Mention the words ‘monsoon season’ or ‘rainy season’ to most people and they picture great sheets of water endlessly pouring from the sky for days on end.
Not only is that a big misconception when it comes to Southeast Asia’s wet season, but it deters travellers from even considering the major benefits of travelling during the off-peak time of year!
Does it rain ALL day during the rainy season?
It’s true that downpours are common during the monsoon season. However, many people are not aware that rains tend to fall in heavy bouts for just a few hours at a predictable time each day (usually during the mornings) leaving the rest of the day bright and fresh!
In most places it rarely rains ALL DAY. So, if you simply plan your schedule around these downpours (and you buy yourself a poncho!), it’s very easy to make the most out of your time in Southeast Asia. And, as you’ll see below, there are many benefits in doing so.
Check out this video to see the contrast between a morning and afternoon that we spent in the beautiful town of Hpa An in Myanmar during their rainy season in September…
So… When is the Rainy Season in Southeast Asia?
First of all, if you’re confused about when the rainy season starts and ends in Southeast Asia, you’re right to be! While larger areas tend to follow a similar pattern depending on exactly where you are in Southeast Asia, there are some unusual microclimates, regional differences and alternative ‘rainy seasons’ to watch out for! However, as a general rule, the patterns are:
Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and the Philippines experience a very similar pattern year round. Here, there are three main seasons = dry, hot and wet season.
- Dry season – November to February.
- Hot season – March to May.
- Wet season – June to October.
On the other hand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have a different pattern. Here, there are only two seasons that each last for around half the year = wet and dry.
- Wet season – October to March.
- Dry season – April to September.
See below for more information on what to expect during these seasons…
Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and the Philippines
Most of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines experience the following three seasons at roughly the same time.
November to February = Dry Season
This is widely considered the most popular time to travel in Southeast Asia and is also known as peak season or high season. This the coolest and driest time of the year in many places and so many European travels prefer it compared to more hot and humid periods.
Remember though, ‘cooler temperatures’ does not necessarily mean cold. However, you will find activities such as trekking and cycling easier at this time and won’t sweat quite as much!
Naturally, the high season in Southeast Asia coincides with winter in Europe, and you’ll find lots of travellers heading to Asia to escape cold temperatures in the West! (Note: In Northern Vietnam it really can get cold in Hanoi and especially in Sapa so make sure you bring some warm clothes if you are travelling during this time, which is essentially the Vietnamese ‘winter’.)
The problem with travelling in the ‘high season’ is the amount of people who will be there at the same time! You’ll find more crowds at the major tourist sites and, inevitably, will pay higher prices for accommodation, tours and other activities during this time.
Some hotels literally double their prices during high season, so if you want to travel during this time you will likely need to up your budget. It is also advisable to book in advance during this time, especially if you are travelling over Christmas and New Year which gets extremely busy in many parts of Southeast Asia, particularly islands and beaches.
March to May = Hot Season
This is the hottest and most humid time of the year in Southeast Asia, with temperatures consistently around 100 degrees. The heat can make activities like trekking and biking difficult and can make you feel lethargic if you’re not used to it. It is wise to book accommodation with air conditioning at this time as it can be impossible to sleep at night without it! It gets hottest in Central Thailand, Cambodia and Laos during this time where there is little sea breeze to cool down the humidity.
April is also the time of the Water Festival across the Buddhist countries of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar which brings watery relief to locals and visitors alike. There’s nothing like a huge water fight to cool you down on a scorching hot day!
WARNING: Smoky Season (March-April)
Unfortunately, the hottest time of year is often the worst time of year for pollution in Southeast Asia, particularly in Northern Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. During the spring in March/April time, before the onset of the rainy season, the farmers burn the fields to make way for the planting of new crops. This is known as ‘slash and burn’ farming.
The process, mixed with the fumes of vehicles, creates terrible pollution in many areas, especially in the Northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, as well as Chiang Rai and Pai. Luang Prabang is also affected. It is best to avoid this smoky season if you can and stay further down south where the air is clearer.
June to October = Rainy or Monsoon Season
The monsoon rains usually fall between the months of June to October in most parts of Southeast Asia, although it can vary slightly year on year and from place to place. (See info on microclimates below). Also with climate change, the onset of rainy season is getting harder to predict! Rains can begin in Laos and Cambodia as early as May.
During this time travel can be interrupted with boats being halted due to rough seas and buses being cancelled due to flooded roads. If you do plan to travel during the rainy season, we definitely advise that you keep an eye on the local news and weather forecast to avoid the worst affected areas.
While many travellers avoid the rainy season completely, if done wisely, the rainy season can actually be a fantastic time to travel in Southeast Asia for the budget traveller! And, you should not worry if all or part of your trip falls in the period June – October.
Specific Monsoon Seasons to watch out for
Rainy Season in The Gulf of Thailand = October to November
The islands of Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and Koh Samui have their own rainy season during the months of October and November. During this time, it is still hot with long downpours during the day sometimes that go on for days on end! (I was on Koh Phangan for four days when it rained non-stop during the month of October. The boats stopped running and there were power cuts on the island. While inconvenient, it was actually pretty fun!) This is not a great time to visit these islands if you are wanting to dive as underwater visibility will be at it’s worst.
Typhoon Season in the Philippines = September and October
Rainy season in the Philippines follows the general pattern above, June to October. However, depending on where you are, the weather (as you’ll have undoubtedly heard about in the news over the past few years!) can be particularly extreme here. We would advise avoiding travel in the Philippines during September to October as typhoons can be very serious.
Rainy Season in Central Vietnam = October to February
The central coast of Vietnam around Hoi An and Hue experience a very heavy rainy season from October to February. At this time of year the streets often flood and typhoons are common.
Rainy Season in Southern Myanmar = Extreme!
Rainy season in Myanmar falls at the same time as the rest of the continent. However, something to note is that the rains can be particularly extreme here, particularly in the South of the country with huge downpours, the threat of typhoons and many roads being flooded. We would probably avoid travelling to the South of Myanmar during rainy season as it’s not a very pleasant time to travel and mosquitos can be at their worst during this time.
Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore
Compared with the rest of Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore tend to experience just two distinct seasons, rather than three. Their seasons are: wet season and dry season, it’s as simple as that.
October to March = Rainy Season or Monsoon Season
The rainy season in these parts is from October to April. This affects most of Malaysia, Singapore and the Indonesian Islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands. The heaviest rains tend to fall from December to March when boat trips and diving excursions are often cancelled due to rains and rough seas. The popular Lombok to Flores boat trip does not run from December to March as it is very dangerous to travel by sea during this time.
April to September = Dry Season
The other half of the year is known as dry season in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. This is the best time of year for diving, surfing and other water sports, as well as activities such as trekking and cycling. This is also the best time for spotting wildlife, particular the orangutans in Borneo (which hide away during the rains) and turtles on Lankayan Island.
Specific Monsoon Seasons to watch out for
The East Coast of Malaysia = November to February
The popular Perhentian Islands on the Eastern coast of Malaysia are effectively off-limit to travellers from November to February when monsoon rains ravage the islands. This is known as the Eastern Monsoon and affects Eastern Thailand (though much less heavily) as well. Boats stop running during this time as the seas are rough and dangerous and most of the accommodation and dive schools close during this time.
10 Benefits of Travelling SE Asia in the Rainy Season!
1. Fewer Crowds
Famous landmarks and deserted beaches all to yourself – yes, please!
Southeast Asia seems to become a more popular destination with each passing year – with iconic locations like the magnificent Angkor Wat and the Thai islands high on people’s radars! The pitfall of this popularity is that these exact spots that you want to experience as intimately as possible are now swarmed with crowds of tourists, all jockeying for the same epic photos and fighting for the perfect spot on the sand!
Of course, that does not mean you shouldn’t visit at all, but seriously consider going in the low season when fewer tourists means more space and time for you to have these incredibly unique experiences without a crowd milling around!
2. Cheaper Prices!
Half price accommodation, cheaper tours and restaurant deals – a traveller’s budget will stretch a lot further during the monsoon season!
Perhaps it goes without saying, but when a destination enters the off-season and local businesses need to continue drawing people to their doors, they will reduce their prices and offer special deals to entice the people who are visiting.
For anyone on a budget (i.e. backpackers!), the low season is the best time to travel because your money will stretch much further than it would during peak season when demand exceeds supply. Airlines and tour operators offering ‘low bird’ prices will most likely yield the biggest savings, but don’t be surprised to find accommodations also lowering their rates, sometimes even to half price! You may even find local restaurants and activity providers offering special deals to beat their competition in the quest for your business.
3. Smaller tour groups
As well as the cheap prices, many tours will have fewer people which means more opportunity to visit off the beaten track areas and more attention from guides!
Directly related to fewer people travelling overall is the guarantee that tour operators in the region will have smaller group numbers on their tours. Take advantage of those potential special deals to join a small group tour and you will probably find yourself having a much more personal and authentic local experience than if you travelled during the peak time.
Guides often find it easier to accommodate smaller groups at guesthouses and restaurants that would otherwise turn away a large group. Not to mention that you’re more likely to be welcomed into a local village or home when visiting in fewer numbers.
4. Fun local festivals
The rainy season is a festive and joyous time in Southeast Asia!
You might be surprised to learn that the people of Southeast Asia actually mark the rainy season with several important celebrations on their calendar. After the long, hot dry season, the rainy season is welcomed, especially by those in the rural areas where the wet season is an important phase in the rice cultivation cycle.
From the Rocket Festival in Laos and Northern Thailand that marks the start of the rainy season, to Buddhist Lent that lasts for three months in Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, to the boat races that mark the end of the rainy season in September, these are all exceptional times to immerse yourself in first-hand experiences with the local culture and make some truly special travel memories. Check out our guide to festivals in Southeast Asia here.
5. Lush green surroundings
Lush green rice fields, colourful flowers and bright green jungle. Southeast Asia’s rainy season is simply stunning!
There’s no way around it: it’s called the wet season for a reason and it is guaranteed to rain at some point! Lucky for you, the rain is usually not a constant event. It is far more likely to happen in brief cloud bursts in the afternoon that will finish almost as quickly as they began. Don’t forget to notice that the rain dramatically changes the formerly dry, brown landscape to a beautiful array of lush vibrant greens – something you definitely won’t see during peak season!
6. Cooler temperatures and cleaner air
The rains bring a cool relief from the sweltering temperatures of Asia and help to clean the air up from dust particles and pollution. Rainy season is the time to breathe in fresh air!
The rain makes the air fresher and cooler which makes those polluted Asian cities more manageable! Many people find the rain brings a cool relief from the heat of the day and many long-term expats in Southeast Asia actually consider the rainy season their favourite time of year due to the cleaner air!
As expat Dave said in our Facebook group: “There’s far too much fear and ignorance out there about a warm rain shower… Any expat will tell you its the best time of year…including me! Enjoy fewer crowds, no big queues, better pricing, clean air, cooler temperatures and a lush landscape cleaned by the rain. Why folks like the sweltering heat is beyond me!”
7. It’s a great time to exercise
Cooler temperatures make it easier to be active!
For those of you thinking of doing a yoga retreat or a Muay Thai Training Course, the rainy season can be the absolute best time to do so! The cooler temperatures make exercise easier and as we’ve said above, the fewer people during this time, means that you can get cheaper prices on activities!
8. Gushing waterfalls and great rafting
The rainy season is the time to see the region’s amazing waterfalls at their absolute best!
Many people who travel in the dry season are disappointed that Southeast Asia’s supposedly stunning waterfalls pretty much dry up to nothing but a trickle!
Khone Phapheng Falls in Four Thousand Islands, Laos is the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia and is truly spectacular in the rainy season, as is Ban Gioc Falls in Cao Bang Province, Northern Vietnam, Erawan Falls in Kanchanaburi, Central Thailand and Elephant Falls in Dalat. And, if you’re a fan of white water rafting or kayaking, the rainy season is also the best time to get that adrenaline pumping on the rapids!
9. Tropical Storms
Mother nature puts on her greatest show during the rainy season in Southeast Asia!
There’s no doubting that if you’re viewing from a safe place, Southeast Asia’s tropical storms can be amazing to watch! The rain season is a great time for seeing incredible dramatic skies and lightning storms. Just make sure that you check the local news and weather and avoid the dangerous storms and monsoons.
On the other side of the clouds, when sun mixes with rain you get = rainbows! Southeast Asia’s rainy season is a dream for photographers…
10 Tips on Surviving Southeast Asia’s Rainy Season!
As is the case when you travel anywhere, being prepared to adapt to the changing weather and having the right attitude will make a big difference in how much you enjoy your trip!
1. Bring a Waterproof Jacket or Buy a Poncho
Remember to pack a quality weatherproof layer or just do as the locals do and buy a cheap $2 US poncho (pac a mac) when you arrive. Those cheap plastic garments can be wrapped up in your bag and popped out whenever the drops start to fall. They are available at every 7-11 and convenience store in Southeast Asia during the rainy season.
2. Buy a rain cover for your backpack or invest in a waterproof bag
While it’s easy to get your body dry, you don’t want to get your backpack and the contents of it completely soaked! A good quality rain cover to fit your backpack will be a lifesaver in the rainy season. Check out some of these backpack rain covers on Amazon to keep your backpack dry! Or, if you are travelling with expensive electrical equipment that must stay bone dry, investing in a top quality waterproof backpack will give you peace of mind during the rainy season.
3. Quick-dry clothing
Bring plenty of light, breathable clothing that dries easily.
4. Flip flops or plastic sandals
The drainage in Southeast Asia isn’t the best, which means that streets flood very easily. You’ll want to wear shoes that you can literally wipe dry as it’s damn near impossible to dry out a pair of fabric shoes in the rainy season.
5. WARNING: Rainy Season = More Mosquitos!
One of the definite downsides of travelling Southeast Asia in the rainy season is the increase in mosquitos, bringing with them the threat of Dengue Fever and, in some parts, Malaria. We strongly advise that you invest in some strong insect repellant if you are travelling Southeast Asia at this time. It can be difficult to buy DEET in Southeast Asia, so we advise that you bring it from home. While some people prefer natural repellants, it’s good to have DEET as a back up when the mosquitos are really out in force! Many hostels will have mosquitos nets, so use them when available. More info on how to protect yourself from mosquitos while you travel is in our packing list here.
6. Should you bring an umbrella?
Cheap umbrellas will be available everywhere so you don’t need to give up precious space in your backpack packing one!
7. Relax in cafes and bars
Take advantage of the downpours by finding a local bar or café to relax and wait out the weather over a cold beer or coffee! People watching is one of the must-do activities in Southeast Asia, so relax and just take the rainy season in your stride.
8. Keep an eye on the local weather forecast / news
In many parts of Southeast Asia the rainy season doesn’t cause too many problems… However, there are certain ‘risk areas’ which are prone to typhoons, floods and other natural disasters. It’s best to speak to locals as you travel and keep one eye on the locals news and weather. You don’t want to be setting off to a place that is suffering from a particularly bad rainy season and is dealing with floods and storm damage. Keep your plan flexible and go where the wind blows you (literally).
9. Try alternative activities
There are many activities in Southeast Asia that can be done when it’s raining; take a cooking class, an arts and craft workshop, a Thai massage course, a Muay Thai or yoga class, and of course, go for lots of massages yourself!
10. You just never know…
A few years ago, my boyfriend and I were panicking about visiting Sri Lanka during their ‘monsoon season’. We had considered changing our plans to go somewhere else, but in the end decided to risk it! We spent a month there and it didn’t rain once… for some reason, the rainy season just came late that year!
So, my advice is, don’t pay too much attention to the climate patterns that you read on websites, as Mother Nature doesn’t always follow a set plan (Especially these days!) Keep your plan flexible and check out the weather a week in advance of where you plan to travel…