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When is the Best Time to Visit Malaysia

Malaysia, a land of diverse landscapes, rich cultures, and vibrant cities, offers travelers an array of experiences throughout the year. So, you have finally decided to visit Malaysia for the first time. You have a rough idea of which places you want to see. But when is the best time to go?

Understanding the nuances of its climate and festivals can greatly enhance your visit. Here’s a comprehensive guide on when to plan your Malaysian adventure.

Understanding Malaysia's Climate

Malaysia enjoys a consistent tropical climate all year round, characterized by high humidity and temperatures ranging from 25°C to 35°C. Its proximity to the equator also means that daylight hours are almost the same throughout the year.

Credit: Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy Ooi / Wikimedia Commons

Monsoon Seasons

There are two monsoon seasons affecting the country every year. The good thing about this is that you can plan your route around it — there’s always somewhere in Malaysia that’s not having rain.

Northeast Monsoon: Occurs from November to March, affecting the East Coast states like Pahang, Terengganu, and Kelantan.

Southwest Monsoon: Occurs from May to September, impacting the West Coast areas including Penang, Langkawi, and Kuala Lumpur.

The Northeast monsoon is usually the worse between the two. During this season, it may rain every day and night for months in the affected areas, alternating between light drizzles and heavy thunderstorms, causing major floods and landslides.

Every year, the government has to send rescue boats and provide shelters and basic necessities for people who have to be evacuated from their homes.

On top of that, the seas are so rough that ferry services are suspended and islands are closed to visitors. Sometimes, rail lines to and from the east coast are affected too, due to the floods.

So, if you’re visiting Malaysia around the end of the year, it’s best to avoid the east coast. Not only is it unpleasant, it can also be dangerous. Affected states are Kelantan, Terengganu, and Pahang. This includes popular islands such as Perhentian and Tioman.

Kuantan in December 2021. Source: PeaceSeekers / Wikimedia Commons

In the rest of the country, the seasons are not as consistent or as distinct. Climate change has also made the weather very unpredictable. In Kuala Lumpur, for example, it may rain every evening for the whole week in what is supposed to be the dry season. Sometimes you just have to carry an umbrella or poncho with you wherever you go and hope for the best.

Travel Tips Based on Location

1. West Coast

Kuala Lumpur: As a KL-dweller, I can attest to the fact that this city simply doesn’t conform to any season. Any time is a good time to visit, as long as you have an umbrella/poncho with you, because it might just rain any time.

It typically rains in the late afternoon, lasting for about an hour, so if you can wait it out somewhere, you can resume your activities right after it stops.

Penang and Langkawi: Climate change has made the weather very erratic and unpredictable. Even if it says it’s experiencing the monsoon (May to September), you can still take your chances and go — it won’t be raining the whole day.

Still, it’s best to check the news or call your hotel / travel agent in the area to see if the place you’re going to is affected by floods.

2. East Coast

Pahang, Terengganu, and Kelantan (including Perhentian, Tioman and all surrounding islands): These areas face the northeast monsoon from November to March, resulting in heavy rainfall and major floods. It’s best to avoid going at all cost. The Taman Negara National Park may still remain open (it’s a rainforest after all, it’s always wet all year round), but roads to get there may be affected by floods.

Post-March, these regions witness sunny days, making it conducive for beach activities, hiking, and exploring the heritage-rich cities.

3. Borneo (Sabah & Sarawak)

Sabah: Despite having a tropical climate, Sabah experiences less rainfall in the monsoon months of November to February, making it a suitable time to explore Mount Kinabalu, dive in Sipadan, and encounter wildlife in Kinabatangan.

Sarawak: The state experiences a similar climate pattern but with slightly more consistent rainfall. However, its diverse attractions, including the Mulu Caves and Bako National Park, are accessible year-round.

Mulu Pinnacles. Credit: Nur Nafis Naim / Wikimedia Commons

Travel Tips Based on Season

Dry Season

This is the perfect time to engage in outdoor activities. Go to the beach and bask under the sun, or pick up your snorkels and go on an island-hopping trip. Get your picnic mat and chill out at the parks, or go pick strawberries and marvel at tea plantations in Cameron Highlands. Just remember to stay hydrated and keep your bottle of sunscreen handy.

Dry season also means high season. So, plan and book accommodations and tours in advance.

Monsoon Season

If you’re caught in the monsoon season, stay safe by following the news and avoiding flooded areas. Call ahead before visiting a place, as they may be closed. Most importantly, obey the local authorities — if they say it’s not safe to go, it’s not safe to go.

You can still make the most of your trip by exploring indoor attractions, museums, galleries, and cultural centers. Consider taking a cooking class to delve deeper into Malaysian cuisine. Engage in local life and witness lush, rain-soaked landscapes.

Also, there’s a reason why we have so many shopping malls — it’s where the locals hang out when (a) it’s too hot outside, and (b) it rains.

Festivals and Cultural Celebrations

Being a multicultural country, Malaysia celebrates many festivals, which also mean public holidays and school breaks. It can be interesting to visit Malaysia during these times and join in the festivities. Plus, shopping centers usually offer special discounts during the weeks leading up to the festivals.

However, do keep in mind that the locals will usually take these opportunities to return to their hometowns and visit family. Train and bus tickets can be sold out early and airlines tend to hike up the fares.

Hotels may be overbooked too. Traveling interstate by road can take more than twice as long due to heavy traffic congestion. There have been instances when people traveling between the west and east coasts are stuck on the highways for more than 24 hours (when it should have taken them 8).

Thaipusam festival in Malaysia. Credit: hams Nocete / Wikimedia Commons

Shopping malls and major businesses will remain open, but smaller ones may be closed for the entire period. Banks and offices are closed too.

Whether you want to participate or avoid the holidays, here are the major ones you should look out for:

1. Chinese New Year (January / February):

  • Celebrations: Vibrant festivities across the country with colorful parades, dragon dances, and cultural events.
  • Recommended Destinations: Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, and Melaka for the grandest celebrations.

2. Hari Raya Aidilfitri, a.k.a. Eid (dates vary each year):

  • Celebrations: Marking the end of Ramadan, this Muslim festival involves feasting and visiting relatives.
  • Recommended Destinations: Experience local hospitality in areas like Kuala Lumpur and Penang, where Muslims celebrate with open houses, feasts, and prayers at the mosques.

3. Deepavali (October / November):

  • Celebrations: The Hindu festival of lights brings about colorful decorations, cultural performances, and delicious Indian cuisine.
  • Recommended Destinations: Batu Caves in Selangor, Ipoh and Penang for the lively celebrations, where the streets come alive with lights and colorful processions.

Final Thoughts

Malaysia’s appeal lies not just in its stunning landscapes but also in its cultural richness showcased through festivals and diverse regional experiences.

Choosing the best time to visit depends on your preferences, whether it’s basking in the sun on pristine beaches, exploring lush rainforests, or immersing yourself in vibrant cultural festivities.

Understanding Malaysia’s seasons and festivals can help you plan a trip that aligns perfectly with your desired experiences, ensuring a memorable and fulfilling adventure in this enchanting Southeast Asian gem.

Have you visited Malaysia? In which month did you go and what was your experience like? Share in the comment section below.

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