When I first moved to Thailand, I arrived in the middle of rainy season. Actually not that difficult to do, as rainy season in Thailand runs six months of the year (May till October), I’d never seen anything like the rain I experienced in Bangkok. Torrential rain, every day, for weeks – rainy season in Thailand can be a bit wearing. That’s why, if you’ll be visiting Thailand during rainy season, following these tips will make it easier for you to survive -and yes, have fun – during what will be some of the hardest rain you’ve ever seen.
How Much Rain is There and How Long Does it Last? – Fortunately, Thailand isn’t like England, where I grew up and where there’s nothing but a fine drizzle for weeks. In Thailand on most days during rainy season, the heavens will open and it will torrentially rain, anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours. Roads will flood, small streets will become impassable and, if you’re caught outside in it, prepare to be drenched.
But….a few minutes later, the rain will stop, the sun comes out and the rain dries up. In many areas of Thailand, but particularly in Bangkok, what only an hour ago was a one foot flood will magically disappear to a few damp spots on the sidewalk. It’s amazing how fast it happens.
Tips on How to Survive Thailand’s Rainy Season:
Carry Flip Flops – If you watch the Thais during rainy season, few will ever walk outside when it’s pouring rain wearing nice shoes. Instead, every Thai from birth is trained to always have a pair of cheap rubber flip flops with them, or a pair tucked in their desk drawer at work. You can walk on wet and dirty streets in rubber flip flops, and just wash your feet when you get home. Plus, you’re not staggering around in heels on slippery wet streets (for the women and, of course some Thai ladyboys), risking breaking your ankle by falling down holes (and no, Thailand’s streets are not paved well).
Carry an Umbrella – Obvious but, for many westerners, not so much. When a Thai says “carry an umbrella”, they mean carry an umbrella every time you leave your house for every minute of rainy season. That means, for six months of the year, a lightweight fold-up umbrella is in my purse whenever I walk outside my front door and, for six months of the year, I use it on 75% of the days.
Don’t Take Taxis in Bangkok – If you’re in Bangkok and it rains, the natural reaction if you’re a foreigner is to take a taxi. Don’t. Not unless you want to spend (and I’m not exaggerating) an hour in a taxi to move two blocks.
Bangkok’s horrendous traffic jams are legendary. During rainy season, when it’s raining, they’re at a complete standstill. Don’t waste money sitting in a taxi, going nowhere. Take the sky train, underground or sit in a shopping mall enjoying a cup of coffee until the downpour is over.
Need to Get Somewhere Fast? Motorbike Taxis – If you get caught somewhere during rainy season and you’re not close to a sky train station or underground, the only way to get somewhere fast when it’s raining is by motorcycle taxis.
Yes, you’ll get wet (but carry a lightweight plastic raincoat and it’s not too bad) but motorcycle taxis will go anywhere in any weather and, weaving their way through traffic jams at a standstill, they will get you where you need to go. Just keep your knees tucked in, so you don’t lose one of them on the side of a bus you’re passing.
Put Your Camera and Cell Phone in a Plastic Bag or Waterproof Holder – As dumb and unnecessary as it sounds, if you’re caught in the rain in Thailand and your camera and cell phone are in your open-topped bag, a frequent occurrence is they’ll get so wet they’ll stop working. That’s why many Thais either keep their cameras and cell phones in plastic zip-lock bags in their purses, or in a waterproof cell phone or camera holder. Better to be safe, than have that $500 camera completely worthless.
Discover Thailand’s Shopping Malls – One of the godsends of rainy season in Thailand is shopping malls. All over the country, even in small towns, shopping malls make rainy season more bearable.
In Bangkok of course, where there are more than 150 shopping malls with more opening every year, you’re never far away from one. So, when it rains, run into the nearest mall, along with most of the rest of Bangkok and enjoy an hour of window shopping, taking photos, eating lunch, having a cup of coffee – anything to keep you dry inside and out of the foot deep flood right outside the front door.
Visit Indoor Tourist Attractions – Bangkok’s most famous tourist attraction is the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. Stunningly beautiful on a sunny day, it’s miserable if you get caught in the rain in rainy season, as everything is outside.
If you’ll be visiting Thailand during rainy season, keep a close eye on the weather and, if rain looks likely, plan your day for indoor tourist attractions – in Bangkok, Jim Thompson House is beautiful, Bangkok’s Art and Culture Center is a wonderful art museum and it’s right next to the sky train with covered walkways to get to it, and Vimanmek Palace (the world’s largest teak building) is stunning.
Don’t Paddle in High Water – Every day in Bangkok when it rains, I see foreigners paddling around in foot deep water as they’re too impatient to stay inside until it stops raining. There’s a reason most Thais don’t paddle around in flooded streets – safety.
In Thailand, even in Bangkok, streets are not laid well and neither are sidewalks. What may have been a normal-looking flat sidewalk half an hour ago, under a foot of sudden flood water, can suddenly be a street of developing potholes. I once saw a Western guy, paddling in water, fall down a two foot hole that had suddenly opened up when the floods started. He wasn’t hurt, but boy did he look stupid standing in a hole up to his mid-thigh with water running around him.
In high water, you can’t see holes until you’ve stepped in them. Stay indoors. It’s safer.
Don’t Drive in Flooded Side Streets – Again, like any place in the world, if it’s raining hard it can flood. If you’re driving and it’s pouring down, don’t pull down a beginning-to-flood side street to try to miss the traffic. A Western friend did that and, within three minutes, the water was up to the bottom of his car door and rising rapidly. His engine spluttered and stopped, and there he sat in two and a half feet of water, stranded in his car. Don’t let that be you.
The main order of the day in Thailand in rainy season, and something Thais are superb at, is HAVE PATIENCE. If it’s pouring with rain – wait a few minutes. Although it looks like Noah’s Ark will be floating by soon, believe me, it won’t. Within half an hour, the rain will have stopped, the floods subsided and life in Thailand will go on as normal. Meanwhile, you’ve stayed inside, nice and dry, until it’s stopped. Welcome to Thailand. You are now Thai.