Why Thailand is the Ultimate Winter Escape
I love winter only until Thanksgiving. That’s usually when the snowing starts and the freezing cold sets in. My solution to this gray and dreary weather is to take the next flight out to someplace warm and sunny, like Southeast Asia. Can you imagine strolling on a balmy white-sand beach instead of trudging through the snow to work? That’s pretty much the only thing on my mind when fall gives way to frosty November.
The hard part is deciding where to go. I like the friendly and laidback atmosphere in Sri Lanka, the dirt-cheap prices in Cambodia, the remoteness of Myanmar and the accommodation in Maldives. I love Bali but I prefer to avoid the mainland that gets unbelievably crowded during this time. After spending many Christmases in this region, I have to say I’ve become quite fond of Thailand. Now, let me make my case why I think Thailand is the best place to escape the winter.
- It’s sunny all around
Thailand’s awful monsoon season, when flooding is frequent all over, eases in October. The torrents of rain of the wet season gradually ceases as November gives way to December. Generally speaking, the weather during this time is glorious all around. The climate is mildly warm and blessedly rain-free in Bangkok and central Thailand. It remains warm, but a bit windy, in eastern Thailand, and sunny and comfortable in western Thailand. Only the northern parts of the Land of Smiles experience some chilliness, especially in the evenings when the temperatures can rapidly drop. Even so, it’s an excellent time to explore the country sans constant downpours and the blistering heat of the dry season from March to May.
- Beach, beach, beach!
Sunny weather means it’s beach time in Thailand. Finally, after long months of monsoon storms, Thailand’s alluring white-sand beaches are ready for the sun worshippers. It’s the perfect time to hit the beaches of the west coast, including famous Phuket, Krabi, Koh Phi Phi (the ultimate beach destination where they filmed the movie “The Beach”), Khao Lak and Koh Lanta. Some eastern Thai hotspots like Koh Chang are also enthralling during this time of the year. I especially love Phuket in December, when everything— the hip resorts, cafeterias—seems to be in full swing. I will never forget that one Christmas vacation I spent in Phuket doing no more than sunbathing and kayaking between enormous karst hills on the azure sea.
- Rough seas ease, especially for watersports enthusiasts
Leave the rough seas to the northern hemisphere; the Andaman Sea and the Gulf Thailand have the perfect sea conditions for watersports. There’s an excellent mix of sun and the wind so the waves are neither rough enough to be nightmarish, nor placid enough to be boring. Better than the west coast, the eastern beaches enjoy breezes wonderful for kite surfing, wind surfing and all sorts of exciting activities. The fun is not just above the water; dive down to the enamoring underwater world of the tropics to discover breathtaking corals and exotic creatures.
- Thai street food comes out in full force!
Ah, what would my winter getaways be without Thai street food? During the festive season, the street food vendors are pretty much everywhere offering aromatic and savory noodle soups, rice with curries, sweets made with exotic fruits and drinks that taste so good, you’d want to defy the authorities and take some home. The strange tastes of Thai cuisine range from strawberry sweet to unbearably spicy (I highly recommend avoiding green curry and sticking to red or yellow ones). My comfort food in Thailand is Tom Yum soup and maybe some papaya salad. I don’t really like to be adventurous with what I put in my mouth, but I make an exception for Thailand. Once I tried some sort of fried water bug in Bangkok (it looked like a cockroach, but it wasn’t) with a special chili sauce and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Try the Thai version of iced tea, which is generously mixed with condensed milk and tastes like a candy castle in your mouth. There are unimaginable kinds of desserts in Thailand to follow fiery lunches, like simple durian fruit and colorful marzipan sculptures. The list goes on, and even writing it all down is making me want to fly to Thailand right now.
- Explore Thailand’s “wild west” without the rain
Kanchanaburi, a.k.a Thailand’s own Wild West, is nothing like Hollywood Wild West. Rather than being a desert wasteland, Kanchanaburi is refreshingly verdant with stunning rainforests, milk-tea colored streams and mountain ranges that stretch far into the distance. This area is much less commercialized than coastal Thailand, so it’s the ideal place to ditch the crowds and enjoy some peace. There are a lot of historical WWII sites here, coming from an era when Imperial Japanese soldiers used to occupy the area. Some are genuine, like the War Cemetery memorializing the Allied soldiers who died here, and the grim Death Railway built by POWs. Then there’s the “bridge over River Kwai,” even though no such river or bridge existed before the popular book and the movie came out. Still, it’s a nice place to visit and see the lovely Burmese mountains far away. My favorite place in Kanchanaburi is the incomparable Erawan National Park, wonderful for hikes and treks, and has a seven-storied waterfall of the same name with turquoise water and a natural “fish spa.”
Nearby Kanchanaburi is the amazing UNESCO site of Ayutthaya, a great place to go templing without getting baked under the tropical sun. Ayutthaya was once one of the most prosperous capitals of old Siamese kingdoms. Its past glory is still evident in the remains of magnificent place buildings, temples and royal quarters.
While the peak season definitely has its pros, it also means higher prices and fully-booked hotels. (Some hotels more than double their regular charges!) That’s obviously a bummer. My advice is to book as early as possible, and find an excellent travel agent who can secure good accommodation for you during this time. On the plus side, there are many special events held to celebrate the season, and there are also great seasonal sales, in case you want to stock up on beach sarongs.
Great weather and the shining sun, I can definitely imagine myself sipping mangosteen juice on a white-sand beach in western Thailand right now.