Is the rainy season really a good time to travel? How do you make sure the weather is always perfect on your gap year? Every first time traveller to south east Asia tries to avoid the rainy seasons as much as possible, and they do have some downsides but here is why the rainy seasons just might be the perfect time to travel.
I’m British, so I understand completely the unique and all consuming fascination with the weather, believe me. From an ice breaker to a social prop or conversation filler it seems like it is all us Brits ever talk about.
Yet it seems this climate based obsession is not limited to unimaginative chats over the garden fence. One of the most common questions I get asked on this site is when to travel to South East Asia. Specifically I get asked all the time if it is worth travelling to a destination during the monsoon period or what the weather will be like in any given country on any given date, as if I am some form of meteorological deity who can pull a weather report from the future out of my proverbial.
What they really mean to ask is, if I go there, will it rain?
I don’t know! Probably. It’s the tropics for crying out loud! Stop worrying about it!
Yes I know, when you travel to a tropical climate you want the sunshine and blue skies so you can relax on the beach or take that diving trip and get near perfect visibility. One of the best things about travelling in the region is the stunning weather, blue skies and tropical climate that you will have the majority of the time, but frankly it doesn’t always work out that way.
Basically the monsoon seasons sweep through SE Asia and affects different countries – even different coasts – differently dependent on the time of year and what country you are in.
You can of course plan your trip perfectly and head to your destination during the months when it is more likely that the weather will be good. Essentially the dry season, cool season or high season (different monikers all essentially meaning the same thing). This is pretty much the norm if you are planning to go diving, jungle trekking, mountain hiking or in fact do any type of activity that will be affected by the weather, or even if you just want to lay on a beach somewhere without getting rained on. The problem is the weather isn’t an exact science, and no one can completely accurately predict what the weather will be like.
The odds are that even if you plan your trip perfectly, study the monthly rainfall averages, watch the weather channel religiously and head to each destination at exactly the right time, you may still get the occasional spot of bad weather.
Well, so what? It isn’t the end of the world! You still get to see and experience whichever destination you have chosen and that in and of itself is still amazing! If it is raining, just head to a museum or a cafe and take shelter till it stops. Bad weather does not mean you can’t enjoy your trip!
And what if you are one of the many people who really want to visit say SE Asia, India or any other tropical or subtropical destination, but can only manage to get there in what is generally known as the rainy season?
Again, so what? What’s stopping you?
Travelling in the rainy season in many countries is amazing! In fact quite often I even prefer it!
Yes you may get a few overcast skies and get caught in a downpour or two, but the benefits far outweigh any disadvantages.
First and foremost is that there are generally less people, given that the rainy seasons usually coincide with off seasons in many countries. This means less crowds at the places you want to see, less travellers in hostels and guesthouses and generally an easier and nicer experience all round. People are generally more relaxed, the pace of life is less hectic and everything just seems to move at a slower pace, in a good way of course.
Prices are usually cheaper too. For everything. Less customers mean less competition, and many hostels, guesthouses and other tourist or traveller services will drop their prices in order to attract the fewer customers that are out there, and those that don’t (at least openly) will usually be much more open to haggling or accepting an offer. Remember, they need your business, and with a lack of competition they are often willing to negotiate a fair deal to get it. It never hurts to ask, and the simple question of ‘is that your best price’ can usually get you great results.
It is important to remember that the rains are actually there for a reason too, and when the rains come that amazing lush countryside you have come to see gets all the more verdant and fertile, waterfalls suddenly come to life and everything just seems more colourful.
The Weather Is Still Great, Most Of The Time.
It’s true! It may be the rainy season but that doesn’t mean it is a constant downpour. When the rains come, the usually come in quick, heavy downpours. The rest of the time it is still often warm and sunny. Yes you do sometimes get overcast cloudy days, but again you get just as many – if not more – bright blue skies too! In my experience the majority of the time the rains (when they occur during the day) are a chance to duck inside a local eatery and sample some of the food. It is a great excuse to slow down, relax and take it easy for a little while, take stock of where you are and just take it all in. Then when things dry up and the sun comes back out you can carry on with your day with the added benefit of a cooler breeze for a while.
Occasionally – in the midst of quick downpours and gorgeous sunshine – you will get to see some of the most dramatic weather you will ever see. Thunderstorms and downpours can be absolutely epic here, and the sunshine and rainbows that arrive after them can be some of the most vivid you have ever seen.
One of the most dramatic thunderstorms I have ever witnessed occurred in Malaysia, a couple of days after an extended jungle trek in Taman Negara. I was sat on the raised porch of the hostel I was resting in just after nightfall when the heavens literally split open and lit up the view of the rainforest with prolonged flashes of lightning and the rain was more like a thundering waterfall. Sitting there with a cold drink and my feet up just watching the drama unfold was as good as any movie. The weather had been sunny, hot and humid all day, and it even cooled the air down enough for a great nights sleep. A great, dramatic end to a nice relaxing day.
It All Adds To The Experience.
This is what backpacking or taking your gap year is all about, experience, and nothing is quite as spontaneous as seeing a street suddenly turn into a river or having to change your plans due to a sudden downpour. This is daily life for the locals, and for all those tourists who unthinkingly parrot the overused phrase ‘travel like a local’, well this is it! So what if it rains, drink up the experience and enjoy it, it is all part of the adventure!
So When Is The Best Time To Travel? Any Time!
People often let the idea of a rainy season affect their plans too much. They worry far too much about what the weather will be like. The truth is you can get bad weather at any time of the year, rainy season or not, and rain can always affect your plans. It really isn’t worth worrying about too much. Just remember that rain or shine you will still be having the adventure of your lifetime, and that is what adventure is. Real adventure. Adventure that will take you out of your comfort zone. Adventure that will show you the wondrous variety of life, of nature and of the world as it really is. So get out there and enjoy it, don’t let the weather ruin that for you.
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We tend to be a bit obsessed with weather here in Canada, too! I know that we all want the weather to be beautiful all the time, but it definitely doesn’t turn out that way always! You make some good arguments for traveling during an off-season – cheaper, less tourists, etc. I would definitely consider it, for sure! And it seems like even when it does rain, it only rains for a little while and then it stops. Not too bad!
It really isn’t! In fact I’d say the weather is still good most of the time, and still amazing half of it! And it is all experience at the end of the day. 🙂 Thanks for the comment. 🙂
I was born and lived half my life in an island in the Azores — a “lump” of land in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. That basically means that we quickly become accustomed to whatever weather comes; there isn’t much we can do but take cover when needed and wait. So I understand this very well: just taking in the experience. A lot of people ask me the same too “when is the best time to visit the Azores” and I say anytime! Whatever the time you choose, the experience will be different. 🙂
Exactly! I totally agree! It is all about getting those different experiences, really seeing and experiencing the countries you are visiting from as many viewpoints as possible. Thanks for the comment. 🙂
I said a very similar thing at the start of the summer! I had gotten fed up of all of these updates from people complaining about not being able to go outside. Thats what coats are for… and I have had some of my best, most memorable times when I’ve been out in the rain getting soaked! Seize the moment and enjoy it, Don’t feel like you need to wait for the sun to come out before you do!
Very true! Thanks for the comment. 🙂
We are headed there this weekend! Things were definitely cheaper for booking, that’s for sure. I’m looking forward to it, even if we have to duck in for a beer or a snack during a downpour. That never sounds like a bad thing!
Nope, it definitely isn’t Heather! Enjoy your trip I’m sure you’ll have a blast!
Michael, I totally agree with you on this article and I usually always travel to Southeast Asia in the low season. Funny enough, I experienced my greatest thunderstorm in Taman Negara as well – it definitely adds a lot of drama!
Low season is the best, isn’t it? ;D There’s definitely something about dense rainforests, I guess that’s why they have that name! ;D The Amazon was the same but nothing came close to that storm in Taman Negara! I was actually glad I had finished jungle trekking and had more than my hammock and bivi for shelter, and it’s not often I feel like that! Thanks for the comment. 🙂
Let’s not forget my all time favourite rain festival! Who doesn’t love Songkran? An excuse for the biggest water fight ever? Yes please!
Songkran!! Yes! Absolutely love it!
As someone who lived in SE Asia for almost a year, I COMPLETELY agree. Rainy season is the best for so many reasons, most of which you listed here. The locals love to interact with foreigners (barangs as they are called in Cambodia) and with less barangs around, you get more time to talk with and learn about the locals (my favorite part of traveling!).
Exactly! Everyone is just so more relaxed and friendly, there isn’t that constant feeling of tense tourism, you can relax a bit more. Thanks for commenting. 🙂
Ah…the camera equipment. How do you protect your lenses? Do you carry a lot of packets of desiccant in the form of silicon beads? What is your gear set up for this situation. Thanks!
My gear set up? It’s sensible. One camera, pocket sized, and a waterproof sealable bag in case of serious downpours (that incidentally I also used in a sandstorm in the Sahara to protect it from the sand!)
I’ll shoot with anything but am married to my DSLR’s. They are cumbersome for travel. If I may ask, what’s in your pocket, camera wise? I have an iPhone 5S which has a fabulous camera but in so many places tourists are warned that using an iPhone is asking to be rolled. Looking at the theft statistics I believe them.
Of course you may, usually a Sony Cybershot, have been using them for years. And as for the iphone, you could say the exact same thing about a massive DSLR and loads of camera equipment.
Nice article and some valid points made. The rainy season comes at different times in the year in different parts of SE Asia so if you’re travelling the whole region it’s hard to avoid and all part of the experience.
Thank you, I totally agree. Yet so many people get hung up on it or even change plans completely because it may rain! Thanks for the comment. 🙂
I’d agree on most of your statements. Even with the dramatic climate the weather can still be tolerable and enjoyable. It still, indeed, adds to the experience!
Exactly Dana, thanks for commenting. 🙂
Thanks for posting this. I am going to Thailand in two weeks, during the rainy season and was kind of worried that I will be sitting in a downpour and not being able to get out and see things. I do find stormy clouds awesome for photography though! I am even looking forward to it more now!
You’re very welcome, I’m glad it has eased your mind a little. Trust me, you will have ample opportunity to get out and see everything! ;D Have a great trip!
This has made me feel a whole lot better about when I begin my adventure this June! Thanks very much!!
I’m really glad Jamie! Hope you have a fantastic time on the road, and you know where to come back to if you need any more advice, tips or inspiration! 🙂
Just putting it out here: less competition means higher prices. So what you’re saying is incorrect: if supply (in this case guesthouses/agencies) is more than demand (less people due to rain season) it means there is more competition between these agencies and they will therefore drop their prices because they have to compete for the lesser demand. just wanting to make it clear
Be as clear as you want, doesn’t make you right. Less customers in the rainy season mean guesthouses, vendors etc are more likely to need your custom and are more wiling to barter a lower/fairer price with you. You can still do that in high seasons too, but it is much harder because they know they will have someone else come along who will pay full price soon.
I appreciate this article in general. I’m planning to go to southern China in July.
But I found out that last year there was extreme flooding in the exact places I’ll be traveling. At least 180 people died! Train lines were down, buildings were destroyed.
What’s your perspective on this side of monsoon season? I’m surprised that this threat isn’t discussed at all! I’m really looking for helpful information about this subject. If I go, what’s the safest way to travel?
Hi Kelly, I’m glad you liked the article. Well most of the time the rain season is just that, heavy rain showers. From time to time places do flood though and in those cases – especially if it is getting so bad that people are dying and it can be considered an emergency – then I would advise listening as much as you can to local news reports and make your way away from the risk zones as soon as it is practical and safe.
Please don’t think that this is the norm though. Most of the time you will travel and won’t come across emergency situations like this. When or if you do it is important to be prepared and have a plan. I have written a fair bit on travel safety and what to do in emergencies like this as a traveller. Just use the search function in the sidebar to your right for travel safety or emergency, or check out my gap year safety book.
I am planning on going travelling around SEA from June – Nov and have been quite anxious with regards to weather! So this has been a great and helpful read, thank you! Do you have any tips with regards the best root to take around SEA in during these months? To try and make the best of it!
Hi Vanessa, I’m really glad the article helped a little. It’s impossible to be completely accurate but in very general terms the south west monsoon season starts in May or June near the equator and then works its way up, hits Thailand and Vietnam (and nearby areas) around August – October and then tapers off around November. So without knowing exactly where you want to go I may suggest starting in Thailand/Vietnam in June and working my way downwards stick to the Eastern Thai islands (Samui, Tao, etc) as they have a later monsoon season (around October to Feb) so you won’t be too affected with things shutting down, lack of diving etc, and then by the time you hit Malaysia and Singapore in the last few months the heaviest weather should be further North. Either way no route is absolutely perfect and even if you do get some monsoon weather that can be a good thing too! Hope you have a great trip.
Thats great, thanks a million for the advice!!
Anytime. Have a great trip! 🙂