January in Asia: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

People at the Forbidden City in January

Luis Castaneda Inc. / Getty Images

 

January in Asia can be cold but festive, assuming you aren't in Thailand or neighboring countries where the dry, sunny weather is ideal. January is also a pleasant time to travel in India.

Many large holidays and New Year celebrations stretch for a week or so after January 1. The Lunar New Year, known widely as Chinese New Year, is the largest holiday in Asia. On some years, the 15-day event falls in January and provides a second fresh start for anyone who already needs a "do over" for their resolutions!

While countries in East Asia such as Korea and China will still be freezing cold, there are certainly fewer tourists clogging popular sights. Meanwhile, much of Southeast Asia (excluding Indonesia and East Timor where monsoon season is bringing rain) and India 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 brutal levels in March and April.

Asia in January
© TripSavvy 2018

Lunar New Year in Asia

Make no mistake, if you're traveling anywhere in Asia on a year when the Lunar New Year holiday hits in January, your trip may be affected. You won't have to be anywhere near China; destinations as far away as Pai in Thailand get busier.

Millions of people in the region take advantage of a week away from work. They pack into many of Asia's top destinations, driving up hotel prices. With so many people on the move, flight prices tend to go up and transportation gets bogged down.

Monsoon Season in Bali

Although the delights of Bali can be enjoyed in some form or another throughout the year, January is often the rainiest month on the island. Beach days can get dreary as monsoon season peaks. Runoff causes poor visibility for diving and snorkeling unless you visit sites farther away from the island. But there is some good news: Bali will be far less crowded than during the peak months (summer)!

Asia Weather in January

(average high / low temperatures and humidity)

  • Bangkok: 91 F (32.8 C) / 73 F (22.8 C) / 64 percent humidity
  • Kuala Lumpur: 90 F (32.2 C) / 75 F (23.9 C) / 80 percent humidity
  • Bali: 87 F (30.6 C) / 77 F (25 C) / 82 percent humidity
  • Singapore: 87 F (30.5 C) / 76 F (24.4 C) / 81 percent humidity
  • Beijing: 36 F (2.2 C) / 18 F (minus 7.8 C) / 44 percent humidity
  • Tokyo: 49 F (9.4 C) / 40 F (4.4 C) / 44 percent humidity
  • New Delhi: 69 F (20.5 C) / 46 F (7.8 C) / 73 percent humidity

Average Rainfall for January in Asia

  • Bangkok: 1.06 inches (27 mm) / average of 1.8 days with precipitation
  • Kuala Lumpur: 4.64 inches (118 mm) / average of 17 days with precipitation
  • Bali: 5.55 (141 mm) inches / average of 16 days with precipitation
  • Singapore: 3.14 inches (80 mm) / average of 17 days with precipitation
  • Beijing: 2.7 inches (69 mm) / average of 2 days with precipitation
  • Tokyo: 0.32 inch (8 mm) / average of 6 days with precipitation
  • New Delhi: 0.40 inches (10 mm) / average of 3 days with precipitation

January is a month to enjoy perfect weather in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Burma—albeit high season. Warm days, dry weather, and relatively low humidity are ideal for exploring outdoor sights such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

In Southeast Asia, Vietnam's unique shape makes Hanoi an exception. Although most of Vietnam is warm in January, northern destinations such around Hanoi will still feel surprisingly cool, especially in the evenings. The average low there is 56 degrees F (13.3 C).

East Asia will be cold, maybe even inundated with snow. Meanwhile, India will be dry and warm throughout the subcontinent—excluding northern destinations at higher elevations near the Himalayas. January is a good month for exploring Rajasthan, India's desert state.

Places with the Best Weather

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)

What to Pack

If traveling to East Asian destination such as China, Korea, or Japan, you're definitely going to need warm clothing. Even places such as Hong Kong with moderate temperatures will feel chilly at night. The same applies to Nepal and any other destination at higher elevation than usual. Popular stops in northern Thailand can feel cool with temperatures in the 50s F at night after afternoons in the upper 80s F.

For Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, have a good way to waterproof your passport and electronics in case you're caught in one of the frequent, pop-up showers.

If your trip coincides with Lunar New Year, you may wish to pack something red to wear for good luck. But don't worry: Shops will be filled with red items you can purchase for the event!

January Events in Asia

Many big winter holidays in Asia are based on lunisolar calendars; dates change from year to year. If you happen to be in one of the festival epicenters, things will get busy. These major events have the potential to land in January—be prepared and enjoy!

  • Thaipusam: (January or February) 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. Some 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: (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 Year's 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 dance in the sand; the party just gets going at sunrise! Transportation to and from the islands on the gulf side of Thailand is affected leading up to and after the party.
  • Vietnamese Tet: (usually same as Lunar New Year) The Vietnamese Lunar New Year is big and loud! The streets of Saigon are chaotic 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: (January 1 – 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 special food. 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.

January Travel Tips

Although 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 carry your umbrella at all times!

Tips for Traveling During Lunar New Year

The dates for Lunar New Year vary from year to year, however, the world's most widely celebrated festival usually falls in January or sometimes February. Yes, the numbers of celebrations 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.

Plan on street stages, performances such as lion dances, 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 that fall in January:

  • 2020: January 25
  • 2023: January 22
  • 2025: January 29

Tips for 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 might have less choices.

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