When is the best time to visit Malaysia?
The best time to visit Malaysia is from April to October for the East Coast and from December to March for the West Coast. The best time to visit the island of Borneo is from March to October. Malaysia is a country that sits close to the equator, making it hot, humid and pretty wet most of the year. Being such a tropical location, sea temperatures are at a lovely 29C average for the whole year - perfect for a beach getaway.
There are two large regions that makeup Malaysia, known as Eastern/Malaysian Borneo - which is broken into the two states: Sabah and Sarawak, and West/Peninsula Malaysia which has an East and West Coast. These two main parts of the country are separated by the South China Sea and are bordered by Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei.
When is the monsoon season in Malaysia?
There are two monsoon seasons in Malaysia. These monsoons can vary from year to year, but they typically see strong winds and rough seas in and around the South China Sea. The period between the monsoons is known as the inter-monsoon season and typically sees calm mornings but afternoon thunderstorms, particularly in the western regions of Peninsula Malaysia. As with any natural season, there is some variation year-to-year, so no timings can be definite.
The Southwest Monsoon generally starts in late May and stays until September. Although this is typically the drier of the two monsoons, there will still be heavy rain on the West Coast and in Sabah, Borneo.
The other monsoon is the Northeast Monsoon which typically begins around November and lasts until around March. This monsoon affects certain regions as it brings heavy rain on the East Coast of Peninsula Malaysia as well as in Borneo where it mostly affects the eastern regions of Sabah and the western area of Sarawak. Some of the islands in this area will actually close at this time of year, but the Peninsula West Coast and areas of Borneo make great alternatives.
When is the best time to visit Kuala Lumpur?
The best time to visit Kuala Lumpur is generally between July to August when it should be the least rainy, followed by January and February. Temps can reach around 35C due to the city's urban heat effect but most of the time, it's a balmy 28C. Kuala Lumpur is the capital city and sits in West Malaysia. Since it sits in a hilly equatorial area, the climate is pretty humid and hot with little change over the year and unfortunately, no dry period. The wettest months are usually October to December as monthly rainfall can reach 290mm (11.4in).
Another important note is because the city lies close to the West Coast, it can be affected by the agricultural fires in nearby Sumatra. This often brings haze and smoke around the months of August and September.
When is the best time to visit Borneo?
The best time to visit Borneo is from March to October when it is relatively drier as the Northeast monsoon season affects the rest of the year. However, since Borneo is an equatorial rainforest island, it's going to be hot, humid and rainy, pretty much all through the year.
The best time to see orangutans in Borneo is from March to October when it's drier and they're easier to spot. This is also the time you're most likely to see pygmy elephants and proboscis monkeys. The best time for snorkelling and diving in Borneo is from July to August as it generally has the best visibility. However, anytime from April to November is great too and might be less busy. If you're interested in marine life, the best time to view sea turtles will be from June to September on Lankayan Island and the migrating whale sharks from March to May.
Best time to visit Malaysia – a monthly guide.
Best for: island hopping on the West Coast and cultural excursions in George Town
Starting your year off in Malaysia? Good call. In January the East Coast of the Peninsula will be pretty wet due to the Northeast monsoon so your best bet is the West Coast of the Peninsula. But don’t be too disappointed because you’ll be in for white-sand beaches and turquoise waters in places like Langkawi and Penang. At this time of year, some areas of Borneo can also be great holiday destinations.
Best for: Chinese New Year, jungle exploring in Koto Kinabalu and tours through the Cameron Highlands
February is a festive time for travels to Malaysia as the country brings in the Chinese New Year with fireworks and fun. Visit the country’s capital Kuala Lumpur this month for some of the biggest celebrations, unsurprisingly found in China Town. This month the city will also have long sunlight hours and less rain than usual. Other dry areas include the city of Koto Kinabalu in Borneo and the Cameron Highlands. Both destinations have the least rainfall from February to March – which can mean beautiful sunny days for visiting tea plantations and strawberry fields. Pretty picturesque if you ask us.
Best for: whale sharks and orangutan spotting in Borneo, climbing Mt Kinabalu
Grab your hiking boots because March and April are some of the best months to climb Mt Kinabalu. At this time of year, there’ll be fewer crowds, lower temperatures and less rain - which can be a welcome relief when climbing 4000 meters (13,435 feet). The rest of Malaysian Borneo is drying up (as much as it can) with Kuching, Bintulu and Sandakan regions great for travel from March to October. This is also the time you'll get the best of orangutan sightings but the migrating whale sharks may only stay around until May. Keep in mind that the Southwest Monsoon can appear in March, so the Peninsula West Coast may now be touch-and-go.
Best for: beach days on the Peninsular East Coast
The northeast monsoon is likely moving out in April which brings the Peninsula East Coast to life. Go in search of stunning beaches in Kota Bharu, Redang Island or the Perhentian Islands. Alternatively, find time for markets or trips to stunning natural vistas like the Gua Charas cave temples. With the reduced rains, the wildlife of Borneo are also likely to make their yearly appearance. For great animal spotting, try a wildlife tour that takes you to some of the best animal conservation sites in the country, such as the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre or the Bornean Sun Bear Centre.
Best for: beautiful beaches, whale sharks and orangutan spotting in Borneo, Vesak Day
The Peninsula East Coast is the place to be from mid-May to the end of June with idyllic white sand beaches and a decent sea breeze that balances out some of the infamous East-Asian humidity. With the local holidays in full swing, places like Kuantan, Tioman Island, Perhentian Islands and Kota Bharu will be busier than usual. For those who follow the teachings of Buddha, May is home to Vesak Day, also known as Buddha Day. Commemorators can be seen decorating temples with flowers and offerings and joining processions wearing white clothing.
Best for: turtles on Lankayan Island, climbing Mt Kinabalu, Gawai Dayak (Sarawak)
June marks the least rainy time in Kuala Lumpur, however, it’ll also be the hottest time of the year. Areas of the East Coast such as Kota Bharu will have temperatures that hit a maximum of 33C, it's tropical living all right. This will make it pretty busy from now until August. But there’s plenty more to see around the country. Over in Borneo, Kuching hosts its sunniest month and the resident sea turtles on Lankayan Island come out to say hello from now until September. June also hosts the celebration Gawai Dayak which sees the people of Sarawak expressing gratitude for an abundant harvest and successful farming season.
Best for: diving in Borneo and George Town UNESCO World Heritage Day
Since it’s the dryer time of year for Borneo, there are usually calm seas and good visibility which makes for great diving and snorkelling. The city of George Town, located on the West Coast Island of Penang, celebrates their UNESCO World Heritage Day in July. The day is filled with exciting festivities from the various cultures of the island that come together to display their rituals, traditional foods, games and history.
Best for: Lights Water Festival and Malaysia National Day
Travel numbers will still be pretty high in August for the East Coast. As it’s still the middle of the dry season in Borneo there are plenty of well-known and off-the-beaten-track spots for getting away from the hustle of holiday crowds. Try a climb up Mount Kinabalu from June to September, viewing the Borneo rainforest from a canopy walkway in Sepilok or go cave exploring in Mulu National Park. One thing to note for August is that agricultural burning will usually start in nearby Sumatra, Indonesia, which can often carry smoke and haze across the Malacca Strait to the West Coast of Peninsula Malaysia.
Best for: turtles on Lankayan Island, climbing Mt Kinabalu, Borneo International Kite Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival
September is normally the last month of the year to see turtles on Lankayan Island. Now it should also be quieter on the East Coast with the departure of school holiday crowds, so check out great clear-water snorkelling right off the beach in the Perhentian Islands, especially before the monsoon rolls in around November. Visitors this month may also get to join in some unique Malaysian celebrations such as the Mooncake Festival (aka the Mid-Autumn Festival). This festival is celebrated with a beautiful River of Lights lantern parade in George Town and an array of eye-catching cultural celebrations in Kuala Lumpur among other celebrations around the country.
Best for: animal spotting in Borneo
Enjoy the final month of Borneo’s dry season in October. Look out for the orangutans on wildlife walks in Batang Ai National Park or by boat ride along the Kinabatangan River. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a pygmy elephant or proboscis monkey somewhere in the leafy greens. However, for those looking to put their feet up, pop over to the idyllic Manukan Island to grab your own slice of paradise. This month, you can also catch the end of prime-time vacationing on the East Coast before the rest of the year turns a little wet and windy.
Best for: Penang International Dragon Boat Festival, Festival of Lights
The Northeast Monsoon will be coming into effect now until February which often deters people from the East Coast, and sometimes Borneo, in November. Weather will be mild and sunny on the Peninsula West Coast, but since it’s the tropics, it may still shower at any time. With resorts on the Eastern side of the Island closing down, it will likely be bustling and busy on the West Coast. This means wandering through the antique shops and night markets in Melaka, meandering through the Mossy Forest of Butterworth or learning about the colonial heritage of Penang. A bonus for visitors this month is the annual International Dragon Boat Festival which is a spectacular event that celebrates Asian culture in countries from all around the world.
Best for: adventures in the Cameron Highlands and sunny West Coast adventures
December is a recommended time for visiting the Cameron Highlands. As it’s a shoulder month, crowds will be thinner and the weather is at its ‘coldest’ as the average minimum temperature sits at around 21C (70F). But if you’re looking for more of a sand-and-sun holiday, choose between some great locations on the West Coast such as Langkawi, George Town or Pangkor Island where you’ll be met by warm seas, long sunny hours and dry days (for Malaysia). With heavy rainfall and uneasy waters, Borneo usually packs up for a few months as the animals hide away and tourism takes a nap.
Our Malaysia trips