A Change in the Weather
By Bongtao Chaiyanat Satjaporamet
For Thai people who grow up in year-round heat and humidity, the word “season” doesn't mean much. Despite being told in school that Thailand has three distinct seasons, we only think of these as hot, very hot and extremely hot. The rainy season, however, can add a bit of color to a dull summer workweek. It could be raining cats and dogs Monday morning, which then results in streets flooding and a break down of public transportation. This is the definition of the Monday morning blues, which can also refer to the color of your frozen body in overly air-conditioned offices and shopping centers during the cloudy months of this season.
Habitants of countries near the equator, like us, are only slightly affected by seasonal changes. The sun rises and sets at about the same time, and we wear the same kinds of clothes and eat the same kinds of food all year long. Even the tropical scenery stays pretty much the same throughout the year. On the other hand, most countries in the world have a full four seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. The distinct difference in weather causes changes in the way life is lived as the year progresses. When tropical habitats travel to these places for the first time, they will experience life in ways that they have never imagined before.
Winter seems to be the most exciting season for Thai people since we can never experience very cold weather in our own country. Snow falling from the sky is one of the most romantic things I have ever seen. I still remember the first time I witnessed snowflakes floating down from the heavens. I sat and stared at this wonder of nature for almost half an hour while feeling like I had never seen anything that beautiful before. Nevertheless, when it comes to traveling, winter is the season that I would try my best to avoid. The truth is, winter cold-heartedly kills vacation plans. When it's really cold and there is heavy snow, trains, airports, and roads are in chaos. All transportation options close periodically in order to plow the snow out of the way. And even if it is not snowing in your city, you will find flights constantly delayed through the winter months. Not only that, the pure white, winter wonderland slowly melts into a black sludge in the city, which causes people and cars to slide about dangerously. If you've been in this situation, then you know that it's not at all pretty or fun to travel in.
Moreover, daylight is in short supply during the winter. The sun rises in the morning at 9 am and sets around 4 pm. Some people might feel that it's a waste of time to travel during the winter because of the short days, but if they tried to do some of their sightseeing after-hours, they might see that the night sky during the winter has breathtaking beauty, of the kind you only see on picture postcards. For some types of people, this makes winter travel worth the risk.
When winter comes to an end, it's the time for spring. Spring is called "Primavera" in Italian and "Printemps" in French, which means "the first season" in both languages. This is because, as the weather warms and the snow melts, plants begin to come back to life. It is the beginning of life after the long, cold, quiet winter. I know that at this time everyone wants to head to the cherry blossom festival in Japan, but plane tickets and hotels are always fully booked months in advance. Besides this, the spring season overlaps with the other long vacations in Thailand, including Songkran and Labour Day. Thus, from April to May, many Thai people spend a whole year's worth of vacation days on one single spring trip.
Countries that travelers tend to overlook for their spring vacations are those located in Middle-East, such as Turkey, Egypt and the UAE. We might have a picture in our head of the Middle-East as a desert with nothing but the burning sun and endless stretches of sand, but, in the springtime, Middle-Eastern countries experience moderate weather and are filled with life. This is especially true in May when Turkey becomes a sea of tulips. An interesting piece of trivia is that tulips are actually native to Persia, even though most people have come to believe that tulips originated in Europe. Since Turkey does not require Thai passport holders to obtain a visa before entering, I highly recommend Turkey as a destination for spring vacations, as it is such a beautiful country and not as far away as we might think.
From July to September it is summertime, the season that people tend to not travel. This is the season the airline industry will lower their ticket prices to encourage more people to travel. The popular destinations for summer vacations are the lavender fields in Southern France, Hokkaido in Japan or shopping the summer sales in Europe and Hong Kong. The discounts that can be had at this time of year often cause travelers to spend all their savings on one big shopping trip. More importantly, summer is the season that is most rich in food, especially fruits and vegetables. If you are a foodie, you will be on cloud nine during your summertime travels.
Nevertheless, we should be careful during hot summer days. Even though we are used to high heat in Thailand, we should not underestimate the summer sun in other countries. Don't think that Thailand's temperatures can compete with the world's hottest summer hot spots, because the temperatures in other countries can really top out the mercury. Summer in America and Europe always comes with heat waves, an extreme weather condition that can be deadly. Also, in Japan, the humidity can be overwhelming. You will be drenched in sweat from head to toe, and after experiencing this myself years ago, I dare not visit Japan again during the summer months, no matter how cheap the plane ticket!
Another thing to think about when planning a summer vacation is the occasional, severe summer storm. In countries located in the Asia-Pacific region, such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Southern China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan, there are often typhoons. If you are lucky, you might get to experience a small typhoon and only miss a day of sightseeing. However, if you are not so lucky, you may encounter a big typhoon and have your whole vacation ruined.
Last but not least, if you are a fan of Korean drama series, you probably want to experience the romantic fall colors and snuggle in front of a cozy fire on a rainy afternoon. The best time to see the changing autumn foliage is from the end of October through November. You can visit Japan, Korea or China to appreciate this special beauty, or, if you have the budget, you can go farther to America or Canada. For me, I am more interested in the foods that come into season during the fall, like sweet potatoes, chestnuts, and pumpkins.
I discovered that there is one other country with spectacular autumn scenery, and that is the South Island of New Zealand. The best way to take in the fall colors is on a drive along the lake there. The autumn scenery is so lovely that you will constantly have to stop along the road to take photos. The changing foliage takes place around the time of the Thai Songkran Festival, so it is another good choice for Thai people who need a break from the extreme heat and wild festivities of this season at home.
If you still haven't decided on your next travel destination, I would suggest you to visit places that you have already been to, but during a season that you have not yet experienced there. I found that seasonal traveling allows me to see the beauty of one place in a totally different light and mood as if it were a completely different place. The change of season also changes the basic ways that people live their lives, and so it can seem that a familiar culture is suddenly fresh and new to the seasonal traveler. This makes me want to re-visit the same place in different seasons to experience the charms of each season.