In Thailand's northern mountains and central plains, temperatures are relatively cool in January, at least compared to other times of the year. Not only that, these regions experience the driest periods of the year alongside February. Chiang Mai and Bangkok, for example, both average just one day of rain all month. Temperatures get down to 70 degrees Fahrenheit in Bangkok, and can drop as low as 57 in the mountains with highs in the mid-80s to 90 throughout both regions.
The southern peninsula sees cooler weather too with both coasts generally hovering in the mid-70s to mid-80s. The towns on the western Andaman side such as Phuket are drier while places like Koh Samui and other eastern-side beaches receive about nine wet days during January.
Crowds and Costs
The drawback to visiting Thailand in January is that it's extremely busy, making it nearly impossible to avoid crowds. Don't be surprised when you spot long lines at tourist attractions such as Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha) or the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Plan for the large masses by arriving early and visiting the bigger attractions on weekdays, if possible.
In addition to crowds, you'll also encounter higher costs this time of year. Hotels often double their prices during the high season, especially at the coastal resorts or other towns with high tourist traffic. Also keep in mind that the trains fill up quickly this time of year. Traveling by bus is more flexible but if you're planning to go by rail, get your tickets at least a week in advance.
Where to Go
Given the wonderful weather and lack of rain, virtually all of Thailand is fantastic to visit in January. In the central part of the country and its surrounding areas, temperatures will range from 70 to 90 degrees. Bangkok will be bustling with activity and in addition to sightseeing, it's an excellent time for people-watching. Chinatown is especially great this time of year due to the Chinese New Year which occurs in late January or early February. The colorful neighborhood will be full of lights with dragon parades and other festivities throughout.
In the northern area, the cooler weather makes it an excellent time to visit Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, too. In fact, the temperatures in those mountain towns get cool enough that you may want a sweater or jacket, especially in the evenings. Chiang Mai will be buzzing with activity and if you're into nightlife, January is one of the best times of year in that city for food, music, and clubbing. The elephant sanctuaries up north around Chiang Rai are perfect this time of year as well because it won't be too hot to trek outside comfortably, nor will you have to worry about rain.
In the south, the beaches are gorgeous in January, particularly on the western side. Temperatures in Phuket, for example, range from about 73 to 88 degrees—warm enough to enjoy the beach without being sweltering the whole time. It's a great month for lounging by the pool or swimming in the ocean.
The eastern side on the Gulf of Thailand will be experiencing the last part of its rainy season, especially during the first part of the month. However, it still only averages about nine rainy days per month, most of which occur in the first part of January, making later in the month the perfect time to visit places like Koh Samui.
What to Do
In Bangkok, check out Wat Pho, the famous Temple of the Reclining Buddha in the Phra Nakhon District. There, you'll see the massive icon—which symbolizes the Buddha's entry into Nirvana—towering 50 feet high and stretching out an impressive 150 feet. Nearby, check out the Grand Palace where the Kings of Siam lived in the 18th century and where the king's court was until 1925.
Head up to Chiang Rai to spend time at the Elephant Valley Thailand, an ethical sanctuary that rescues and rehabilitates elephants. You'll be able to watch the animals roam freely, see their trainers bathing them, and possibly even feed them bananas or a piece of bamboo. In Chiang Mai, the vibrant metropolis just a few hours southwest, walk through the colorful Chiang Mai Night Bazaar or visit the beautiful Doi Suthep temple. If you check out the latter at sunrise, you'll be rewarded with stunning views of the city.
At the coasts along the southern Kra Isthmus, the resort town of Phuket offers sweeping white sands beaches and crystal blue water. Take advantage of the nice weather with ocean activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, or sea kayaking. It's also a great time for a tour of Phang Nga Bay or trip out to Phi Phi Island. This 5-day "A Taste Of Southern Thailand" tour is a great way to experience Phuket and the surrounding areas without having to do any planning.
In Koh Samui, check out the pristine Ang Thong Marine National Park, a string of spectacular islands, or stroll through the quaint Bophut Fisherman’s Village.
Events in January
Chinese New Year: Although this holiday occasionally falls in early February, the Chinese New Year is typically some time in late January. The lively celebration, which involves parades and fireworks, draws locals with Chinese roots, as well as tourists and other celebrants for a full week of activities.
Traveling to Thailand in January? Check out this great itinerary
Best of Thailand – 8 Days. See the historical sights of Bangkok including Wat Pho and the Grand Palace, visit an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, and kayak amid the limestone cliffs in the scenic waters of Phang Nga Bay.