Thailand: Weather Overview
Thailand lies between 6 degrees North and 20 degrees North in the South East of Asia. Sitting West of Laos and Cambodia and East of the Andaman Sea and Burma, Thailand is home to a fairly typical tropical climate in the far south and weather dominated by monsoons in the north.
In recent years focus on Thailand weather has been brought to the forefront after large parts of the country were ravaged by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. In the wake of the tsunami it has been reported that 8, 457 people were confirmed dead with a further 4, 499 missing and close to 8500 injured. One of Thailand's most popular tourist destinations, Phuket, was hit particularly badly by the tsunami and still today is repairing and rebuilding the worst hit areas.
Phuket, fortunately, sits at a slightly higher elevation than other areas in Thailand so it wasn't as badly hit as other areas which consist of low build bungalows and sit slightly closer to sea level. Phuket is made up largely of sturdy, high rise concrete hotels which survived the hit more than the smaller shanty towns on the coast.
Khao Lak, for example, is a coast side resort which has increased in popularity in recent years was hit extremely badly, with 3950 people confirmed dead in the wake of the tsunami, however, four years later, present-day undoubtedly would have seen thousands more die from the extent of their injuries or from illness caused by the spread of disease.
When you move away from the coast and head into northern Thailand the terrain is largely mountainous so wasn't affected by the tsunami. In addition to this, the higher elevation as expected has a major effect on the climate. Altitude affects the weather in the sense that at higher elevation rainfall is higher and temperature extremes are more likely. The highest point in northern Thailand sits at 8415 feet above sea level.
While the majority of the north is made up of mountain ranges, the far northeast of Thailand consists of lower lying plains and only slight hills.
Moving down into the centre of the country the flat Chao Phraya River valley dominates the land, making this region one of the more fertile regions in the country. The Chao Phraya river flows from here into the Gulf of Thailand.
The south of Thailand is where the tropical conditions are felt the most, before moving into a very typical equatorial climate in the very extreme south- in and around the popular Phuket area.
Central and southern Thailand doesn't experience much temperature variation year round and the conditions vary mainly due to the local prevailing monsoon systems. So while the year may be split into 'wet' and 'dry' seasons there is a very little variation in temperature. In the north, however, when the North Eastern monsoon passes through the temperatures drop slightly more than they do in the south.
Basically, Thailand weather is determined by the two monsoon systems which pass through the country- the North Eastern monsoon and the South Western monsoon.
SOUTHWESTERN MONSOON- MAY – OCTOBER
From May through until late September/ early October the southwestern monsoon system is what is determining Thailand's weather patterns. The SW monsoon blows from the Indian Ocean and brings with it warm, humid and cloudy air and is what is associated with the wet season.
During this period is when the whole country sees most of its annual rainfall, particularly when you reach the higher points of northern Thailand.
During the rainy season, the daily hours of sunshine decrease to about 6 or 7 hours a day as the cloud cover increases and the days become someone muggy and overcast. As temperatures don't exactly fall significantly in the 'winter' months, particularly not the centre and southern parts of the country, conditions can become somewhat difficult to endure, and packing light cotton clothes is a must as the humidity can be quite intense at times when combined with the high temperatures.
See here for conditions of CHIENG MAI in the north.
NORTHEASTERN MONSOON- NOVEMBER – APRIL
The northeastern monsoon brings with it much drier air than the southwestern monsoon, and as a result, humidity is much lower during these months and rainfall declines significantly, and temperatures are just slightly lower- particularly in the north
During this period the north of Thailand sees its coolest months. For example, in Chiang Mai in the north-west of the country, January is the coldest month which is when the minimum falls to 13 degrees and the maximum sits at about 29 degrees (so not EXACTLY the 'cold'!).
In the north of the country, the area stays virtually rainfall for two to three months, however, the south of Thailand sees a small amount of rainfall during this period as the winds that are blowing off the Pacific Ocean bring with them a small amount of precipitation.
To best sum up Thailand, the understanding of the differences as you head from north to south is imperative. Basically, the north sees a monsoonal climate with slight variations in temperatures across the year, and the south sees an equatorial tropical climate with a very minimal range in temperatures across the year. As you head further toward the equator this becomes more so the case.
Bangkok is Thailand's capital city and lies in the south central region of the country. If you compare the conditions here with the conditions in the north, you will see the effects that the decreases longitude have on the weather conditions.
The Grand Palace in the City of Bangkok, Thailand.
Bangkok is an interesting place, climatically and also geographically. It lies a mere two metres above sea level which means it is at constant risk of being flooded. The city is essentially built upon a giant swamp and an intricate system of canals weave through the city and areas surrounding the city. With the rising water levels across the globe, combined with the fear that Bangkok is in fact sinking several centimetres a year, the worry is that the capital city will be swimming in 50 to 100 cm of water by 2025.
See here for a more detailed overview of Bangkok's weather.
Koh Samui, off the east coast of the country and Phuket off the west coast of Thailand, are two popular tourist destinations. Koh Samui lies in the Gulf of Thailand and Phuket lies in the Andaman Sea, south-west of the mainland.
Koh Samui, Thailand.
Phuket is Thailand's biggest island and is comprised of mainly mountainous terrain, the mountain range on the west side of the island spreads from north to south across the island. The west coast is home to some of the worlds most beautiful beaches, whereas the east coast is slightly muddier and not as picturesque.
On the central west coast of Phuket, you will find the busy and popular beach, Patong beach which is where Phuket's tourism is centred around. On Patong Beach, you will find most of the nightlife and the busiest and cheapest shopping district.
If you venture off the coast you can visit the amazing islands of Phi Phi, which you may recognise from the film 'The Beach' which was filmed in and around this mind-blowingly beautiful area. Phi Phi island was ravaged by the 2006 Boxing Day tsunami but has since been rebuilt back to its original best. The island is home to some of the most amazing white sandy beaches in the world, not to mention the crystal clear water and amazing diving opportunities.
Phi Phi Island, Thailand.
See here for average conditions in Phuket