Southeast Asia is incredibly popular among travelers and thousands of tourists troop into the region annually. The main attraction of Southeast Asia is how affordable it is. Travelers on a tight budget can easily visit the region, explore, and have a good time. But there’s more to Southeast Asia than just being an affordable travel destination.
The cuisine in the area is superb and the culture is rich and diverse. The landscape varies from idyllic beaches to historical sites, mountains, and beautiful islands. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s safe to travel to Southeast Asia and the weather is good.
Eleven countries make up Southeast Asia and they include Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Laos, Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and East Timor. The last country may not be familiar to many people and rightly so. East Timor is a new country that used to be part of Indonesia.
This article focuses on the best time to visit Southeast Asia. Continue reading to find out.
Seasons in Southeast Asia
Most of Southeast Asia lies in the tropics which makes climate, animal, and plant life similar across the countries of the region. Temperatures are generally warm and the climate can broadly be divided into two – the rainy and dry seasons.
Chances are you’ve heard of or read about monsoons when researching Southeast Asia. It’s a seasonal shift in winds that brings strong winds and heavy rain to the region. So, the rainy season is synonymous with the monsoon season as it is the monsoon that brings rain to the region.
In most cases, monsoon rains are more of an annoyance than a showstopper since they tend to be heavy and occur with little warning even though it might not rain for long. However, public transportation is usually affected since heavy rain can affect road conditions.
Month-by-Month Guide to Southeast Asia
January is one of the driest months in Southeast Asia, especially in the northern part of the region. The dry weather means travelers can explore the outdoors and see the sights of the region. In countries like Thailand and Malaysia that are blessed with beaches, travelers soak up the sun and have fun on the beaches. River travel is also more popular in Vietnam during this period.
February is another good time to visit Southeast Asia as the daily temperature averages about 30°C. The evenings are usually cooler and you’ll do well to bring a jacket along. In Myanmar, the dry and cool weather makes it an ideal time to explore the beaches, plains, and foothills. River travel is at its peak in Cambodia due to the high level of water in Tonle Sap and the Mekong River. It’s also a good time to explore the famous temples of Angkor.
For those wanting some beach fun, they’ll do well to head to Thailand and Malaysia.
While temperatures are still mostly dry, March is usually a shoulder season in most countries across Southeast Asia. Visiting during this time means fewer crowds at the top destinations with accommodation and feeding tend to be cheaper. People traveling to Malaysia and Thailand are bound to have a pick of the best beaches.
April signifies the end of the dry season in many countries in Southeast Asia such as Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia, and Malaysia. Temperatures go up during this month and the number of travelers increases. If you intend to visit at this time, it is advisable you book well in advance.
While May signals the end of the dry season for Thailand and its neighbors (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) countries like Borneo, Lombok, and Bali are just starting their dry season. People traveling to the latter countries can explore the outdoors, soak up the sun, go snorkeling, skydiving, and enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities.
Hot, dry, and sunny weather continues to dominate in Indonesia and Borneo while other parts of the region start to experience the rainy season as short, heavy bursts of rain occur occasionally throughout this period. In Borneo, June is a good time to explore the outdoors and see orangutans as reddish-orange animals come to the lower branches to feed.
Rainy season continues in mainland Southeast Asia with short, heavy bursts of rain occurring in the afternoon or evening. So, travelers are advised to pack a rain jacket. The dry season continues on Malaysia’s east coast and Indonesia and July is the peak period for these countries.
Overall, Southeast Asia sees many visitors in July as it coincides with the school holiday period in many countries.
The rainy season continues in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The rains become more irregular and unpredictable making indoor activities more advisable at this time.
Borneo, Indonesia, and the Malaysian east coast are not so disadvantaged. For Borneo, the dry weather means turtle hatchlings at the beaches and outdoor exploration is common. In Indonesia, the weather makes jungle hikes, temple visits, and beach relaxation the order of the day.
This is the wettest month in Thailand and mainland Southeast Asia as heavy downpours become the norm in the afternoon and evening. Borneo is still hot and dry, same with Indonesia. However, the crowd begins to grow thin in Indonesia and you’ll find lots of amazing deals.
Northern Southeast Asian countries (Thailand and its neighbors) begin to welcome back the dry season and the landscape looks very rich and green after the rains. Early visitors can get good deals during this time. October is especially a good time to trek in Sapa.
Temperatures start to rise and the dry season fully kicks in across Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos. Thailand also get increasingly dry and hot and November marks the beginning of the high season in the aforementioned countries. Visitors start to troop in and prices start to go up.
Pleasant weather and the holidays make December one of the busiest months in Southeast Asia. It’s advisable you book at least three months in advance if you intend to visit at this time to get good deals and ensure availability. I followed my itinerary between Singapore and Bangkok in December and had glorious weather for the most part of the trip.
Peak, Shoulder, And Off-Peak Seasons in Southeast Asia
November to February is the peak season for most parts of Southeast Asia due to the dry and warm weather. The only downside is the crowds which make accommodation and even food more expensive. You may need to book early in advance to secure accommodation.
March to May is the shoulder season. Weather conditions are still fair although predictable short bursts of rain can still occur. You’ll need to pack a rain jacket at this time to prepare for the rain.
June to October is the off-season as the monsoon winds bring the rain with heavy downpours occurring in the afternoon and evening.
Best Time For Festivals and Events in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia is a culturally rich and diverse region and it’s no wonder that several interesting festivals and events are organized in the area.
Ati-Atihan is the largest festival in the Philippines and is referred to as the “mother of festivals”. Street dancing and wild costumes are the order of day during a festival that is organised to celebrate an ancient land pact between settlers and indigenous Atis.
Sinulog is another massive event in the Philippines that’s organized in honor of the child Jesus. There’s usually a huge street parade that’s reminiscent of the large festivals that South America is popular for.
Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year, and Naga New Year are celebrated in many countries of Southeast Asia in January and February.
Tet is celebrated in Vietnam in honor of the Vietnamese new year in February and shares many similarities with the Chinese New Year. Citizens take to the streets to celebrate setting off fireworks and beating drums and other noisy instruments they can lay their hands on.
Songkran is a massive festival in Thailand that is basically a water fight. For three days, the entire country descends in water mayhem as people drench each other with water via water pistols, buckets of ice-cold water, and super soakers. The overzealous ones may even take to the streets with industrial hoses!
Southeast Asia has a whole range of climates and landscapes, and different times of the year are suitable for traveling to different regions. Armed with the knowledge from the guide on this page, you can give yourself the best chances possible to have good weather during your trip.