The weather and climate in Malaysia can be a little confusing. Two separate monsoon systems affect weather differently on either side of Peninsular Malaysia. The islands along both coasts have different peak seasons, and the Malaysian slice of Borneo (East Malaysia) has its own unique patterns.
With temperatures consistently in the upper 80s degrees Fahrenheit and high humidity, you can count on being warm enough at all times outdoors. The only exception is the lush Cameron Highlands region where higher elevation makes it one of the only places you may actually feel chilly in Southeast Asia. All parts of Malaysia experience plenty of rainfall, even during dry season.
Monsoon Season in Malaysia
Monsoon season in Malaysia can be quite severe when compared to other countries in Southeast Asia. Expect heavy rains to cause flooding that disrupts outdoor plans in places such as Taman Negara and the many national parks in Borneo. Runoff clouds visibility in popular diving destinations such as Tioman Island, the Perhentian Islands, and Sabah.
The start of monsoon season varies from place to place in Malaysia, however October, November, and December are usually peak months for monsoon rains.
Kuala Lumpur is famous for surprising travelers with afternoon showers during the dry season — be ready! Malaysia’s capital city receives abundant rainfall throughout the year. Even June and July, usually the two driest months for Kuala Lumpur, average 14 rainy days per month.
The best time to visit Kuala Lumpur is generally in the summer since they have the least amount of rainfall. April, October, and November are the rainiest months; expect to slog along on flooded sidewalks. November averages 8.7 inches (221 mm) of rain due to frequent, heavy showers.
Whether rain or shine, the heat and humidity will prevail as you explore the many interesting neighborhoods in Kuala Lumpur!
Malaysia’s most popular island destination stays busy (blame the duty-free prices for alcohol), but peak season is from December to February. The mean temperature is usually around 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) throughout the year.
Langkawi’s location in the northwest extreme of Malaysia causes its seasons to diverge from other destinations where winter is typically the rainiest time to visit. December begins dry season for Langkawi, but there’s still plenty of rain. Although November is a “shoulder season” month, it’s also the wettest with an average of 10 inches (254 mm) of rain until precipitation drops abruptly in December.
Penang, Malaysia’s island best known for culinary prowess, shares a similar climate and geography with Langkawi. Both have short dry seasons from December to February, then plenty of alternating rain and sun for the rest of the year. September (3.9 inches / 99 mm) is a little drier than August and October.
Daytime temperatures can climb above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) as you enjoy the colonial architecture and street murals.
The Perhentian Islands
Malaysia’s beautiful Perhentian Islands are subject to rough seas and storms that hit between October and January. Although you may still be able to visit, the islands are practically shut down and closed up save for a few locals who choose to weather off season.
The best time to visit Perhentian Kecil (smaller and rowdier) or Perhentian Besar (bigger and quieter) is between February and August. Summers are busy, especially on Perhentian Kecil where backpacking students come to party and socialize.
Taman Negara, Malaysia’s oldest and most popular national park, stays green for a reason: it’s a rainforest! Even still, you’ll enjoy plenty of sunny days between February and September for hiking. The best months to visit Taman Negara are often March and April before the park grows even more crowded in May and June.
Dry season temperatures hover around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) with high humidity (80 percent or more). Avoid October, November, and December when heavy rainfall causes the Tembeling River to flood and trails become sloppy.
Sarawak and Sabah (Borneo)
Borneo hosts one of the oldest rainforests in the world. As expected, the jungle environment is perpetually hot and wet. Rainfall averages are among the highest in Malaysia, and humidity is often close to a suffocating 90 percent.
Weather differs between the two Malaysian states on Borneo. Sarawak, the southernmost state, gets more rain; dry season is June-August. Peak monsoon season is from November to January. Rainfall can exceed 14.5 inches (368 mm) in January!
Sabah, home to Kota Kinabalu, has less rain from January to April; October is the wettest month. Overall, Sabah tends to enjoy drier weather than Sarawak. There are opportunities for viewing wild and semi-wild orangutans in both places.
Rainy Season in Malaysia
The wet season in Malaysia is persistent. The line between “dry” and “rainy” season can be a little fuzzy. Regardless of the official season, showers are heavy and steady until the sun graciously reappears and evaporates standing puddles into thick humidity.
As with every country in Southeast Asia, life goes on during the rainy season! Weather shouldn’t deter you from visiting. That said, heavy rains can mess up outdoor adventures such as exploring national parks and snorkeling/diving. Opt for dive sites and snorkeling trips far enough offshore to avoid sediment runoff.
What to Pack: You’ll definitely want a way to waterproof your passport, money, and electronics for when afternoon thunderstorms pop up. Showers are torrential; an umbrella probably won’t be enough to keep you dry!
Mosquitoes are a bigger nuisance during rainy season — bring your favorite repellent. Coils for burning can be purchased locally. Leeches are a problem on low trails in Taman Negara and Borneo no matter the season. Pack some tall socks and real hiking boots if you’ll be spending time in the national parks. Although flip-flops will work as footwear everywhere else without a dress code, they are inadequate for the slippery trails.
Dry Season in Malaysia
Despite pop-up showers, dry season in Malaysia is glorious. The rain keeps foliage green, and tropical flowers bloom throughout the year.
Humidity averages 80 percent or higher at all times in Kuala Lumpur. Plan to drink more water than you thought possible!
What to Pack: Malaysia is situated close to the equator, even closer than Thailand — you’ll really feel the heat. Pack options for sun protection (hat, uninsulated cover-up) beyond just SPF which tends to get sweated away faster than it can be reapplied.
You’ll create more laundry than usual and need at least two clean tops a day. Pack extra or plan to purchase more. As expected, you’ll find plenty of T-shirts and sarongs available in local shops and markets.