Weather and climate in Malaysia
Because of its location near the equator, Malaysia weather is stable year-round. Although the country has two seasons (rainy and dry), there is very little variation in temperatures throughout the year.
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High temperatures and humidity are the most common characteristics of Malaysian weather. Average temperatures hover around 30°C (86°F) in most of the country and humidity levels are usually above 80%.
The only exceptions to the hot and humid Malaysian weather are the country’s highlands and mountain ranges. For example, in peninsular Malaysia, areas like the Cameron Highlands stay around the mid 20°Cs (high 70s°F) and can drop below 15°C (60°F) during the winter months. Similarly, temperatures in Mount Kinabalu, located in Borneo, are usually in the mid 10°Cs (around 60°F) and can drop below zero at night.
When is the monsoon in Malaysia?
The monsoon arrives in Malaysia between September and February. However, not all areas are affected equally. For example, in Borneo, the monsoon affects mainly the western Sarawak coast. In this area, monsoon rainfall peaks between November and February.
On the other hand, the west coast of peninsular Malaysia (including the islands of Penang and Langkawi) and the state of Sabah in Borneo see the most rainfall in September and October. As for Malaysia’s east coast, the heaviest rains fall between November and March.
This should be taken into account when deciding when is the best time to travel to Malaysia, since monsoon rains can disrupt your travel plans. Boat and ferry trips to and from the islands can be delayed for hours or cancelled altogether due to strong winds and stormy seas. Seawater is murky at this time of the year, ruling out watersports like diving and snorkelling. All in all, the monsoon season may not be the best time to travel to Malaysia if you’re here on a beach or island holiday.
Moreover, low and dense clouds can affect visibility in mountain areas (for example in the Cameron Highlands, one of the country’s top tourist destinations). Flooding can happen in low-lying areas near the coast and affect road trips. If you choose to visit during the monsoon, it’s best to stick to cities with good infrastructure.
When is the best time to visit Malaysia?
The months between March and October are considered the best time to visit the country. This period is characterised by mostly dry weather and clear skies. In addition to that, during these months most of the country experiences a slight drop in humidity levels, which can make sightseeing and outdoor activities more comfortable.
If your travel plans include the islands on Malaysia’s west coast, consider booking a trip during the first two months of the year. This is the best time to visit Langkawi and Penang without having to worry about weather-related travel problems.
Another thing you’ll need to consider when deciding what’s the best time to visit Malaysia is haze and pollution due to slash-and-burn farming. This happens every year to some degree or another, and low air quality can interfere with outdoor activities. The haze tends to be worse in Borneo and areas close to Indonesia. There are no fixed dates, since some years air pollution peaks early in the year, whereas other it’s worse in late summer.
When to visit Malaysia in winter
Being a tropical country, Malaysia does not have real winters. Between December and February, the only difference will be slightly lower temperatures in the early mornings and evenings and lower humidity. This is the best time to visit Malaysia if your travel plans involve outdoor activities and island getaways.
On the other hand, it’s best to avoid travel to the northeast during the winter, as the area will be affected by the monsoon.
On another note, winter is a good time for retail therapy. Year-end sales will be in full swing in Malaysia’s capital city. Kuala Lumpur is known for being a shopping haven and home to some of the region’s biggest shopping centres.
Visiting Malaysia in December-February
January - February is the best time to visit Langkawi. Calm seas and dry weather make it easy to explore the bountiful nature of this island. This is the time to take a boat trip around the island’s tropical beaches, or to hike Langkawi’s highest mountains and enjoy the views.
The same goes for Penang, located approximately 100 km (70 miles) south of Langkawi. The island boasts an exciting mix of cultural and natural attractions and is best explored during the winter months. Some popular things to do include hiking in the hills near the island’s capital Georgetown, or jungle trekking in Penang National Park. Penang’s International Dragon Boat competition is definitely worth watching, and takes place in December.
However, because this is peak season in both Langkawi and Penang, we recommend that you make reservations in advance.
When to visit Malaysia in spring
Spring in Malaysia means stable weather with little rain or wind, so this is the perfect season to discover the country’s natural treasures. March and April are the best months for outdoor activities, whether they involve jungle trekking or watersports.
Although Malaysia is mostly known for its islands and rainforests, this season brings the ideal weather to explore the country’s mountains, like Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, Gunung Ledang near Singapore, or Brinchang in the Cameron Highlands.
Visiting Malaysia in March-May
March marks the beginning of the dry season in Borneo. This is a popular time of the year for rainforest retreats or wildlife watching trips.
Spring is also the dry season in the northeastern coast of peninsular Malaysia, so this is the ideal time to get away from it all in the spectacular Perenthian Islands. In addition to idyllic beaches, the Perenthians offer many opportunities for jungle exploration, wildlife watching, and even turtle hatching.
A relaxing stay in the Perenthians can be combined with a scenic train trip on the Jungle Railway, which meanders through the interior of peninsular Malaysia. This is one of the best train trips you can take in this part of the world and is a definite hit with photographers and young travellers.
April is a popular month to climb the summit of Mount Kinabalu, one of the highest peaks in South East Asia. The climb is perfectly doable for people without experience and is usually done over two days. The mostly dry and clear weather increases visibility, and seeing the sun rise from the summit will surely be one of the highlights of your trip.
After hiking Mount Kinabalu, you can reward yourself with a day trip to the white sand beaches of Tunku Abdul Raman National Park, which is easily reached by boat from Kota Kinabalu.
When to visit Malaysia in summer
Malaysian summers are hot and wet. Humidity is high and the weather is quite variable. In a matter of minutes, the weather can quickly change from hot and sunny, to cloudy and stormy. If you visit during the summer, plan for wet weather and be flexible with your travel plans.
Early summer is one of the best times to visit Malaysia if you’re interested in its natural scenery. The island of Borneo is a great summer destination for nature enthusiasts. Top landmarks include Sabah’s Lost World (also known as the Maliau Basin Conservation Area), and the national parks in Gunung Mulu and Bako.
Visiting Malaysia in June-August
June and July are the best months of the year to go on a relaxing getaway to Tioman island, near Singapore. This is the closest thing to a tropical paradise that you’ll find in Malaysia’s eastern coast. Minimal chances of rain mean that the seawater is warm and crystal clear - ideal for swimming and diving! Moreover, ferry connections between the mainland and the islands are very reliable.
During summer, Borneo’s rainforests are deep into the fruiting season, increasing the chances of seeing orangutans in the wild. Other top activities include swimming with dolphins in Borneo’s southeast coast, or catching a glimpse of whale sharks off the coast of Sabah.
You may also want to include Mangrove cruising or canoeing exploration to your summer itinerary. Mangroves are some of Malaysia’s most biodiverse habitats. Day trips, mangrove safaris, and river cruises can be easily booked in Kota Kinabalu and Kuching.
When to visit Malaysia in fall
This is monsoon season in most of Malaysia. Rain and thunderstorms happen daily, but since they tend to take place in the afternoons, it’s still possible to enjoy your time here as long as you plan your activities around this. For example, you can set the mornings aside for outdoor activities, and leave indoor plans for later in the day.
Heavy rainfall also means tropical greenery will be at its most spectacular, especially towards the end of the season.
Visiting Malaysia in September-November
October and November are usually dry in Melaka, a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to dozens of colonial buildings.
Although tourists visit the Cameron Highlands all year round, November is the best month to explore the area. At this time of the year, the hills are covered in vibrant green thanks to the abundant rainfall of previous months. Strawberry picking, hiking in moss forests, visiting honey and lavender farms, and trips to tea plantations are the Highland’s star attractions.
Some of Malaysia’s most well-known festivals take place during these months. Mid-Autumn festival is widely celebrated by Melaka’s Chinese community, and this brings an abundance of seasonal treats and colourful lanterns to the city’s streets. And there’s also Deepawali, celebrated all over the country but especially in Hindu enclaves, such as the district of Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur or Penang’s Little India.
When is the best time to visit Kuala Lumpur?
Monsoon rains hit Kuala Lumpur from October to March, with a peak in rainfall and humidity between September and November. The best months to avoid the monsoon are June, July, and August. However, the chances of a passing rain are always there, since the city experiences rainfall more than 200 days/year.
But outside of the monsoon season, rains are short-lived and shouldn’t interfere with your sightseeing. And this being a modern city, you’ll never be far from shopping centres, coffee shops, or museums where you can wait for the storm to pass.
If you’d prefer to travel when the humidity is below average, December and January are the best options. As for temperatures, January is the “coldest” month, with daily lows of 23°C.
When is the best time to visit Singapore?
Malaysia’s southern neighbour has very similar weather, but since Singapore is much smaller, there’s no weather variation within the country. The general advice is to avoid the monsoon season, which runs between September and February.
Late February to mid-April is the best months of the year to visit Singapore, since they are the driest. The dry season extends over the summer, but monsoon and higher-than-usual temperatures and humidity during these months may limit outdoor activities.
What is the best time to visit Borneo, Malaysia?
The best time to visit Borneo is spring and summer, before the monsoon rains set in. But there’s a reason why Borneo is the world’s third-largest rainforest: rainfall is abundant and can happen anytime, so you should always be prepared for showers - or thunderstorms!
Borneo is split into two states: Sabah in the northeast, and Sarawak in the northwest. The weather is virtually the same, although it rains more often in Sarawak.
Spring and summer weather brings the ideal conditions to explore Borneo’s wild nature, one of the main reason to visit the island. The warmer months are synonymous with excellent visibility in Borneo’s eastern islands like Lankayan, Mabul, and Sipadan, which offer world-class diving and snorkelling.
Festivals in Malaysia
With so many ethnic groups and religions represented in Malaysia, you’ll be unlucky if your trip doesn’t coincide with some sort of festival. Religious celebrations range from exuberant family-oriented pageants to blood-curdlingly gory displays of devotion. Chinese religious festivals are the best times to catch free performances of Chinese opera, or wayang, featuring crashing cymbals, clanging gongs and stylized singing. Secular events might comprise a parade with a cast of thousands, or just a local market with a few cultural demonstrations laid on.
Bear in mind that the major festival periods may play havoc with even the best-planned travel itineraries, and that some festivals are also public holidays.
A festival and events calendar
The dates of many festivals change annually according to the lunar calendar. The Islamic calendar in particular shifts forward relative to the Gregorian calendar by about ten days each year, so that, for example, a Muslim festival that happens in mid-April one year will be nearer the start of April the next. We’ve listed rough timings; actual dates can vary by a day or two in practice depending on the sighting of the new moon.
January & February
- Ponggal (mid-Jan) A Tamil harvest and New Year festival held at the start of the Tamil month of Thai. Ponggal translates as “overflow”, and the festival is celebrated by boiling sugar, rice and milk together in a new claypot over a wood fire till the mixture spills over, symbolizing plenty.
- Thaipusam (late Jan/early Feb) Entranced Hindu penitents carry elaborate steel arches (kavadi), attached to their skin by hooks and skewers, to honour Lord Subramaniam. The biggest procession is at Kuala Lumpur’s Batu Caves.
- Chinese New Year (late Jan/early to mid-Feb) At which Chinese communities settle debts, visit friends and relatives and give children red envelopes (hong bao/ang pao) containing money; Chinese operas and lion- and dragon-dance troupes perform in the streets, while markets sell sausages and waxed ducks, pussy willow, chrysanthemums and mandarin oranges. The major towns of west-coast Malaysia see Chingay parades, featuring stilt-walkers, lion dancers and floats.
- Chap Goh Mei (Feb) The fifteenth and climactic night of the Chinese New Year period (known as Guan Hsiao Chieh in Sarawak), and a time for more feasting and firecrackers; women who throw an orange into the sea at this time are supposed to be granted a good husband.
- Easter (March/April) Candlelit processions are held on Good Friday at churches such as St Peter’s in Melaka.
- Qing Ming (April) Ancestral graves are cleaned and restored, and offerings made by Chinese families at the beginning of the third lunar month, signifying the start of spring and a new farming year.
- Vesak Day (May) Saffron-robed monks chant prayers at packed Buddhist temples, and devotees release caged birds to commemorate the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and attainment of Nirvana.
- Sabah Fest (late May) A week of events in Kota Kinabalu, offering a chance to experience Sabah’s food, handicrafts, dance and music; right at the end comes Rumah Terbuka Malaysia Tadau Kaamatan, a harvest festival in Kota Kinabalu.
- Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s Birthday (June) Festivities in KL to celebrate the birthday of Malaysia’s king, elected every five years by the country’s nine sultans or rajahs from among their number.
- Gawai Dayak (June) Sarawak’s people, especially the Iban and Bidayuh celebrate the end of rice harvesting with extravagant longhouse feasts. Aim to be in a longhouse on the Rejang or Batang Ai rivers, or around Bau.
- Feast of St Peter (June 24) Melaka’s Eurasian community decorate their boats to honour the patron saint of fishermen.
- Dragon Boat Festival (June/July) Rowing boats, bearing a dragon’s head and tail, race in Penang, Melaka and Kota Kinabalu, to commemorate a Chinese scholar who drowned himself in protest against political corruption.
- Sarawak Extravaganza (Aug) Kuching hosts a month of arts and crafts shows, street parades, food fairs and traditional games, all celebrating the culture of Sarawak.
- Festival of the Hungry Ghosts (late Aug) Held to appease the souls of the dead released from purgatory during the seventh lunar month. Chinese street operas are staged, and joss sticks, red candles and paper money are burnt outside Chinese homes.
- Ramadan (starts second week of July in 2013) Muslims spend the ninth month of the Islamic calendar fasting in the daytime, and breaking their fasts nightly with delicious Malay sweetmeats served at stalls outside mosques.
- Hari Raya Puasa/Aidilfitri (falls in July or August) Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan by feasting, and visiting family and friends; this is the only time the region’s royal palaces are open to the public.
- Malaysia National Day (Aug 31) Parades in KL’s Merdeka Square and other cities mark the formation of the state of Malaysia.
- Moon Cake Festival (Sept) Also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, this is when Chinese people eat and exchange moon cakes, made from sesame and lotus seeds and sometimes stuffed with a duck egg. Essentially a harvest festival.
- Navarathri (Sept–Oct) Hindu temples devote nine nights to classical dance and music in honour of the consorts of the Hindu gods, Shiva, Vishnu and Brahman.
- Thimithi (Oct/Nov) Hindu firewalking ceremony in which devotees prove the strength of their faith by running across a pit of hot coals.
- Deepavali (Oct/Nov) Also known as Diwali, this Hindu festival celebrates the victory of Light over Dark: oil lamps are lit outside homes to attract Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, and prayers are offered at all temples.
- Hari Raya Haji/Aidiladha (late Oct) Muslims gather at mosques to honour those who have completed the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca; goats are sacrificed and their meat given to the needy.
- Christmas (Dec 25) Shopping centres in major cities compete to create the most spectacular Christmas decorations.