Malaysia's climate varies by region although it generally has a dry season and two monsoon seasons. For example, the peak tourist season on the east coast of the Malay Peninsula is May-August, whereas the west coast is popular from November to January. Borneo has a unique climate as it rains year-round, with a peak from November to January. If travelling to Malaysia outside the high season, expect warm and humid weather, which is best avoided. Also steer clear of the school holidays (late November to early January), which attracts hordes of local tourists. Our experts explain below their recommendations on the best time to visit Malaysia.
January: not recommended across the entire country
Generally speaking, give Malaysia a miss at the beginning of January because the school holidays are still in full swing. Also, avoid the east coast as much as possible as there are heavy rains and boat transfers to the islands can be unreliable or sometimes totally non-existent. The situation on the west coast is fairly similar, even though there is a little less rainfall. The only exception to the rule is the Langkawi Islands with beautiful sunshine and clear skies. This is the perfect time to get a panoramic view from the Sky Bridge and Gunung Raya viewing platform over the rainforest. The rest of the country also experiences significant rainfall, whether it's the south-west with thick fog and showers as well as high heat, or the south, which is very humid towards Sandakan.
February: go north
The east coast is still under a deluge in February so it's not thr best time to visit Malaysia. The outlook is a little more mixed on the western side as the rainfall does tend to abate, and mostly only occurs in the morning or at nightfall. Therefore, the best time to plan trips is during the day. In contrast, the northern part of the country towards Kota Baharu is very sunny from February to April, with little rain. The city offers a chance to soak up the local culture as traditional arts feature prominently in the many local markets. February is also the best time to visit as it's the warmest month of the high season. It showcases the south-west better as the weather improves. The fog clears away more quickly and the rains ease off at certain times of the day. Best to plan trips for the mornings though, as there can be heavy rainfall in the afternoon and evening. The south is the same as always, dominated by heat and humidity.
March: avoid some areas
The monsoon continues to strike the east coast of the peninsula and the coastal areas of Sabah and Borneo. And from mid-March, the west coast is also heavily affected by heat and heavy rainfall. The heat is still bearable in the north-eastern part of the country and sunshine is the order of the day, interspersed with light rains. These are the best places to visit, as well as those in the south-west, with similar weather conditions. Pangkor Island is highly recommended at this time of year. Fairly well preserved, it's a haven for swimming, canoeing and trips to traditional villages.
April: not ideal
The east coast is in the last month of the monsoon season and is not yet suitable for visiting. The west is the same as ever: the rain still hammers down no matter what time of day. While the heat was tolerable in March in the north-east, by April it's fairly uncomfortable. But at least it has lighter rainfall than on the coasts mentioned. The warm weather also invades the south-west and the eastern side of the country. Only Borneo is different as April marks the start of a period of respite until the month of October, when inhospitable conditions return. It's a haven for nature lovers: the island is home to many sites protected from tourism where tropical wildlife abounds.
May: better days ahead
The east coast finally emerges from its tropical slumber and starts to offer more appeal. By contrast, until mid-May, the west coast is still cloaked in heat and humidity. The heat is most intense in the north-west, reaching 35°C in the middle of the day. If visiting the south-west of the country, opt for the beginning or middle of the month as the weather turns when the summer monsoon arrives at the end of May. There are often very strong winds but less rainfall than during the winter monsoon. In the south, the rains generally ease off, making it a safer time to visit Malaysia. Johor state is a big ecotourism draw with plenty of opportunities for climbing and trekking.
June: the heat is at its peak
While the south-west has reasonable rainfall, the Langkawi region is no longer protected by Sumatra, giving showers free reign. Heat and humidity peak at this time in some areas, especially the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, the north-east as well as the south. Opt for the east coast and Kuala Lumpur in the south-west, where the heat is tolerable (between 26 and 34°C). While in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, immerse yourself in the multicultural atmosphere of Malaysia, India and China, divided into religious neighbourhoods and buildings.
July: make for the east and west
Fan of the unusual-tasting exotic fruit, the durian? It has its own festival all of July on Penang Island on the west coast. Although the heat remains in the area, the rains are easing off. Make sure to then head to the east coast as it's still the perfect time to visit, with strong sunshine and very little rainfall. The same doesn't apply to the north-east though, especially the Kota Baharu area, which is wetter than other regions of peninsular Malaysia. The south and south-west are also fairly prone to rainfall, except Kuala Lumpur.
August: the east is your friend
Avoid the west in August, if possible, as it experiences very strong winds and rain. In contrast, it's the last month for the fine weather on the east coast and there are still beautiful sunny days to be enjoyed. Remember to include Sabah state on your eastern itinerary as the islands are renowned for their idyllic setting, and are home to significant coral reefs and rich marine life. The south and south-west have less appeal because the climate is very hot and there is a fair share of rainfall. There's no point going to Kuala Lumpur at this time of year. For temperatures a few degrees lower, the best bet in terms of weather is the north-east where the sun is out most of the time.
September: a mixed climate
The south-west is in its final summer monsoon month. The issue here is much more the sticky heat rather than the rain, but it is still very uncomfortable. Conversely, the east coast is still in the high season and ideal for all sorts of outdoor activities. And while it's hot and humid in Penang, it's highly recommended you visit, more specifically, George Town, to see the festival there. At this time, dance and theatre become one, blending Malaysian traditions and contemporary culture. The rest of the west coast fares better because the rains are less intense. Top Tip: don't visit the north-east in September because the heat and humidity combined are a force to be reckoned with.
October: not strongly recommended
Rainfall intensifies on the west coast, combining with the heat to make it very unpleasant. It's also the most humid time of year in the area. Not a great combination. The climate takes a turn for the worst again on the east coast with very strong winds blowing across the region. The story doesn't get much better in the north-east. Basically, it's best to go to the south-west or south, which offers the chance of some respite But generally speaking, October is not the best time to visit Malaysia.
November: still in the throes of its tropical rages
Please note that the main Malaysian holidays start at the end of this month and with it come the crowds of tourists. Go in early November if possible. Also, the winter monsoon officially begins on the east and north-east coasts, bringing with it plenty of wind and rain. And while the west coast is protected from winds by the topography, it is still very humid during this period, with peaks in rainfall. Given a choice, take the rain over the high winds. There is humidity throughout the country and it's not pleasant to travel.
December: overall the wettest of the year
It can't be claimed that December is a good month to travel to Malaysia because humidity is rife throughout the country. Only the Langkawi Islands enjoy milder weather, as well as places such as Kuching or Kota Kinabalu to the south. They are basically tolerable, but nothing more. What's more, it's smack in the middle of Chinese New Year, a popular event in the country, so prices skyrocket.