a big dome that you can sit in and observe the universe above in great detail, far more than you could by looking at the real sky in Thailand! The planetarium itself is part of the “Science Centre for Education” so there’s plenty to do there besides learn about astronomy.