Thailand - Climate
Thailand is a tropical country governed by monsoons. The climate differs from area to area but, in very general terms, it can be divided into three seasons. The so-called 'cool' season is when most foreign visitors come to Thailand and runs from about November to February. Cool is a relative term. This time of year may be cooler than other times of year in Thailand but by Western standards it is certainly not cool. It is the most comfortable time of year to be in the country and coincides with the worst time of year (weatherwise) in Europe and North America. These months see increased numbers of farang visitors and sharp price rises - the laws of supply and demand in action.
A storm gathers bringing some welcome relief to the heat of the Thai hot season
The hot season runs from about March to May. I am writing this in March 2004 and it is the first time I have been in Thailand during the hot season. It it not comfortable at all and the heat is quite draining. My air conditioning unit has become more than a luxury recently, it is a necessity. Songkran, the Thai New Year, falls in April at approximately the height of the hot season when there is a custom of dousing other people with water to cool them down (and annoy them at the same time).
The rainy season runs from about June to October. The amount of rainfall varies by region and, being tropical rainfall, can be extremely heavy. At certain times the storm drains cannot handle the volume of water and flash flooding occurs. The picture above was taken after a small flood in Hat Yai. In 2000 there was a major flood with flood levels reaching two meters or more.
People were left stranded in their homes and getting food and fresh water became a problem. At the beginning of the small flood that I experienced people started panic buying in case the same thing happened again but the rain stopped and the water receded.
Being fairly close to the equator the hours of daylight don't vary much throughout the year. It starts to get dark around 6:30pm and light again about 12 hours later.
The second half of 2004 and the first half of 2005 were particularly brutal with regard to hot weather. The weather during my first year in Thailand was bearable but this particular hot spell was most uncomfortable. Even at the beginning of October 2004 more than 50 provinces were already in a state of drought. When the temperatures peaked in April 2005 (April is the hottest month in Thailand) I had to resort to air conditioning on more than one occasion.
Newspaper pictures showed parts of the Mekong that had completely dried up. Many rural Thais who rely on the land and rivers for their livelihoods suffered. It was the hottest and driest spell in Thailand for over 20 years and was caused, so we are told, by El Nino. The good news however is that the meteorologists tell us the hot season will end early this year and have even given a date - the 11th May.
The highest temperatures in Thailand were:
- 44.5 C in Uttaradit on 27th April 1960
- 43.9 C in Udon Thani on 28th April 1960
- 43.7 C in Tak on 16th April 1983
- 43.5 C in Tak on 25th April 2004
- 42.9 C in Prachin Buri on 23rd April 1990
Source: The Nation
Thailand has a tropical climate and at certain times of the year it rains. It rains rather a lot actually. The heavens open and precipitation of enormous proportions falls to the ground, sometimes resulting in floods. You'd think that living here, the Thais would be quite used to rain but it always seems to come as a complete surprise to them. They have a very strange relationship with rain.
Umbrella? What's that then?
I am writing in the dark while my laptop battery still has a little power left in it. A big storm rolled into town a couple of hours ago and there was a huge bang outside. It was so loud that it actually made me jump. There has been no electricity since the big bang. Power cuts (fai dap) are a common occurrence in Thailand during storms even though the seasonal rains are a regular part of the Thai calendar.
Taking out an umbrella requires a small amount of forward thinking which, unfortunately, is not a Thai strength
I have been asked on more than one occasion why I am carrying an umbrella in the morning and I'm never quite sure how to respond. It didn't take me very long after I moved to Thailand to realise that at certain times of year (for arguments sake, let's call it the rainy season), heavy rain in the afternoon at around 2pm or 3pm is quite consistent every day even though the mornings are sunny and hot.
I figured that by taking an umbrella with me in the morning it would save me from getting wet later in the day. I don't see too many Thais carrying umbrellas but what I do see, when it rains, are a lot of very wet Thais trying to keep their heads dry with whatever comes to hand, be it a newspaper, magazine or plastic bag. And you can bet that the very next day, when it rains again, the very same people will be getting drenched again.
Without an umbrella, anything convenient that comes to hand can be used instead
They tell me that carrying an umbrella is inconvenient whereas presumably getting drenched to the skin isn't. What seems odd is that during the wet season it's not as if there is a slight chance of rain. The odds of rain at certain times of year are 95% or more.
I like travelling around Thailand in the wet season. I dislike crowds and high prices, both of which are absent during the rainy season. Thais look at me as if I am crazy when I tell them. One even suggested cancelling my trip one year and travelling the next month. Apart from the fact my work schedule wouldn't allow me to do this, there seemed little point anyway.
And did I have any problems? Of course not. When it rained I got a little wet or I had to take shelter somewhere for a while. No big deal.
Mums have to take care of their offspring first, of course
Occasionally there is a big flood somewhere which disrupts normal day-to-day life. Such events are not common but the Thais talk as if they are.
On several occasions when there has been heavy rain for a couple of days, Thai friends have advised me to stock up with water and lots of packets of instant noodles for when a big flood paralyses the town. Supermarkets run short of instant noodles in times of heavy rain.
So, what do Thais do when it rains? This is an easy answer. They sleep.
Thai government administrative buildings are normally very busy but are particularly busy on Monday mornings, that is unless it is raining. If there is rain, the usual hordes of people are conspicuously absent.
After heavy downpours it isn't unusual to see Thais soaked to the skin
I have discussed all this with Thai friends and students. They laugh at themselves and find my reaction amusing but they are obviously not interested in changing their ways. Their excuse for not wanting to do anything in the rainy season is because the weather isn't healthy and they get colds.
I've never been convinced though and their reasoning has always sounded like a weak excuse because they don't want to reveal the truth. It wouldn't surprise me if this was animism at work, something that goes deep into Thai society.
Souls and spirits are believed to exist in natural phenomena of which rain is one. I have no evidence for this, it's just a theory based on Thai behaviour I've observed that seems irrational and strange.
Tropical Thailand is understandably humid but possibly not as humid as some other places I've been to, such as Singapore or the southern United States.
High humidity isn't very comfortable - feeling sticky all the time - and it can cause you to become dehydrated very quickly. However, with high humidity I am more worried about what it does to my possessions than the effect it has on me.
The photo above shows what it has done to the refrigerator in my room in the space of two years. The front of the door is now completely covered in rust. It's no big deal because refrigerators are fairly cheap and anyway, it's not mine.
My camera equipment, however, is a big deal. The best thing you can do to prevent humidity damage to camera equipment is to use it and the worst thing is to leave it unused in a dark cupboard somewhere.
I actually have a safe in my room as a precaution against light-fingered Thais and my camera equipment lives in the safe. Also in the safe is a small humidity absorption box; the type that can be bought from any supermarket in Thailand.
I use larger ones in my wardrobe and the small ones in various drawers. They work quite well but fill up with water quickly so need replacing fairly often.
You can buy purpose built dry cabinets for protection against humidity but I do not have any experience of them. Air-conditioning units keep humidity levels, as well as temperature levels, down but it can get quite expensive running A/C permanently.
The Hot Season
Most farangs descend upon Thailand between November and February. This is about the most miserable time of year weatherwise in Europe and North America and of course there are holiday periods for Christmas and New Year. Conveniently, this also coincides with pleasant weather in Thailand when it isn't too wet or too hot.
I find the Thai hot season quite unbearable and even the locals suffer
Coming from a cold climate, the weather in Thailand is bound to feel very hot so farangs who haven't visited in the hot season may think that it can't get much hotter. It does, however. Let me describe some personal differences I am aware of in the hot season compared to other times of year.
For much of the year I do not need to run my air conditioning. Leaving the windows open and occasionally running a fan is perfectly adequate. This is not the case in the hot season when air conditioning becomes a necessity, not a luxury.
I use public transport exclusively in Thailand and much of this consists of open vehicles without air conditioning. At all times of the year the air temperature feels hot but for many months the wind in my face feels cool when travelling along. In the hot season that same wind feels like opening the door of a powerful convector oven or standing in front of a huge hair dryer.
There have been occasions when I have spent a few hours outside in the hot season and it has made me ill to the point that I have been confined to bed for the rest of the day feeling awful.
The hottest month of the year is April and several months either side are hot too. Landlocked areas of Thailand get extremely hot and Bangkok is especially hot because all the concrete and tarmac acts like a massive storage heater.
Unless you really like extreme heat, the Thai hot season isn't much fun.
Most Thais, especially those from the south where I live, have no idea whatsoever about cold weather. The thermometer that I brought with me from the UK over five years ago that shows the minimum and maximum temperature has never fallen below 25 degrees Celcius. I also brought a light fleece jacket with me that has just hung in the wardrobe all that time.
Yes, that's correct. In all that time, day and night, throughout each and every month of the year it has never gone below 25 degrees Celcius.
When the temperature does fall to an Arctic 25 degrees Celcius the locals start shivering and complaining about the cold. It's not just their imagination either. They actually get goose pimples and start to show other physical symptoms of cold.
Having never lived or travelled anywhere else, their bodies are so acclimatised to constant heat that they cannot tolerate anything else.
When it gets really hot they tell me how nice it must be to live in a temperate climate. I tell them this isn't so and the only way I can describe winter in the Western world is to ask them to imagine what it would be like living in a fridge.
I know that they would be very uncomfortable in Europe. The present King's father was a physician and lived in Scotland for a while. The miserable cold and wet Scottish weather made him ill forcing him back to Thailand.
In northern Thailand, unlike the south, there is actually a cool season so northern Thais are more used to cooler weather. Even so, if the temperature falls to below 15 degrees Celcius for three consecutive days that is enough for the area to be declared a cold-spell disaster zone.
This is understandable because Thais just aren't geared up for cool weather. Cars don't have heaters, there are no heating systems in houses, and many houses have no running hot water. If Thais want to take a hot bath or shower in the cool season they have to heat water over a fire just for that purpose.
I have read and heard a lot of nonsense about air conditioning. According to some environmentally conscious, 'real' travellers it is a luxury for package tourists and not required in Thailand. Well, many Thais never use it, do they? No, they can't afford to. You have to realise that many rooms available to travellers weren't designed NOT to have A/C. I have been in authentic Thai houses and buildings that have been designed to stay cool in a hot climate without A/C. There is lots of ventilation for cool air to blow through and for the warm air to escape. Even when it gets really hot all that is needed is some assistance from a fan to keep the air circulating.
Where I stay though there is no such ventilation system. My room is just a box and although there is a window on one side of the room, opening it doesn't create any through breezes. Purchasing a fan was the best thing I did as it allowed me to live quite comfortably without A/C. Short term holidaymakers will not wish to do this though so their only option is to use the A/C.
Whenever I can, I will try to survive without the A/C on but in very hot weather the heat and humidity can make me feel quite ill so I use the A/C to cool down. If you are staying anywhere for any length of time ask the proprietors to clean or replace the filter as a contaminated filter could be recirculating germs in the air that could possibly cause you a problem.
The best type of air conditioning is when you don't even notice its presence. If you use A/C try to use it in moderation. Coming from the outside where it is very hot and humid into a very cold room doesn't do the body any good. I have experienced problems where the A/C unit has been positioned so that it blows cold air directly on to me. This has resulted in a lot of aches and pains but it took me a long time to realise what the cause was, I thought at first it was my mattress.
Thailand for Tourists
Living In Thailand
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.
If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.
I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.
If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.
Images of Thailand