Chiang Mai’s tropical climate alternates between two main seasons: dry and wet, with the heaviest rains occurring in August and September. While daytime temperatures stay above 80 degrees most of the year, nighttime temps can drop significantly in winter, especially in December and January. For those trekking in the nearby hill country, evenings can be downright frigid, something most people don’t associate with Thailand travel.
The best times to visit are January and February, when Chiang Mai is in full bloom, the air remains cool, and events such as January’s 2nd Orchid Fair and February’s Chiang Mai Flower Festival, which includes floral floats and traditional dancing, bring the city to life.
While April is on the cusp of Chiang Mai’s dry and wet seasons, and can be both hot and humid, it’s also when the annual Songkran Festival takes place. Some travelers consider this celebration of the traditional Thai New Year the best time to visit the city, since it becomes an all-out water fight, with revelers playfully shooting water guns and drenching one another with buckets of water. If you’re visiting mid-month, be sure to cover your belongings with plastic. Another shoulder-season event is November’s Loi Krathong, a festival of floating lights and sky lanterns that illuminates the entire city.
Whatever time of year you visit, be sure to pick up a copy of artist Nancy Chandler’s Map of Chiang Mai. The San Francisco native has been illustrating and updating her hand-drawn map since the early ’70s. In addition to offering excellent expat and local recommendations on what to do and where to eat, the map makes a wonderful souvenir.