A torrential downpour in the midst of urban traffic, with droplets the size of water chestnuts causing mayhem, can be a glum and gloom buzzkill unlike many others. And whilst we scurry to escape ruining our Jimmy Choos in the ankle-deep floods and water wind walls about town, there’s only so much shelter the city’s restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues can provide.
Outside of Bangkok, however, where the rain falls, much else flourishes. Thailand is a most popular holiday destination during the drier seasons, but there are several regions which are particularly appealing in the wetter climate. On the one hand, tourist-laden hot spots like Phuket and Koh Samui are significantly less crowded during this time, with many hotels boasting special seasonal offers. And whilst you could enjoy a day on the beach given the on-again off-again unpredictability of Thailand’s monsoon, there are a few select destinations that embrace the season in its entirety.
From a hidden sanctuary in the mountains to a hardcore tropical thrill ride, we’ve put together a list of a few less mainstream spots that wholly welcome the rain stream spurs, and provide a scenic and unexpected under-the-radar (under the rain-dar?) holiday getaway. Of course, travelling anywhere during this period does come with its risks, so always remember to tread carefully when planning a rain season vacation.
Hero image credit: 137 Pillars Chiang Mai; Featured image credit: Dhara Dhevi
Lush greenery in Chiang Mai
Ask any local where to head during the rain season, and it’s likely to be Chiang Mai. The highlands are an easy-to-reach cool retreat from the higher temperatures in central and southern Thailand, yet the monsoon months provide one more scenic reason to visit the charming hills and valleys of the North during this time. Giving the dreary ‘rain season’ a refreshing rebrand to ‘green season’, visitors to Chiang Mai will get the chance to revel in the lush greenery of the cultivated wet rice fields and the majestic mountains that surround them, as the rains bring the region’s natural vegetation to full-blown bud and bloom.
Embrace the fresh post-rain air and the vibrant landscapes with a bicycle ride alongside the fields, or for more of an adventure, go trekking or mountain biking on the mud trails in the mountains. Though definitely not suited for the uninitiated, feisty fitness fanatics come many and plenty to bike through the hills during the showers for a wild ride at its finest. As the sun sneaks a peek from behind drifting rain clouds, it’s both a scenic and serene moment to take in some of Thailand’s most untarnished views.
Whilst in Chiang Mai, be sure to visit the famous Wat Phra Tat Doi Suthep temple, located on the side of a mountain, and witness a post-rain sunset or sunrise amidst the clear-of-cloud skies. The cool nights provide ideal sweater weather that is mostly unfamiliar to Bangkok (bar the AC streams of the notorious BTS) and a romantic backdrop for the glittering peaks of the pagoda on the mountain top. Visit the indigenous hill tribe people or unwind with a typical Chiang Mai massage, and if the rains start to get really heavy, take shelter in a local eatery to slurp and sample those famous northern Thai noodles.
Stay: 137 Pillars House Chiang Mai for a tranquil luxury retreat in a Thai-style house, or the royal Lanna-inspired Dhara Dhevi resort
Eat: Khao Soi spicy curry noodles, Kanom Jeen rice noodles
Visit: Chiang Mai has risen to quickly become a hipster hot spot. Check out local boutiques and markets for precious items you wouldn’t even find in the deepest corners of Bangkok’s Siam shopping district
An adrenaline kick in Phitsanulok
Staying clear of water bodies is highly advisable during the rain season, but for those who like to flush all rules out of sight and seek a wild water diversion, Phitsanulok is your calling. The overflowing rivers during this time provide the ideal conditions for whitewater rafting, and from its source in the Phetchabun mountains to the roaring waterfalls along its course, the Khek River here is definitely the most exciting thrill ride on our list.
The 8-kilometre stretch of water takes around three turbulent hours to combat, with varying degrees of difficulty at levels 2-3. Beginning with a smooth rubber boat sail at its origins and continuing along 11 rapids, participants will race past a stunning scenery of forests, mountains, and wildlife, before finishing in the Nan River. A true karate chop of an adrenaline kick, the daring dance along the waters is the ultimate rain season adventure.
Beyond water activities, Phitsanulok is best known for housing one of Thailand’s most revered Buddha images, the bronze Phra Phutta Chinarat, inside the Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat temple. Discover the art of Buddha statue casting at the Buranathai Buddha Image Foundry nearby, and witness what many travel writers here describe to be ‘a centre of culture’. Go for a stroll on the riverside promenade, and, as the birthplace of Thai king Naresuan, take in the historical magic of the town that is still the subject in some of Thailand’s greatest film epics.
Stay: Pattara Resort & Spa features dreamy pool villas amidst its green floating lotus-covered resort
Eat: Definitely experience eating Kway Tiao Hoy Ka, or ‘swinging legs noodles’, a Tom Yum noodle soup that is enjoyed in open wooden Thai-style houses where diners sit elevated and let their legs swing beneath them while dining
Visit: Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat temple, one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Thailand
The hot springs in Lamphang
For those who get a kick out of knowing the cool places long before they are dubbed so by the mainstream crowds, bring this pride and cool-point-collector’s manual to Lamphang. The northern town that lies a little south of Chiang Mai boasts a true undiscovered old-school charm, between its horse-drawn carriages and local ‘chicken bowl’ ceramics claim to fame. Known as the City of Roosters, the animal has become a serious symbol for the region, not just evident from the chicken-adorned dishware and many fresh egg sellers by the side of the road.
Rise with the roosters or a little beyond and head to Chae Son National Park, a forested mountainous area that is home to several hot springs, renowned for their healing powers. Spread over rocky terrains, visitors can take a Thai style bath in the warm waters here, and go for a morning or evening walk along the banks. It’s an even more so magical experience during the rain season, where the deep greens of the trees and the foggy overlays above the waters bring a sense of mystical escape to anyone who enters.
Stay: The minimalist and airy Karpenter Lampang provides a perfectly sleek and artsy location to watch and listen to the rain with its floor-to-ceiling windows and wooden furnishings
Eat: Sai Oua spicy sausage
Visit: The Thai Elephant Conservation Centre, one of the oldest in the country, and the Dhanabadee Ceramic Museum, the first producer of ‘chicken bowls’ in Thailand
Fresh fruit in Nakhon Si Thammarat
The rain is not only a lush laver of rice fields and forests, but also provides the perfect tropical conditions for Thailand’s most famous fruit to flourish. Lined with orchards and sweetly-scented offerings, the fruit-growing village of Baan Khiri Wong in Nakhon Si Thammarat has quickly risen to become a top bucket-list-destination for all die-hard mangosteen, rambutan, and durian devourers. The fog and rain during this season bring these fruit to great bloom, and located within a quiet, eco-friendly community, it’s easy to see why locals love flocking here for their fruit basket fix. Beyond vitamins, the village is also known to have the ‘freshest’ air in Thailand, made even more so with the cleansing rainfall.
Besides fruit, the southern area of Nakhon Si Thammarat bears a great history in Thailand. Centuries ago, the ancient historical trade town saw a huge influx of multi-national and multi-religious merchants passing through its city walls, many of which have left a lasting influence evident in local architecture, art, and cuisine. Keeping much of its heritage alive, don’t miss one of the Nang Thalung shadow puppet shows, an ancient cultural performance using handcrafted cow skin puppets. Perfect as some sweet rainy day entertainment.
Stay: Stay in tropical bungalows or family villas at Aava Resort, within close proximity to Nadan Beach in Khanom area
Eat: After fresh fruit, experience the multi-cultural history of the region through various cuisines, from Chinese doughnuts to Malaysian Bak Kut Teh (pork bone soup), to Indian roti and Kopi coffee
Visit: Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan, an ancient temple dating back to the 13th century
A romantic villa in Pai
If the only thing you want to do on a rainy day is to snuggle up under a blanket with a good book or a Netflix binge, you may as well do it in the quaintest town of them all. About four hours north of Chiang Mai, the small town of Pai lies off a beaten track in the most beautiful of ways. And whilst man-bun-bearing and Polaroid-wearing tourists have discovered much of the area already, it still manages to maintain a secret countryside charm.
Known for the many detox programs and organic cafes (yes, they even have local kombucha), Pai is a beloved spiritual retreat for locals and foreigners alike. Getting there is an experience in itself, as the winding roads of Route 1095 lead visitors deep into the cool mountains to reach the town. Dreamy bungalows dot the landscape as you approach its centre, with a special spot dubbed ‘The Overlook’ providing a popular location to enjoy a cup of tea whilst admiring the scenery.
The town of Pai is almost entirely walkable, and hosts a charming appeal much like from a movie (and indeed, you may recognise it from the Thai film Pai in Love). Quite possibly the sweetly sleepiest town you could find outside of Bangkok without missing out on strong WiFi and quality coffee, Pai provides the loveliest location for a secluded nap during an afternoon downpour. Tune in to the soundtrack of heavy droplets against the windows, and, like the rain in any of these locations, embrace the cleanse it will bring for your mind, body, and soul this season.
Stay: Book one of the villas at Puripai Villa, and enjoy private and unparalleled views from within the grand interiors that look over the hills outside
Eat: Try the typical Northern Thai and Burmese curry, Kaeng Hang Le, and for a sweet bite, the famous Khanom Halawah dessert
Visit: The White Buddha just outside town at sunset, where the rain will have cleared the skies for a mesmerising sight you will want to capture