In a country where the seasons barely change, the ‘cool’ season that runs from November to February is one of the best and most popular times to see the Thai sights. Days are slightly milder, and it’s prime holiday time for western travellers, who descend on the country’s islands and capital every year.
But don’t get lost in the tourist crowds. Make the most of all Bangkok has to offer during high season with these crowd-avoiding insider tips.
1. Start early and go late
Though this time of year is often associated with colder temperatures, high season in Bangkok still sees temperatures reach over 30C (86F). Start your day earlier to enjoy the cool morning breeze, which can make exploring more manageable. Arrive at main attractions like the Grand Palace when it first opens (8.30am) before the hordes of tour operators arrive, and take time for a leisurely lunch to beat the midday heat before hitting the pavement again after 4pm.
2. Take a stroll
Bangkok may not appear to be a walkable city at first glance, but wander into its back streets and you’ll find you’re a world away from the frenetic beat of its main strips. These less trafficked areas transport you to the Bangkok of the past, with lanes around the Chao Phraya River highlighting its colonial heritage. Meander to the shopping alleys in Chinatown where you’ll find buzzing local life all day long. Follow your tastebuds through Chinatown with a self-guided walk, or get lost in Bangkok admiring riverside architecture.
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3. Explore indoors
Renowned for hosting travelling literati for more than 130 years, the Authors’ Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental is a cosy way to lose an afternoon in the cool season. This serene space was restored to its original 19th-century splendour, and includes new lounges paying tribute to a few famed authors. Within its inner courtyard, take a decadent and elegant high tea served by attentive wait staff in traditional silk dress.
4. Take to the sky
Thailand’s tallest building, King Power Mahanakhon, opened its awe-inspiring SkyWalk 314m above the busy streets of Bangkok in late 2018. A two-tiered observation tower is part of the complex, which also houses the city’s highest rooftop bar and a 63-square-metre glass tray floor with panoramic 360-degree views. The Peak, on the 78th floor, has the best views, with cushioned seating best enjoyed at sunset to see the city at its greatest height and away from the maddening crowds.
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5. Enjoy festive frolics
Festivals are a colourful way to soak in the season with gusto. Loi Krathong is a spectacle not to miss, where throngs of locals and visitors light lanterns and candles to thank the Goddess of Water, to honour the Buddha or to let go of the past and welcome in the future. A fireworks display over the Chao Phraya River finishes off the celebration in Bangkok, while temples host events in regional cities like Chiang Mai. February ushers in the Buddhist holiday, Makha Bucha, which takes place on the full moon day of the third lunar month, with ceremonies and rituals taking place in temples across the country. Parades swarm the city on 5 December to commemorate the birthday of late King Rama IX, also known as Father's Day.
Though Christmas isn’t celebrated in Thailand, you will find European-style trees and decorations adorning squares and shopping malls in December, especially around CentralWorld and Siam Square. Several 5-star hotels, including The Peninsula and Mandarin Oriental, host Christmas-inspired galas, while festive markets spring up in places such as K Village.
This article was first published in December 2018 and last updated in December 2019.