Traveling during the monsoon season in Asia sounds like a bad idea. After all, much of the splendor of exploring a new country happens outdoors, not while being stuck inside the hotel.
But the rainy season throughout much of Asia isn't always a showstopper. Afternoon downpours may last only an hour or two. The sun still shines now and then, even during monsoon season. With a little luck, you’ll still get to enjoy plenty of dry days along with the added bonus of lower prices and uncrowded attractions. Tour operators and hotels frequently give discounts during the low season when they have less business.
Asia is affected by different monsoon patterns at different times. For instance, while the islands in Thailand are getting plenty of rain in July, Bali is at the peak of dry season. If your itinerary is flexible, you can escape the ever-changing weather by grabbing an inexpensive regional flight.
What to Expect During Rainy Season
Does it rain every day during monsoon season? Not typically, but there are no promises. Mother Nature's moods change from year to year. To the frustration of rice farmers and tour agencies, even the start of monsoon season isn't as predictable as it once was. Flooding has become more commonplace in the last decade or so as weather extremes intensify. Excessive development in popular areas causes additional erosion leading to runoff and mudslides.
The bottom line for traveling during monsoon season: Pop-up showers in the afternoons can send people scurrying for cover, however, there are often many sunny hours a day to enjoy seeing the sights. Keep your itinerary flexible during the rainy season — adapt and overcome!
The Pros of Traveling During Monsoon Season
- With less travelers competing for photos, popular sights and attractions will be more accessible and easier to enjoy. You may have popular beaches mostly to yourself!
- Accommodation prices are often cheaper during the low season. You’ll be able to haggle for discounts more easily, particularly late in the low season.
- Obtaining upgrades on accommodation is easier — ask!
- The air is much cleaner in places such as Sumatra and Northern Thailand where dust and seasonal fires cause air pollution and respiratory issues.
- You may find that staff members are friendlier and have more time to spend with you when not overworked during the peak season. This can open up more opportunities for getting to know a place better.
- Some businesses such as hotels and restaurants are seasonal, particularly in the islands. You may have less choices for eating and sleeping in each place. Expat business owners may close up shop and head home for a visit.
- Standing water after heavy rains bolsters the mosquito population, making illnesses such as dengue fever even more of a threat.
- Some outdoor activities and trekking become difficult or dangerous during the rainy season. Flash floods and mudslides can make trekking more risky.
- Heavy rain can delay or shut down transportation if roads and railways become flooded.
- Although scuba diving and snorkeling are still very possible during rain, the time on the boat is less enjoyable if seas are rough. Nearby dive sites may suffer from poor visibility due to sediment being washed into the sea.
- Some tours, activities, and chartered transportation require a minimum number of customers. You may have to pay more or wait longer for the minimum to be met.
- Most construction projects and improvements at hotels take place during the off season. Early-morning noise and unsightly messes at resorts are a possibility.
- Although the air will be cleaner, humidity can be suffocating in Southeast Asia after afternoon showers.
Timing Your Travel During the Monsoon Season
The start and finish of monsoon seasons certainly aren’t set in stone — and they aren't drastic. Weather generally shifts between seasons slowly with an increasing number of wet or dry days. The time between wet and dry seasons is called the "shoulder" season.
The ideal time to enjoy popular destinations is during the shoulder seasons, the month before and the month after monsoon season. During these times, there will be fewer tourists but still plenty of sunshine to enjoy!
Arriving at the very beginning of the monsoon season is less ideal because seasonal businesses will have plenty of cash saved up following the high season. The employees are often ready for a break and can be less helpful after an exhausting season. You’ll still have to deal with increased rain but won’t enjoy the same potential for discounts.
Arriving in the middle or at the end of the low season is more ideal. Although there is an increased chance for bad weather, business are more willing to work with you. The start of monsoon season often gets delayed by weeks or even a month or two.
Hurricane and Typhoon Seasons
Hurricanes and typhoons are different terms for the same type of weather event: tropical cyclones. The region determines the label used.
Typhoon season for the Pacific runs roughly from June to the end of November. Japan usually sees the most big storms in August and September. During this time, tropical depressions and full-blown typhoons coming into the Pacific can affect weather throughout Southeast Asia for days, sometimes even weeks. If you hear of a named storm system coming into the region, keep an eye on it: Your plans could be affected!
Tropical storms increase the chance for transportation delays during the monsoon season. Regional carriers may delay or cancel flights. Avoid stressing over something you can't control — add a buffer day or more to travel itineraries for unforeseen delays.
Monsoon Season in Southeast Asia
Throughout most of Southeast Asia, two seasons prevail: hot and wet or hot and dry. Only at higher elevations and in air-conditioned megamalls will you ever be chilly!
Although there is a lot of variance, the monsoon season for Thailand and neighboring countries runs roughly from June to November. During that time, destinations farther to the south such as Malaysia and Indonesia will have drier weather. Some destinations such as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur receive plenty of rainfall throughout the year no matter the season.
Visiting Islands During the Monsoon Season
Sure, most of the activities you want to do on an island are outside. But getting wet isn't the only concern. Rough sea conditions can prevent resupply boats and passenger ferries from reaching the islands.
Some popular islands shut down for the rainy season and are practically deserted aside from a few year-round residents. Beaches aren't cleaned; plastic rubbish accumulates. Visiting one of these mostly shut down islands during monsoon season is a drastically different experience than visiting during the dry season.
Examples of seasonal islands are Koh Lanta in Thailand and the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia. Other popular islands such as Langkawi in Malaysia or Koh Tao in Thailand remain open and busy despite poor weather. You'll always have choices for islands to visit, even during the rainy season.
Some islands, even relatively small ones such as Sri Lanka, are divided by two monsoon seasons. Dry season for the beaches in the south of Sri Lanka is from November to April, but the northern part of the island a short distance away receives monsoon rain during those months!
The Monsoon Season in India
India experiences two monsoon seasons that affect the sizable subcontinent in different ways: the northeast monsoon and the southwest monsoon.
Scorching weather (106 F, anyone?) gives way to heavy rain that brings relief but causes flooding. The most rain generally arrives in India between June and October, making traveling during the monsoon season a real test of patience!