The heavy sky sagged overhead as Railay came into view. I was riding a slow-chugging longboat – its weathered fittings partially rusted – with a dozen other travellers. Yet the skipper offered only smiles as he casually steered us towards the Railay mainland, a stunning peninsula in southwest Thailand accessible only by boat.
Just as we approached the wharf, the skies released a sudden, heavy downpour. We all grabbed our luggage and scurried along the jetty, taking care not to slip, to find shelter as the deluge passed.
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This was my first day in Thailand in late September, a period that falls into the July-October "low season". This means regular monsoon weather. Had I chosen the worst time to visit? Absolutely not – Thailand’s low season has plenty to offer if you’re prepared.
1. The weather is great
Contrary to what you might think, Thailand’s weather is fantastic for most of the year – with a caveat or two. Average low season temperatures range from lows of about 24-degrees and hit highs of 31-degrees. The main workaround is knowing how to avoid the heavy rainfall expected in this period.
The south of Thailand generally experiences heavier rainfall than the north, while it also differs between the east and west coasts. On the west, heavy storms occur between April and October, while on the east it’s from September to December.
After Railay, I headed to Koh Phangan, a popular island on the east coast. While there were storms on the horizon almost daily, the island itself was hot and dry practically every day though-out my stay. You can skip a lot of the wet weather with a little research on what locations to avoid when you’re planning to visit.
2. It’s less crowded
There’s not much more irritating than taking a holiday to relax but having to wait all the time. Waiting in line for taxis, restaurant seating or slow-arriving cocktails are less than ideal ways to unwind, particularly if you live in a big. But this is not the case during Thailand’s low season.
Tour groups are generally smaller than high season, so tour guides have fewer customers to tend to and can interact more closely with you. When you order at a restaurant, the food often arrives shortly after you’ve taken your first sip of wine.
And don’t forget the beaches – they’re never crowded. So it’s less of a question of where you’ll sit and rather how far you can roll around on the sand.
3. More reason to island hop
While the idea of monsoon season sounds off-putting, the vast majority of days during this period are dry. Even when it does rain, the downpour is almost always short and heavy. That means you can still plan the activities you want to do. And island hopping should be one of them.
I can highly recommend islands such as Koh Tao and Koh Samui on the southeast coast. My stay on Koh Phangan, located just next to these two, was for about 10 days and it rained for about one hour that whole time. That’s because the majority of monsoon rain falls in the southwest and northeast of Thailand, with the major tourist centres particularly prone to regular downpours.
4. Slower pace
There’s relaxed beach holidaying, and then there’s Thailand in low season. After arriving at Koh Phangan I was surprised at how slow the pace of life was. Restaurant and resort staff are less busy at this time of year. There are fewer tourists jostling for goods and services. Carpool taxis are emptier, as are ferries, hotels and beaches.
Sure, this might sound odd, perhaps even mood killing if you want a lively social atmosphere all the time. But if you’re planning a slow-travel holiday in which amped-up nightlife is not a priority, or you’re planning to finish reading a weighty novel, then this is actually a huge bonus whether you travel solo or with the whole family.
5. Lower prices
Whether you’re backpacking around Southeast Asia or taking an annual family holiday, it’s always nice to get a good deal. I stayed at Seaflower Bungalows on Koh Phangan, a pleasant beachside resort with multiple restaurants and friendly staff. The daily rate for a bungalow was very fair but, as it wasn’t booked out, I was given the option to upgrade to a larger room for almost the same price.
Before snapping up the deal, I found a small house for rent on Airbnb, located only five minutes away. The price was cheaper than the bungalow and, granted it was set 100 metres away from the beach, I got a bargain considering it was an entire house.
One of the neighbours there also ran a scooter rental business – so I picked up one for only 150 baht per day, which equates to an insanely fair £3.50. You really can’t bank on this happening in high season.
6. Plentiful accommodation
On the topic of where to stay, the higher number of free rooms at lower prices makes booking accommodation a more flexible experience. Sure, booking everything in advance can take the stress out once you arrive, but deciding where to stay spontaneously is part of what makes travel fun.
While bearing in mind that some hotels and services are shut during the low season because they simply don’t have enough customers, it doesn’t take long to find a great room – or house – for half of what it costs normally with just a quick bit of online research.
7. Easier negotiation
This brings us to prices. Haggling at a farmer’s market is one thing, but the lower tourist traffic can give you a bit more leverage to negotiate a good deal. Whether it’s asking resort staff for a bigger room for the same price, extending your stay for a lower rate, or upsizing a group snorkeling tour at a discount – these are all easier to handle when there are fewer tourists.
Just like the bargain scooter deal, you also never know what someone is willing to offer until you ask. And believe me, that’s a lot harder to do when you’ve booked and scheduled your entire holiday before it even begins.
Looking for inspiration on where to go? Check out our hotel guides: