May in Asia is pleasant, particularly in East Asia where spring is in full effect. Flowers and foliage will have recovered from winter. Tokyo averages 12 wet days in May, but the busiest travel time of the year (and largest of the spring festivals in Asia) begins with the Golden Week holiday from the end of April through the first week of May.
The Indian subcontinent, with the exception of the Himalayas in the north, will be hotter than ever. Meanwhile, Thailand and most of Southeast Asia will be starting their rainy seasons.
There is one very tempting option for avoiding a rainy trip to Asia in May: Flee the Southwest Monsoon's arrival by heading to the southern part of Southeast Asia. Bali, along with other top destinations in Indonesia, are usually just starting their dry seasons as Thailand and neighbors get all the rain.
Travelers exploring Asia in May will have a chance to attend a mix of interesting events such as Borneo's Gawai Dayak harvest festival, celebrations for Buddha's birthday in East Asia, and full moon parties in Thailand.
Urgent Seasonal Information for Japan
The Golden Week holiday period consists of four consecutive public holidays, giving millions of people a great reason to close up shop and travel the country; the first week of May is the busiest time to travel in Japan. You'll wait longer for trains, pay more for hotels, and fight for space at parks, shrines, and attractions. If you can, delay your trip by a week or two.
Asia Weather in May
|Bangkok||96 F (35.6 C)||80 F (26.7 C)||73 percent||8 inches (203 mm)||16|
|Kuala Lumpur||92 F (33.3 C)||77 F
|80 percent||3.1 inches (79 mm)||18|
|Bali||87 F (30.1 C)||76 F (24.4 C)||80 percent||0.6 inches (15 mm)||6|
|Singapore||90 F (32.2 C)||79 F (26.1 C)||80 percent||2.8 inches (71 mm)||14|
|Beijing||80 F (26.7 C)||58 F (14.4 C)||50 percent||0.5 inch (13 mm)||6|
|Tokyo||71 F (21.7 C)||/ 63 F (17.2 C)||68 percent||1.7 inches (43 mm)||12|
|New Delhi||104 F (40 C)||78 F (25.6 C)||42 percent||1.8 inches (46 mm)||3|
While pretty much all of East Asia will be warming up with pleasant weather and spring showers, a large portion of Southeast Asia will be scorching hot and ready for the monsoon to start if it hasn't yet. April and May can be the hottest months in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.
Rainfall is pretty consistent in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, but if you head south all the way to Bali, you'll enjoy a pleasant "shoulder" season with nice weather.
What to Pack
Although temperatures in East Asia are pleasant by day, drastic dips at night can make them feel even chillier. Take one warm item such as a light fleece you can use in the evenings. Once you feel the super-powered air conditioning on public transportation, you'll be glad you have something warm. It's a good idea to pack some lightweight rain gear no matter where you're going in Asia in May. But don't bother with carrying an umbrella thousands of miles—cheap ones are for sale everywhere.
Bring comfortable shoes, and depending on your destination, items for sun protection such as a hat and sunglasses. Also, pack an outfit that's thin for the heat but conservative enough for covering up to show respect if you plan to visit the many temples throughout Asia.
May Events in Asia
There are interesting and fun activities in May for all types of travelers. Look for a diversity of events such as full moon parties, Buddha's birthday celebrations, and rocket and fruit festivals.
- Golden Week: Four major holidays hit at once to create Golden Week, Japan's busiest time, which extends from the end of April into the first week of May. Showa Day is a time to rest; Constitution Memorial Day is for reflecting on the value of democracy; Green Day honors nature, and Children's Day celebrates youth.
- Buddha's Birthday: Although dates vary from year to year depending on the country, most Buddhists in Asia observe Gautama Buddha's birthday (he was born in modern-day Nepal sometime around 563 B.C.) on the first full moon in May. Also known as Vesak Day, the event is a national holiday in much of East Asia. Alcohol sales are often banned, and temples get busier.
- Full Moon Party in Thailand: Although Thailand's busy season begins to wind down in May, you may not notice at the rambunctious Full Moon Party (dates vary). Thousands of people gather each month at Haad Rin on the island of Koh Phangan to celebrate on the beach; the huge event influences the flow of backpackers throughout the country. Before and after the party, the islands are busy, but Chiang Mai gets a bit quiet for a few days.
- Gawai Dayak: Borneo's Gawai Dayak harvest festival celebrates indigenous culture and traditions. The event begins on the eve of May 31 and the festivities can last several days.
- Rayong Fruit Festival: Rayong, not far from Bangkok and the gateway to the island of Koh Samet, hosts an annual fruit festival lasting about a week—usually in May when the fruits reach their peak. The province is famous for producing some of Thailand's best fruit and seafood.
- Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festivals: The various rocket festivals held annually in May in villages across Laos and Isaan (in Thailand) are meant to usher in a productive rainy season. Teams compete by building and launching huge rockets, some of which could be better categorized as missiles; floats, along with dance and music performances, add to the fun.
May Travel Tips
- May is just the start of the dry season in Bali; however, Indonesia's most-visited island stays busy all the time. Book your Bali accommodation in advance if your itinerary isn't flexible.
- The secret to enjoying big Asian festivals is timing. Book in advance to avoid paying inflated prices for hotels that are near the action—and arrive a few days early if possible.
- Expect drastic weather swings in May. Blue skies can quickly turn dark and release a chilly downpour—be prepared.
- India, especially New Delhi, experiences daily temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). Urban pollution and humidity can make them feel like 110 F (43 C). Be ready for three showers a day, and pack or buy extra tops.
Places With the Best Weather
- Bali and nearby islands such as Nusa Lembongan
- Malaysian Borneo
- Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
- Nepal (May is often an ideal month for trekking)
- Japan (but watch out for Golden Week)
- China (May is a great month to visit)
Places With the Worst Weather
- India (extreme heat)
- North Sumatra (rain)
- Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos (heat and rain)
- Langkawi Island, Malaysia (rain)
- Myanmar, the former Burma (heat and rain)
- Hong Kong (heat, humidity, and rain)
Of course, visitors will always find exceptions to the list above. Mother Nature doesn't really observe the Gregorian calendar, and you'll be able to enjoy sunny days sometimes even during the rainy seasons.
Singapore in May
Although rainfall in Singapore isn't much heavier than usual, the humidity will be thick on the many sunny days in May. Afternoon showers pop up frequently; be ready to duck into one of the top-notch museums for exhibits and extra-strength air conditioning.
Haze in Thailand
Although the choking smoke from agricultural fires in Northern Thailand dissipates once the rains begin, it may still be a problem in May if the monsoon is late to arrive. Slash-and-burn fires and dust in the air raise the particulate matter to dangerous levels. The airport in Chiang Mai has even been forced to close on some days due to low visibility. Travelers with respiratory problems should check conditions before planning trips to Chiang Mai or Pai.
The Best Islands to Visit in May
While rain begins around Thailand and islands such as Koh Lanta begin to close down for the slow season, other islands in Malaysia and Indonesia are just starting to wind up for their busy seasons.
The Perhentian Islands in Malaysia get busier in May, and the diving improves. June is the peak month on Perhentian Kecil where sometimes all accommodation on the island becomes booked. Tioman Island in Malaysia gets rain throughout the year, but May is a good month to visit.
Mount Everest Climbing Season
Most bids for the summit of Everest are made from Nepal in mid-May when the weather is most favorable. Everest Base Camp will be buzzing with activity as teams get resupplied and prepare to climb.
May is generally the last month to enjoy spectacular views while trekking in Nepal before summer humidity messes up views until September.
Traveling During Monsoon Season
Like any other time of year on the road, traveling during the monsoon season has its advantages and disadvantages. If you'll be in Southeast Asia in May, you may face the beginning of the monsoon season. Don't despair—unless a tropical storm is shaking things up, you won't have perpetual rain. Plus, sights and attractions won't be as crowded.
Temperatures may be nicer, but the mosquito population increases. Prices are often lower in the "off" season, although May is so soon after the busy season in Southeast Asia that tour operators and hotels may be reluctant to start doling out discounts just yet.