A Survival Guide to the Rainy Season in China

Rainy view of skyscrapers in foggy background. Dowtown Chengdu, Sichuan, China

Luis Dafos/Getty Images

"Rainy season" is what it sounds like. It is a seasonal occurrence that takes place at different times of the spring and summer in different parts of China. While in some parts of China, rainfall will be higher at certain times of the year, it does not have an official rainy season. Rainy season falls across southern and southeastern China.

Rainy season, as the name implies, is usually several weeks of rainy weather where you can count on the weather being wet.

When Is Rainy Season?

If you plan to travel in China between the months of April and July, and will be traveling around the country, then it is highly likely that you will hit rainy season in some part of China.

Rainy season starts in the south and moves north as the months go by. South China will be rainier earlier in the spring from April-May. The plum rains,梅雨 meiyu, or “may yoo” in Mandarin, nicknamed for the season when the fruit ripens, hit eastern China in May-June. The rains move north from June-July.

What Is Rainy Season Like?

Rainy season can be mild with just overcast skies and light sprinkles or it can feel like it's raining torrential downpours on a daily basis. There's no telling how it will be and on your weather app, you'll just see day after day of cloudy skies and thunderstorm icons.

Of course, finding yourself ankle-deep in water after three solid days of rain as you try to hail a taxi is no fun whatsoever. It's good to be prepared for this kind of weather when you're traveling. 

Travel Tips

  • If you are traveling in China, try to choose trains instead of airplanes if possible. Air traffic usually gets severely backed up during times of heavy rains. Even if you're in Beijing, where it's dry, and you're trying to get to Shanghai, where they're experiencing thunderstorms, you might have trouble because flights can't take off from Shanghai so your Beijing flight will be delayed. Take the train if you can. It is the only mode of transportation in China that runs mostly on time.
  • Combined with slow air traffic is even slower car traffic. Try not to schedule domestic flights at peak times like Friday evenings or Monday mornings when the combination of heavy traffic + heavy rain creates at best, delays, at worst, cancellations.
  • Give yourself plenty of time if you are traveling by car during rainy season. Traffic and crowding can be hideous in big cities and if you're rushing to catch the train you so cleverly booked, and get caught in a snarl on the way to the train station, you will be very upset.
  • If traveling for business and have the means, you might want to look into hiring a car for the period of business travel so you don't have to depend on taxis which can be scarce when it's raining.
  • When traveling for leisure, try to be flexible with your sightseeing schedule. Save the indoor activities such as the museum or shopping for the rainy days.

Packing Tips

Rainy season in China doesn't have to ruin your trip, just come prepared and you'll be fine. Here are some thoughts for packing for rainy season.

  • Bring extra shoes - Pack an extra pair of shoes that you're happy to toss out at the end of your trip. Make these your rain shoes and wear them around on the wet days. Don't be surprised if you find yourself wading in puddles. And especially if you're traveling with children, they will definitely get their shoes wet so you'll want an extra pair while the other one dries.
  • Consider rain boots - Rain boots are not a bad idea. Sometimes you just can't avoid walking through enormous puddles. And when the rain falls really hard and fast, the gutters can back up and you'll find the sidewalks flooded. I'm really thankful for my boots on these days. Now, you probably don't want to bring a heavy pair of boots with you but look out in the small markets and shops for rain shoes. When the weather gets bad, all kinds of rubber boots and shoes come out.
  • Rain jackets for the whole family - We've been caught in rainy weather - rainy season or not - so many times when we travel in China that now rain jackets are on my essentials list no matter where we're going or what the forecast is.
  • Umbrellas - Luckily umbrellas are plentiful and even if you walk out of the museum to find it pouring, likely as not, an enterprising entrepreneur is standing outside the door selling them for a slight premium.