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! 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 take your backpacking trip? 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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