The best time to visit Malaysia depends on weather, crowds, and festivals. Because of Malaysia's geographical shape and location, seasons differ from one side of the peninsula to the other and across destinations. The weather is often different in East Malaysia (Borneo) than in Peninsular Malaysia. Even in Peninsular Malaysia, the weather can differ completely between Penang, a popular island in the north, and Kuala Lumpur.
With the exception of the Cameron Highlands where evenings are damp and chilly enough to merit a jacket, Malaysia stays hot and humid throughout the year. The primary concern is rainfall, and in the case of visiting some islands, sea conditions.
Generally, because of the way the monsoon moves in, islands on the west side of Malaysia (e.g., Penang, Langkawi, etc) are better to visit in the winter months between December and February, while islands on the east side of Malaysia (e.g., the Perhentians and Tioman Island) are better during the summer months between June and August.
Weather in Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur enjoys a tropical climate: plenty of sunshine and rain with high humidity between showers throughout the year. Don't expect to have a completely dry visit to Kuala Lumpur; rain can come at any time. Even the peak month of July, the driest month, averages 11 days of rain.
Although Kuala Lumpur receives abundant rainfall from the northwest monsoon regardless of the season, the driest months are usually June, July, and August. July usually has the least number of rainy days.
The rainiest months in Kuala Lumpur are usually April, October, and November.
Weather in Penang
The driest months in Penang, Malaysia's big island famous for culinary treats, are between December and March. January and February are the most ideal, but they are also scorching hot. Temperatures and humidity climb to three-shower-a-day levels by April.
September and October are by far the wettest months in Penang.
When to Visit the Perhentian Islands
Malaysia's popular Perhentian Islands hit their peak during the summer months; accommodation becomes more expensive and can even fill to capacity between June and August. Travelers to Perhentian Kecil once had to sleep on the beach or with strangers while waiting for rooms to free up.
Although visiting the Perhentian Islands during the winter is possible, many hotels and restaurants are closed for the low season. Rough sea conditions can make getting to the islands an unpleasant challenge between November and March. The small speedboats that ferry passengers back and forth have a hard time getting people and supplies to the island. Langkawi or other islands on the west side of Malaysia are better choices when the Perhentians are mostly closed for the season.
When to Visit Langkawi
Popular Pulau Langkawi, Malaysia's busiest tourist island, hits high season in December, January, and February when the weather is best.
Although jellyfish are a constant problem for swimmers throughout much of the year, they are especially a nuisance between May and October. Buy a small bottle of vinegar or ask a restaurant kitchen for some to help ease stings quickly.
When to Visit Tioman Island
Duty-free Tioman Island (Pulau Tioman) on the east side of Malaysia is actually quite close to Singapore. The driest and busiest months for Tioman Island are between November and March. The island becomes relatively quiet during the summer months when backpackers and other travelers are in the Perhentian Islands on the other side of Malaysia to party.
Tioman Island is carved up into many separated, completely different beaches. Even during the busy months you can find relative peace and isolation.
Weather in Malaysian Borneo
Malaysian Borneo, or East Malaysia, is the third-largest island in the world and east of Peninsular Malaysia. The weather is most suitable during the summer months (June, July, and August) for taking advantage of the many outdoor adventures on offer. Regardless, persistent rainfall throughout the year keeps the rainforests nice and green for the endangered orangutans there.
The wettest months for Kuching in Sarawak are December, January, and February. Rainfall can be incredibly hard, disrupting plans and turning the national park trails into muddy streams.
The Rainforest World Music Festival held each summer is a great time to visit Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. Along with enjoying bands from all over the world, you'll be able to see indigenous Dayak culture on display in the many afternoon workshops.
Learn how to find the cheapest flights to Borneo.
Big Festivals in Malaysia
Regardless of weather, a few big festivals and holidays in Malaysia (and the rest of Asia) may cause disruption or inconvenience while traveling. Arrive early to enjoy or stay clear of an area until the festival finishes.
- Rainforest World Music Festival: Kuching fills to capacity during this three-day event of culture and music held each summer.
- Ramadan: The dates for Ramadan are based upon the moon and vary from year to year. While you certainly won't go hungry during the Islamic holy month, some restaurants and businesses may be closed, at least until sundown. You should show proper respect to people who may be fasting throughout the day. Read more about what to expect when traveling during Ramadan.
- Hari Merdeka: Celebrated annually on August 31, Malaysia's Independence Day is a festive event with parades, fireworks, and lots of traffic-disrupting revelry. See more about Hari Merdeka.
- Malaysia Day: Celebrated annually on September 16, Malaysia Day is Malaysia's other patriotic holiday.
- Chinese New Year: With such a large ethnic Chinese population in Malaysia, Chinese New Year is often the largest festival of the year. Dates vary from year to year, however, the festival usually hits in January or February. Read more about Chinese New Year and what to expect while traveling.
- Deepavali: The Hindu festival of Deepavali (also spelled as Diwali) is widely celebrated in Malaysia, particularly in Kuala Lumpur and Penang.