The entire northern and central part of the country is dry and cool this time of year, compared to other seasons. Temperatures in Chiang Mai range from 59 degrees Fahrenheit in the evenings to 82 during the days, making it one of the few months you'll want a jacket at night. In Bangkok, temperatures hover between 70 and 88 degrees. There's virtually no rain in either location.
On the southern peninsula, rain still affects both sides of the country, although it's especially strong on the Gulf of Thailand side. Beaches like Koh Samui get 15 rainy days on average this month, making half of the days wet. The western side around Phuket gets half as much with eight rainy days on average. The temperatures can be anywhere from 75 to 88 degrees. The nice thing about the rain is that even when it comes down, it usually doesn't do it for long. The showers are mainly scattered downpours in the afternoons with sunny, warm mornings.
Crowds and Costs
Both crowds and costs are higher this time of year. Especially around the western holidays (which draw American and European tourists on Christmas-New Years breaks), the tourist sites can get extremely crowded. You'll see a large number of tour buses at the popular spots with long lines. Moreover, the costs are much higher, too. Most hotels use two-tier pricing systems and in December, they're all on high-season rates. Some places charge up to double their low-season rate.
Where to Go
Most of Thailand is great during December. Head to Bangkok where you can stroll along the riverside or spend time people-watching on the pier. The markets are vibrant this time of the year and many of the hip restaurants create special menus to draw in tourists.
In Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, the cooler, more pleasant weather attracts folks to the unique temples and lively night bazaars. Over in the Pai area, there are caves, waterfalls, canyons, and other natural spots to explore.
Along the Andaman Sea on the Kra Isthmus, places like Phuket, Krabi, and other beach towns are mostly dry (though they do get some rain), and they're also the perfect temperature for snorkeling and swimming. The white sands are pristine and the water is crystal blue.
What to Do
Check out the stunning Wat Pho temple in Bangkok, also called the "Temple of the Reclining Buddha" where a giant gilded figure stretches out an impressive 150 feet. Not far from there, the popular Grand Palace showcases the one-time home of the great Kings of Siam. Bangkok is also a great city to try chic restaurants or check out trendy art galleries.
In Chiang Mai, pop over to Nimmanhaemin Road where shopping opportunities abound or get a massage at one of the many day spas. Take a cooking class, ride a bike through town, or drive up the hill to the Doi Suthep temple where there are beautiful views from the mountaintop. Farther north in Chiang Rai, visit Elephant Valley Thailand, an ethical animal sanctuary that rescues the pachyderms from abuse.
Head down to the beaches where you can snorkel in Phuket or go sea kayaking through the scenic mangroves. Take a trip to Phang Nga Bay or Phi Phi Island, or head over to Krabi for scuba diving and other water activities. If you happen to encounter rain, there are indoor activities too such as visiting the Wat Chalong temple or watching the Phuket FantaSea trapeze and circus show. For folks who'd rather skip the planning, this 5-day "A Taste Of Southern Thailand" takes care of the logistics for you.
Events in December
King Bhumibol's Birthday: While the current king's birthday is celebrated in July, Thai people honor the birthday of his father, the previous leader King Bhumibol Adulyadej, on Dec. 5. The day is marked as a public holiday during which locals typically dress in yellow to honor their late leader, also known as Rama IX.
Constitution Day: Dec. 10 is Constitution Day in Thailand, a public holiday during which government offices close and many people are off work. The holiday pays tribute to the 1932 adoption of a constitutional monarchy.
Chiang Mai Red Cross and Winter Fair: At the end of the month, Chiang Mai hosts an elaborate 10-day festival with tons of food, dancing, music, food, and cultural celebration. In additional to traditional performances, organizers often bring in carnival rides like a Ferris wheel and giant inflatable slide.
Traveling to Thailand in December? Check out this great itinerary
Best of Thailand – 8 Days. This fun, versatile itinerary, which visits key destinations like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket, is perfect for a December visit. Highlights include an excursion to the historic Grand Palace, a trip to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, and a scenic tour through Phang Nga Bay.