Asia in January is usually a festive time with many large holidays and New Year celebrations stretching for a week after January 1. The Lunary New Year, known widely as Chinese New Year, falls in January on some years giving a second "fresh start" for the year if resolutions didn't survive the month!
While countries in East Asia such as Korea and China will still be freezing cold, there are certainly less tourists clogging popular sights.
Meanwhile, much of Southeast Asia (excluding Indonesia and East Timor) will be enjoying dry, warm weather.
January is an excellent time to enjoy pleasant weather in Thailand and surrounding countries such as Cambodia and Laos before heat and humidity climb to three-shower-a-day levels in March and April. But watch out: January is usually the rainiest month in Bali.
Festivals and Events in Asia
Many big winter holidays in Asia are based on a lunar calendar, so dates change from year to year. These major events have the potential to hit in January. Do a bit of research first if you'll be in affected areas.
- Thaipusam: (dates vary) Thaipusam is celebrated by Hindu Tamil communities throughout India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia — especially in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Thaipusam is one of the largest Indian celebrations. Devotees volunteer to pierce their bodies with skewers to honor Lord Murugan, the god of war, as a large procession floods the streets. The Batu Caves outside Kuala Lumpur is a major epicenter for the event.
- Republic Day in India: (always on January 26) Republic Day, not to be confused with India's Independence Day on August 15, is one of three national holidays in India. The patriotic day celebrates India's adoption of a republic constitution on January 26, 1950.
- Thailand Full Moon Party: (monthly; on or close to the night of the full moon). The monthly Full Moon Party has grown into quite a spectacle. The event literally changes the flow of backpacking travelers through Thailand. January is a big month; people celebrate New Years Eve and again for the full moon later in the month. As many as 30,000 revelers gather at Haad Rin on the island of Koh Phangan to throw down in the sand until way past sunrise. Transportation to and from the islands on the gulf side of Thailand is affected leading up to and after the party.
- Vietnamese Tet: (dates vary; usually same as Lunar New Year) The Vietnamese Lunar New Year is big — and loud. The streets of Saigon are chaos with parties, firecrackers, and performances. The date for Tet typically coincides with Chinese New Year and is one of the most festive times to visit Vietnam.
- Shogatsu: (from December 30 to January 3) The Japanese New Year celebration stretches into the first few days of January. Many businesses close as people celebrate by visiting shrines and enjoying incredible food, of course. Lunar New Year is also observed as a traditional New Year, however, January 1 has been the "official" start of the new year in Japan since 1873.
Lunar New Year
The dates for Chinese New Year vary from year to year, however, the world's most widely celebrated festival falls in February or late January. Yes, the numbers even beat out Christmas and New Year's Eve. Expect millions of people to be traveling and filling up popular destinations throughout Asia before and after.
Although many countries have their own variations of the Lunar New Year celebration (such as Tet in Vietnam), all are massive events. Plan on street stages, performances, cultural traditions, and yes, lots of fireworks meant to frighten away malicious spirits in the new year.
Book ahead to enjoy Chinese New Year, and know that you will have lots of company on the road!
Some Lunar New Year dates in January:
- 2017: January 28
- 2020: January 25
- 2023: January 22
- 2025: January 29
Where to Go in January
China, Korea, and Japan will be chilly in January. Nepal, North India, and the Himalayas will unsurprisingly be blanketed with snow. But there are plenty of places in Asia to go in January to find sunshine and perfect weather.
Dry weather and mild temperatures will have crowds heading to popular places such as Thailand, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Burma/Myanmar, and other points throughout the northern part of Southeast Asia. Although traveler numbers will be near peak, January is a great time to visit Southeast Asia — and to escape some winter weather in the Northern Hemisphere!
January is a very rainy month for Bali, some islands in Malaysia such as the Perhentians, and places farther to the south. Those islands typically have monsoon seasons that are inverse of the rest of Southeast Asia. Mother Nature doesn't follow a strict calendar, but when monsoon season is beginning in Thailand, it is typically finishing in Bali.
Places with the Best Weather
- Vietnam (Hanoi and the north can still feel chilly)
- Langkawi and Penang in Malaysia
- Much of Sri Lanka (especially the south beaches such as Unawatuna)
- South India
- New Delhi, India
Places with the Worst Weather
- China (cold)
- Japan (cold; Okinawa and the islands in the south are an exception)
- Korea (cold)
- Kuching in Malaysian Borneo (heavy rain)
- North India (cold)
- Tioman Island, Malaysia (rain / rough seas)
- Perhentian Islands, Malaysia (rain / rough seas)
- Bali (rain)
Singapore in January
While the weather in Singapore is fairly consistent year round, November, December, and January are often the wettest months.
You won't really have to worry about being chilly while traveling Singapore in January, but you should take your umbrella!
Traveling During Monsoon Season
The term "monsoon season" conjures images of a heavy, perpetual, vacation-ruining deluge. Sometimes that is the case, but more often, you can enjoy traveling during a country's monsoon season — with a few additional perks, even.
Rain may hold off for days or simply be a heavy, refreshing shower in the afternoon that provides an excuse to duck indoors or go shopping. The air is often cleaner during monsoon season as dust and pollutants get purged.
Because rainy months usually coincide with "low" season, deals are easier to find. Prices for accommodation are often lower during the monsoon season. Tour rates are also lower. But depending on the destination, many businesses may close up shop for the low-season months, so you may have less choices.
Outdoor activities such as trekking and enjoying beaches are obviously a little more challenging when the clouds have opened up! Diving and snorkeling are still possible, however, you'll have to go farther offshore to avoid runoff from the island.
Regardless, Asia in January has a long list of beautiful destinations for escaping winter weather at home. What better way to start a new year?