The rainy season in Southeast Asia is the stuff of legend. If you’re planning a trip to the region, you’ll no doubt have heard weary travellers spin tall stories of three months trapped on Koh Phangan or had older relatives explain the intricacies of Indonesia’s climate from all the Attenborough documentaries they’ve watched. Even the name ‘monsoon season’ conjures images of sheeting rain for weeks on end.
But we’re here to tell you, seriously – don’t worry about it!
While the wet season can make travel more complicated, it’s totally doable! As a matter of fact, there are plenty of huge benefits to travelling during the rainy season, especially for adventurous budget backpackers! Savvy long-term travellers to Southeast Asia (like us) will tell you – the rainy season is actually one of the best times of the year to travel to the region! Why? Let us explain all…
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When is the rainy season in Southeast Asia?
Different areas of Southeast Asia are affected at different times. Even parts of the same country can experience wildly different weather! Traditionally, the monsoon season stretches from June to October in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and the Philippines. In Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, the season spans October to March.
CHECK OUT 👉 Southeast Asia Climate Guide (opens in a new tab) for a more detailed breakdown of Southeast Asia’s wet season!
Did you know? One common misconception about the rainy season in Southeast Asia is that it rains ALL day every day non-stop. While this can happen, it is much more likely that it rains all at once in huge downpours (often in the afternoons) leaving large parts of the day sunny, bright and fresh! Therefore, if you plan your time appropriately to avoid the rainstorms (and always have a poncho handy!) you can still explore the countryside, sunbathe on the beach or do whatever you fancy!
The Pros and Cons of Travelling During Rainy Season
Pros of Travelling During the Monsoon Season
1. Fewer Crowds
Famous landmarks and deserted beaches all to yourself — yes, please! Southeast Asia has never been as popular as it is now — with iconic locations such as Halong Bay, Angkor Wat and Gardens by the Bay high on people’s radars. The pitfall of this popularity is that you can rarely enjoy these epic spots without being one of a hundred tourists jockeying for the same photo.
Rainy season equals low season across much of Southeast Asia. And low season means far fewer tourists. While you’re still unlikely to witness the sunrise over Angkor Wat all alone, the crowds will be much thinner, allowing you to take in the views without having someone breathing down your neck.
2. Cheaper Prices
As mentioned above, the rainy season means far fewer tourists. And fewer tourists means more competition for local businesses who will significantly reduce their prices to entice you in.
Half price accommodation, cheaper tours and meal deals at local restaurants are all commonplace during low season — if you’re lucky, you might be able to find discounted flights too!
3. Smaller Tour Groups
You might be seeing a pattern here… Fewer tourists means fewer people in your tour group. Not only are tours likely to be cheaper, but they’ll also be more intimate, with guides having more time to answer questions and deliver a personalised trip for you.
You can also end up having a much more local experience. Large tour groups often have to be turned away from local street food stalls as they don’t have the capacity to cater to them. In a smaller group, however, you can enjoy these tasty local eats in the more off the beaten track towns and villages en route to your destination.
4. Fun Local Festivals
The rainy season is a festive and joyous time in Southeast Asia! People across Southeast Asia mark the rainy season with several important festivals and celebrations. After the long, hot dry season, the rain is welcomed — especially by people in rural areas where it plays an important role in the rice cultivation cycle.
The Rocket Festival in Laos and Northern Thailand marks the start of the rainy season. Vassa (Buddhist Lent) is celebrated in Myanmar, Laos and Thailand for three months during the rains and boat races take place across the region to celebrate the end of monsoon season. These are all exceptional times to immerse yourself in local culture and make some truly special travel memories.
5. Lush Green Surroundings
Lush 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! Thankfully, the rain isn’t usually a constant deluge. It’s far more likely to rain in short, sharp bursts that end as quickly as they begin.
Pay attention to how the rain changes the formerly dry, brown landscapes into a beautiful array of lush vibrant greens — it’s something you definitely won’t see during peak season!
6. Cooler Temperatures and Cleaner Air
The rain brings cool relief from the sweltering Asian climate. It helps pull dust particles and pollution out of the air too so you’ll never experience Southeast Asia fresher than after a recent downpour!
Many people find the rain brings relief from the heat of the day and many long-term expats in Southeast Asia 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 it’s 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 considering a yoga retreat or Muay Thai Training Course, the low season can be the absolute best time to do so!
The cooler temperatures make exercise easier and as we’ve said above, fewer people around means cheaper prices!
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 to see Southeast Asia’s supposedly stunning waterfalls can be little more than a trickle!
Khone Phapheng Falls in Four Thousand Islands, Laos, is the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia and is spectacular in the rainy season. Ban Gioc Falls, Vietnam, is truly epic when full and Erawan Falls, Thailand, needs to be seen to be believed.
And, if you’re a fan of white water rafting or kayaking, the rainy season is also the best time to get your 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 wet season is a great time for seeing dramatic skies and powerful lightning storms. Just make sure that you check the local media to avoid dangerous weather events.
Cons of Travelling During the Monsoon
1. Cancellations and Delays
Across most of Southeast Asia, monsoon season won’t interrupt your travels too much. However, there’s always a chance that flooding can bring transportation links to a standstill. Plenty of buses and trains are cancelled and delayed every year due to the rains.
Heavy rains often mean a lot of flooding and standing water. Mosquitos LOVE standing water. Across much of Southeast Asia, there’s a noticeable uptick in mosquitos during wet season.
If you’re travelling during the rains, be extra careful. Practising bite avoidance and using repellent is strongly recommended. In areas where malaria is common, most accommodation options will supply you with mosquito netting on your bed.
However, more rural areas may not. If you’re getting properly off the beaten track, consider purchasing a mosquito net to protect you from those buzzy blighters!
3. Spending Time Indoors
Sure, the rain itself isn’t all that unpleasant when it falls. In fact, being out in an extreme downpour can be quite a rush — but the world isn’t quite as friendly after the rains. Flooding can be a real problem in towns and cities. Sewage systems can back up and create an assault course of floaters to dodge. Dangerous objects can be obscured by muddy waters and there are even cases of people falling into exposed manholes.
Due to these risks, you’ll probably need to spend a bit more time indoors when travelling during monsoon season.
4. Less Choice of Accommodation
Some hotels in Southeast Asia close for the rainy season — especially in areas where the rains affect beach holidays. Koh Samui, Phuket and the Perhentian Islands all see a dramatic reduction in accommodation options during low season.
However, the accommodation options that remain open tend to offer great discounts to get customers through the door. While choice is limited, the trade-off for cheaper pricing can be worth it!
5. Scuba Diving Tours Can Be Negatively Affected
While some dive trips are still available during monsoon season, the experience is often less magical. Rough seas can make getting to your dive spot a stomach-churning challenge and cancellations or postponements due to poor conditions are much more likely.
Southeast Asia’s waters tend to be more cloudy during rainy season. Rough surface conditions can stir up the seafloor, especially if you’re diving in shallow water, creating a cloudy soup of sand and mud. Rain washes dirt and sediment into the sea too. These contribute to the murk and can reduce vision to just a few metres.
6. Tours and Transport Run Less Frequently
Travelling in Southeast Asia is a different experience from travelling in Europe or the USA. Buses, boats and trips don’t always run at set times. Instead, they’ll leave when they’re full. With fewer tourists travelling and many locals staying close to home, it takes far longer for transport and tours to fill during rainy season. It’s worth carrying a good book to get you through the long waits!
Tips for Travelling During Rainy Season
If you’re hunting for the best prices, want to avoid the crowds and don’t mind getting wet occasionally, Southeast Asia’s wet season can be an excellent time to travel!
These tips for travelling during the monsoon season will help prepare you to get the best out of your Southeast Asian adventure, despite the rain!
1. Bring a Waterproof Jacket (or Buy a Poncho)
Quality waterproof clothing will make your travels much less stressful. Packable rain jackets are an ideal choice because they compress down small and weigh very little. Or, you can do as the locals do. Every 7-11 and convenience store in Southeast Asia sells cheap plastic ponchos (pac a mac). They cost just a couple of dollars, weigh less than a jacket and are easier to cram into your bag!
2. Buy a Rain Cover for Your Backpack or Invest in a Waterproof Bag
Keeping your body dry is easy — and let’s face it, not all that important considering the average temperatures in Southeast Asia. However, keeping your backpack and belongings dry is another story. You don’t need me to explain the interaction between electronics and rain…
A good backpack cover is essential for travelling in Southeast Asia’s wet season. Or, if you want to ensure everything is completely weatherproof, you can opt for a waterproof backpack. Honestly, a fully waterproof pack is probably overkill but if it gives you peace of mind, it might be worth considering.
3. Quick-Dry Clothing
Bring plenty of light, breathable clothing that dries easily. You will get wet at some point and with the humidity in Southeast Asia, clothing doesn’t dry as quickly as you’d expect!
4. Flip Flops or Plastic Sandals
Many Southeast Asian cities are prone to flooding during heavy rainfall. If you’re out exploring during monsoon season, there’s a good chance you’ll be wading through floodwater at some point! You’ll want shoes you can literally wipe dry — it’s damn near impossible to dry out a pair of sneakers in rainy season!
5. WARNING: Protect Yourself From Mosquitos!
One of the definite downsides of travelling through Southeast Asia in the rainy season is the increase in mosquitos, bringing with them the threat of Dengue Fever and, in some parts, Malaria.
It can be difficult to buy truly effective insect repellent in Southeast Asia. Sure, Citronella and other natural remedies are available everywhere but to be honest, these either don’t work or are nowhere near as effective as DEET, Permethrin or Picaridin — the three most common and effective repellents.
We recommend stocking up with insect repellent before you leave home to ensure you have a steady supply to get you through your trip.
As well as insect repellent, it’s worth making use of mosquito nets and other bite prevention methods while travelling during monsoon season. Hostels, hotels and other accommodation options will likely provide mosquito nets if required.
How to use insect repellent:
Both DEET and Picaridin should be applied straight onto skin — this is true of Citronella and other natural treatments too although they won’t be as effective. Moisten all exposed skin with your repellent of choice but avoid your eyes, nostrils and mouth. Avoid putting insect repellent on cuts or irritated skin. You should also avoid using insect repellent under your clothes.
Permethrin should not be applied to the skin unless it specifically says so on the label. Generally, Permethrin is used to treat your clothes and backpacks. It protects against mosquitos, ticks and even bedbugs. Rather than keeping bugs away like DEET and Picaridin, Permethrin kills them on contact. The reason Permethrin shouldn’t be applied to your skin isn’t for safety, it’s that the chemical compound breaks down quickly when in contact with human skin. This renders it essentially useless. Once it’s dried on your clothes though, it can last up to 20 washes before needing to be re-applied.
Mosquito bite prevention methods are most effective when used in conjunction with one another.
6. A Word on Umbrellas
Cheap umbrellas will be available everywhere in Southeast Asia. You don’t need to sacrifice precious backpack space by bringing one from home!
7. Relax in Cafes and Bars
Take advantage of the downpours by finding a local bar or café to unwind 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 news and weather reports.
You don’t want to arrive at your next stop to find out it’s been ravished by flood and storm damage! Keep your plans flexible and go where the wind blows you (sometimes literally).
9. Try Alternative Activities
Many activities in Southeast Asia 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!
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10. You Just Never Know…
A few years ago, our very own editor Nikki Scott and tech wizard Dave were panicking about visiting Sri Lanka during monsoon season. They’d considered changing plans to go somewhere else, but in the end, decided to risk it! They spent a month there and it didn’t rain once… for some reason, the rainy season just came late that year!
So, our advice? 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…
Monsoon Season FAQs
- What is a monsoon?
The term monsoon is most commonly used to describe the rainy phase of a seasonally changing weather pattern. It can also be used to describe the annual heavy (but short) periods of rainfall in localised regions.
- Should I visit Southeast Asian islands during rainy season?
Thankfully, there’s always a tropical island paradise waiting for you in Southeast Asia. Due to weather patterns in different parts of the region, you’ll always be able to find a sun-soaked island no matter when you travel!
- Do I need special mosquito repellent for rainy season?
Mosquitos are more prevalent in the wet season and you’ll need to be more vigilant with your bite avoidance strategies. However, special mosquito repellent isn’t required. As long as you’re using an effective repellent like DEET, Permethrin or Picaridin, you’re already prepared.
If you’ve opted to use Citronella or up your intake of B12 (seriously, this is a thing…) rainy season is the time to move on to proven repellents for your own safety. Dengue Fever is called ‘breakbone fever’ for a reason!
So, Should I Travel to Southeast Asia in Wet Season?
The answer is an unequivocal yes. Southeast Asia has a ton to offer no matter the time of year. If you specifically want to spend loads of time outdoors, or go diving, then it’s worth avoiding during peak monsoon season where possible. But for an average backpacker, the pros of travelling in rainy season far outweigh the cons. Fewer crowds, cheaper prices, cooler temperatures and a vast array of local festivals await those willing to travel during the rains!
Have you travelled during Southeast Asia’s rainy season before? Let us know your experience in the comments!
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