There's no getting around the fact that it is extremely hot and muggy this time of year, especially in the northern and central parts of the country. The high temperatures in Bangkok and Chiang Mai average 95 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit, making it the hottest month of the year in those two cities. Temperatures on the southern coasts aren't much cooler with highs averaging around 90 to 91 degrees. Even at night, the temperatures rarely drop below 79 or 80 degrees.
The rain in April is low to moderate everywhere except the Andaman coast where the rainy season starts early. There, in Phuket and neighboring beaches, the towns see about 15 rainy days over the course of the month, making it fairly wet half half of the time. The rest of the country, however, averages just four to six rainy days with a few more on the eastern Gulf of Thailand coast.
One factor that does come in to play, however—which is unique to this time of year—is the smoke and subsequent smog. During the month of April (as well as March and May), farmers burn sugar fields in preparation for the cutting and everywhere north of the Kra Isthmus gets hazy. In the cities, it's advisable to wear a mask to reduce the effects of air pollution.
Crowds and Costs
The crowds are fair to moderate this time of year. The heat and smog keep many tourists away yet the water festival brings many more in during the middle part of the month. Throughout the festival, hotels are typically at capacity, especially in Chiang Mai and Bangkok where the celebrations are the largest. Songkran tourists sometimes book lodging up to a year in advance so if you're planning a visit in April, make your arrangements far ahead of time. Also keep in mind that during that week, high season rates may apply. Even if you don't plan on participating in the festivities, it's wise to plan ahead.
Outside of the major cities, lodging will be easier to find and the crowds won't be as bad. Along the beaches, there will be considerably fewer people.
Where to Go
If you're going to be in Thailand in April and a big water fight sounds fun, Chiang Mai is the place to be. It's the Songkran capital and for a week in the middle of the month, the entire city turns into one giant party.
People take to the streets with hoses, water cannons, and painted faces. Locals pile into pickup trucks with giant water bins, soaking everyone in their path. Traffic moves at a snail's pace due to ongoing parades which often spill into the side streets. If you need to get somewhere, it's best to either walk or plan well ahead. At night, the clubs get wild with an atmosphere that resembles New Year's Eve in the U.S. The city is fairly smoky this time of year, however, so if you're not going specifically for the festival, you might want to pick another destination.
Bangkok is also great in April. If you go during Songkran you'll find a similar atmosphere. If you're there during another time of the month, you'll be spared some of the intense smog of places like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Pai, and Mae Hong So (though there will definitely be some).
Once the festivities have settled down, it's a good time to explore the temples or check out some of the trendy restaurants and shopping centers. Just note that if you arrive during the New Year events, they'll be nearly impossible to avoid so if you don't like the idea of getting splashed with water, plan your trip for earlier or later in the month.
The beaches can be hit and miss in April. Ko Samui and Koh Pha Ngan are usually good options because the rain is far less frequent and, due to the heat, many folks stay away. This leaves you with less crowded beaches and tons of great snorkeling spots. Krabi and Phuket on the western side, however, can be pretty rainy. A great thing about both sides, however, is that the smoke doesn't really affect this region.
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What to Do
The most obvious thing to do in April is join in on the Songkran festivities. If it sounds like a good time, grab some water guns from the vendors on the streets and join in on the party. If you're in Chiang Mai, you can walk the moat around the perimeter of the Old City. You'll see many restaurants and bars holding special events and participating in the action. In Bangkok, similar activities will be taking place. The biggest events occur on streets like Silom Road or Khaosan Road. People also gather outside the CentralWorld Shopping Complex.
If you're in Bangkok or Chiang Mai during other times of the month, check out the museums and temples. Bangkok is famous for the beautiful Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), which boasts an impressive reclining Buddha that's 50 feet tall and 150 feet long. The Grand Palace, where kings lived until 1925, is another Bangkok hotspot.
Chiang Rai offers Nimmanhaemin Road, which has shopping, food, and nightlife, as well as the colorful Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. The Doi Suthep temple is just outside the city with spectacular views, especially around sunrise. Just keep in mind that the smoke might affect this in April. If you don't feel like putting an itinerary together yourself, this 7-day "Family Adventure in Chiang Mai" is a great option.
In Ko Samui, explore the warm azure waters via snorkeling, swimming, or scuba diving. There are also scenic kayaking tours through pristine islands and tropical mangroves. If it's raining, get a massage at one of the days spas, or check out a cooking class.
This 12-day "Northern Thailand Exploration" tour is a great April option that takes you through tons of beautiful sites around Chiang Rai and Pai including the Tham Lod Caves, Doi Inthanon National Park, and the Kanta Elephant Sanctuary.
Events in April
Songkran: The famous Thai New Year usually falls sometime during the second week of April, typically lasting four to seven days. It's a festival of water where participants douse each other with water to watch the sins of the past year away.
Over the years, Songkran has evolved into a large-scale, good-natured water fight. Thai folks of all ages, from tiny children to grandpas and grandmas, set up shop outside their homes with water guns and hoses, or ride in pickups trucks that can be rented for the day, spraying water out the back. It's a fun, festive atmosphere full of food, music, and celebration.
Traveling to Thailand in April? Check out this great itinerary
Thrills of Northern Thailand – 4 Days. Highlights from this unique Thailand trip include rafting on the Pai River, hiking Doi Suthep Mountain, and visiting an authentic Hmong village.