Ask me to sum up Thailand and I’ll always say the same things.
Number one is food. Thailand has a glorious cuisine, unique with its spicy and fresh flavors yet so varied you can never get bored. Number two is the people, although I won’t open that can of worms right now!
Number three is the heat. Searing year-round temperatures coupled with intense sunshine and oppressive humidity. Everyone knows it, everyone complains about it…
But why is Thailand so hot?
The country lies in the subtropics near the equator where the sun shines most intensely and humidity rarely falls below 70%. The already sweltering temperatures of 35-40°C can rise to 43-45°C on the heat index / real feel temperature.
On top of that, Thailand doesn’t experience summer and winter seasons so there is no escape to the heat in the cooler times of year!
Is the heat unbearable or can you learn to live with it? Read on and I’ll try to give you my best rundown of this hot, hot country.
How Bad Is The Heat In Thailand?
Here’s a look at the climate of Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand. As you can see, that’s a whole lotta red and orange! Average high temperatures are 30+°C year round which makes it one of the most consistently hot places on the planet. Couple that with high humidity (the second bottom row) and you’ve got one scorching city!
Of course, Bangkok is not Thailand, and it’s well known that large cities have higher average temperatures due to the concrete absorbing all the heat. So let’s take a look at a few other places.
Kanchanaburi is one of my favorite places to visit, a small town and province of the same name near the western border with Myanmar and surrounded by national parks. As you can see, it’s a similar story. Blisteringly high temperatures throughout the year. Humidity also very high.
The north of the country is known for its mountainous terrain and relatively cooler weather, Chiang Rai being a lovely little town up there. Again, it’s hot. But now the daily mean is more in the mid to late 20s and during cool season it can drop to a positively icy 19°C! Humidity, again, high.
Can You Get Used To The Heat Eventually?
After 6 years of living and working in the country, I can firmly declare that I haven’t got used to the heat one bit. If I’m outside in the day I’ll feel just as hot, uncomfortable and sticky as when I rocked up all fresh-faced and bushy-tailed half a decade ago.
I am however, better at managing the heat. I’m smarter with clothing, wearing shorts rather than jeans if I expect to be outside. I plan my day around missing the worst of the midday sun. That kinda thing. More on this in the next section.
I’ve tried to go without air con a couple of times, thinking that if I didn’t use it, my body would adapt to the heat. A day or two of sweating my butt off in my apartment was enough for me to come to my senses and reach for the AC remote.
I have made the successful transition to switching the AC off at night, however. Once you’re asleep you don’t notice the heat all that much and it knocks a cool 1000 baht off the electricity bill. I have not developed some adaptation that allows me to happily dwell in my condo at 40°C heat however. And I suspect that I never could.
Thai people find it incredibly hot too, and without intending to generalise too much, they are a nation who enjoys their air con. Your time in this country will likely be spent drowning in your own sweat outside only to be blasting by freezing cold AC the moment you step into a shop or mall.
Thai people don’t seem to suffer quite as much. It’s most obvious when playing sport like football, Thai people do not seem to sweat in the way their whiter counterparts do. Just my purely anecdotal and unscientific evidence, there, anyway.
How To Avoid The Worst Of The Heat
Despite hating the hot weather, I get by fairly comfortably living my entire life here. Here are my battle-tested tips to get through a day in this country without ending up a gross, sweaty mess.
Avoid urban areas (especially Bangkok). Larger cities form what are known as Urban Heat Islands where high heat-capacity concrete and darker surfaces make urban areas up to 5°C hotter that the surrounding countryside. So don’t despair if you step out of the airport in Bangkok and cannot take the heat – it’s the hottest place you’ll be!
Avoid the midday sun. In the early morning and later evening, the air in Thailand is not quite so oppressive. It’s still so hot that you’re insane to wear anything other than shorts and t-shirt, but an evening rooftop beer or a pre-dawn stroll to the shops can be positively pleasant! The hours to avoid are between 12pm and 4pm, especially if you’ll be in direct sunlight.
Enjoy the air con. In Thailand, you can go from ice-cold hotel room to ice-cold taxi to ice-cold shopping mall with mere seconds in between. The country is well set up for the heat and it’s how people get by. In particular, the ubiquitous 7/11s and coffee shops are good for a quick blast of icy air.
Shower 2-3x a day. Each time you go outside in Thailand you will sweat. The best way to get around this is to follow the lead of the Thais and shower multiple times a day. You’ll feel great right after if you can get over the hump of thinking one shower a day is enough. Expect to need 2-3 changes of clothes per day, too.
Is Thailand Always Hot?
If you’re not someone who copes well with heat then you might think visiting or living in Thailand is not on the table. There are ways of skipping the worst of the heat in this beautiful country, though. Here’s a couple of suggestions.
Visit the North. Northern Thailand is a mostly mountainous, forested region that is less densely populated than the rest of the country. Temperatures here are significantly cooler too. Many people claim that Chiang Mai has the ideal climate with average temperatures being in the late 20s year-round (although you still have high humidity to cope with).
Visit during cool season. For three months from the end of November to sometime in February, Thailand experiences its “cool” season. This coincides with the northern hemisphere’s winter, which can make it a good time to get away! The thing is, it’s still pretty hot most of these months, just a touch cooler than the rest of the year. There will usually be a week or two or three where temperatures drop considerably (all the way down to 20*C sometimes!) but timing this with a vacation is pretty much impossible to pull off.
When Is The Best Weather In Thailand?
Many people will say that the best time to visit Thailand is between November and February during the cool season. The weather is at its coolest and there is little in the way of rains or monsoons. At the same time, this is when tourist season is at its peak because it’s the Australian summer. The Christmas/NYE period in particular can get very busy.
I’d say if you want to avoid the crowds then go during wet season which is roughly between May and November. It’s a little cooler than hot season – which can be opressively hot, especially to walk around sightseeing – and the rain doesn’t bother you too much. It’s usually only a storm every day or two that last a couple of hours, and it can be kinda fun getting caught in a torrential downpour too!