If you’re considering visiting Bangkok or Thailand in general for the first time, chances are one of the first things you might want to research about the destination is ‘what’s the best time of year to visit?’
If you search this question on Google, most blogs and websites will give you roughly the same advice: visit between November and February, during the so-called ‘cold season’ when temperatures are (slightly) lower and the rain has stopped. This is definitely a great time to explore Bangkok as you’ll avoid the scorching heat that’s typical from around March to May, the ‘hot season’, and also the frequent bouts of rain and storms that come from May-October during the rainy season.
However, not being someone who overthinks before I go on a trip, I booked to go to Bangkok during October, which is bang smack during the rainy period. You may wonder why someone would decide to visit during a period when rain and thunderstorms are pretty much guaranteed, but this period is also considered the ‘low season’, when there are generally fewer tourists and cheaper prices. So if you don’t want to fight your way around temples and monuments, you may consider risking the weather and going during the low season.
Here I’ll try to give you a rough idea of what to expect if you visit during the rainy season.
How rainy is rainy, anyway?
Before I visited I was asking myself this question. What does ‘rainy season’ mean? September and October are known to be the rainiest months, with approx. 18-21 days of rain during each month. But does that mean it rains constantly, or is there still time to get your sightseeing in.
From my experience during 2 weeks in October, peak rainy season, the outlook for the weather is something like this.
It does not rain constantly (contrary to what the weather forecast tends to say). Even if the weather app shows ‘storms’ as the weather every single day with apparently no break, this does not accurately reflect reality. In fact, ‘storms’ usually seems to mean either that there will be a storm at some point during the day (but it will not last all day), or that there will be a storm somewhere but not necessarily where you are.
However, it does rain almost every day. One thing that you can be fairly certain of is that you will get at least some rain most days. Usually between 1-3 hours of rain during the day with a reasonably high likelihood of heavier rain and storms at night. So you’re definitely best to go out each day prepared, with an umbrella and/or rain jacket to hand, in the knowledge that even if you don’t think you’ll need them, you probably will.
The rain usually hits in the afternoon. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but I’ve heard that the heavy rain and storms usually occur during the afternoon or evening, and are less likely in the morning. This tallies with my experience, as the really heavy rain is often between 2-4 pm. Mornings are usually clear. It might be worth booking a flight that lands or takes off during the morning as you have less likelihood of delays and turbulence caused by storms.
When it rains, it definitely rains. Yes there are some periods where it just spits for 10 minutes and stops, but quite often a little rain quickly turns into an out-and-out deluge. Usually such rain storms last an hour or so and afterwards the heat pretty much instantly dries everything up and you barely notice that the rain even happened. If a crazy rain shower comes, just head inside for an hour and soon you’ll be able to get back out and about. The thunder storms can also be pretty loud and intense, although they tend to pass quite quickly, so just take shelter and wait them out.
To summarise, yes it will rain quite heavily most days, but usually only for around an hour, plus possibly more at night. You should still have a good period of several hours or more each day during which you can get your sightseeing in without many issues. I don’t personally believe it was detrimental to my trip.
What can you do in Bangkok when it rains?
During those days when the rain goes on and on, there are still things to do despite the weather.
See some temples
Bangkok is well known for having loads of incredible temples, and most of them offer at least some degree of protection from the elements (although you’d need to get a tuk-tuk or taxi in between them if you want to stay sheltered as you temple-hop). If you want to spend a longer period indoors, you might want to visit somewhere like the Grand Palace where you’ll be covered for a while as you look around.
Get a massage
Thailand is famous for a few things, and there are certain types of businesses that you’ll find dozens of on every street. One of them is, of course, massage parlours! As I’m sure most people know, massage parlours in Thailand come in various varieties to cater to different tastes and interests, and it’s easy to find one to suit you!
Speaking just about the traditional types of massage, Thai massage is world famous and it’s certainly a must-try when you’re in Bangkok. Without even looking you’re sure to walk past dozens of places, so just pick one that offers the right price and service. I got a 30 minute foot massage for 150 baht, but a full hour is also really affordable and a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.
Try some beauty treatments
This might not be to everyone’s taste, but Bangkok also has countless beauty salons offering super cheap treatments. Everything is available from manicures and pedicures for a few 100 baht, to eyebrows, facials, waxing and everything else you might possibly want or need.
I treated myself to a manicure in Chinatown for 300 baht, a haircut for 350 baht (which was an experience – with 2 Thai ladies blowdrying my hair at the same time) and an (extremely painful, I have to admit) eyelash perm and tint for 600 baht near my hotel in the Khao San area. Salons might look more basic than they do in Europe but the ladies all do a great job.
If there is any beauty procedure you might fancy, you can probably find it much cheaper in Thailand than back home (this even applies to me coming from Ukraine!)
Visit some malls
If you like to shop, I probably don’t need to tell you this! Bangkok has loads of malls and is a paradise for shopping for anything from designer clothing to gadgets. If, like me, you’re not much of a shopper, don’t discount the idea of visiting a mall or two though! At the very least they are airconditioned which is a fantastic bonus in Bangkok’s 33 degree heat and humidity! You can also use them as a way to shelter from the rain. But even if you’re not into trawling around clothes shops, there are still some fun malls to visit for food, drinks or just to browse for a bit.
This is my favourite mall which has an airport theme. Each floor is roughly themed after a certain famous city such as Rome, London, Paris and Istanbul. It’s worth having a stroll around and heading up the many floors to check out the decor. At the top there’s a very cheap food court with an insane view if you can get anywhere near the big window at the back. We got 2 plates of delicious vegetarian Thai food for just 80 baht (very cheap!), but there are tonnes of different food options here for super low prices. Just be aware that you need to pay using a special food-court card, which you can pick up from the counter and load with credit to spend at the food stalls.
Other popular malls include:
Iconsiam (there’s a free shuttle boat, or the tourist boat also stops here). This is quite a flashy modern mall with big designer outlets such as Gucci, Hermes and Louis Vuitton. It’s pretty impressive looking, so you might like to check it out if you’re not a budget traveller.
MBK. This is another big mall in the center and used to be one of the most popular and famous before loads of newer ones sprang up. It’s definitely one of the cheaper places to shop with loads of opportunities for a bargain, and it also sort of recreates the Bangkok market experience indoors. Our hotel offered a daily shuttle bus there, so maybe others offer similar.
EmQuartier is another popular mall right in the center which has a water garden near the top with a great view and an interesting restaurant area. This is another more upmarket mall, but nothing is to stop you window shopping even if you don’t fancy buying anything.
Unfortunately I’m not the world’s biggest museum fan (after a while they become repetitive), however it would be silly of me not to mention this as an option, just in case you didn’t think of it for yourself (I’m sure you did!) You might like to check out this article for some useful recommendations!
What precautions/kit should I take?
If you visit during rainy season I recommend to carry a small rucksack/tote bag with you with a few essentials (which you may well do anyway). You should definitely carry sunglasses/sunscreen/a sunhat for the sunny and hot periods, a long sarong or scarf to cover yourself up when you want to enter temples (they usually have a ‘covered up’ dress code, so don’t get caught out in hot-pants and a vest) and a small fold-up umbrella or plastic poncho for rain showers.
I’ve read different opinions on what’s the best footwear to wear. Bangkok doesn’t tend to flood, so really any sandals or flip flops will do fine. Sneakers or similar are also a good footwear option for long days walking around. I personally wore sandals the entire time with no issue – they are more practical for walking than flip flops and look a bit nicer in my opinion.
I brought a raincoat but didn’t wear it much because it’s so hot. A small umbrella is the best option, although a rain poncho can also be good if you want to continue walking around sights in light rain.
I didn’t find that there was much issue with mosquitoes or insects, so I didn’t end up using any insect repellent, although you might wish to bring some in case there are mosquitoes around areas with a lot of water. We did however buy some crazy-strong mosquito spray for our hotel room in Pattaya as there were a couple of buzzing critters in there when we arrived. The one-shot spray sorted them out in 10 minutes though, and you can buy it from 7-11 if you need to!
Is this a good time to visit Bangkok?
Overall I would say yes! The rain really didn’t limit our trip at all. There were a few occasions when it really poured down for an hour or two, but we just stayed in the hotel watching Netflix, had a beer/food under a canopy at a street-side restaurant, went in a mall for a bit or just stood under a shelter of some kind and waited it out. Actually it can be quite romantic/fun to be underneath a canopy sipping your drink with a storm just metres away. Sometimes the rain can cool things down for a little bit afterwards, and things quickly dry up so you can get on with your sightseeing shortly after. Prices may be lower in some hotels etc, and there may be slightly fewer tourists than in high season, so I’d personally say go for it!
Have you visited Bangkok? What time of year do you recommend to visit?