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Making the Most of Monsoon Season in Southeast Asia

Making the Most of Monsoon Season in Southeast Asia
July 10
08:00 2015

The ‘wet’ season or monsoon in Southeast Asia is generally considered to be the least attractive time to visit the region. However, there are advantages to travelling at this time and it is a gamble that can really pay off. For most of the northern Southeast Asian region, monsoon runs from roughly May until November, but with regional exceptions. For the southern part of Southeast Asia it’s the reverse.

Oz cart ride on flooded tracks is an adventure

Oz cart ride on flooded tracks is an adventure!

I live in Siem Reap and at the beginning of the rainy season in each of the destinations in my neighbourhood — Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar — the sky can often threaten but rarely deliver, and if it does, it might just be a quick half-hour downpour.

As it gets to the middle of the season, in July and August, the storms become much more predictable, but not necessarily following the clockwork precision that most people think, although the afternoon storms do tend to become more frequent.

September is by far the wettest month of the season and in Cambodia it can flood in October, but if you visit at the tail-end of the season in November, it is often a little bit less regular and a whole lot dryer. Sometimes locals call the season over, only to find themselves scrambling for shelter a couple of days later as a fierce storm passes through, generally during the east Asian typhoon season.

blue skies and a rice paddy lush after rain

Blue skies and a rice paddy lush after rain

If you’re willing to take this bet and have a contingency plan for when it does rain, the many advantages include lower priced flights and cheaper hotel rates, lush scenery, and less crowded sights (yes, you really can have the temples all to yourself at this time of year), because too few travellers take a gamble on the weather.

The cheaper hotel rates mean that you can upgrade your accommodation or stay longer than you would during the dry season. If you’re travelling at the budget end of the spectrum, this might mean being able to book a room with air-conditioning instead of just a fan; for mid-range travellers, finding that hotel with a swimming pool; or for luxury travellers, going for a suite instead of a deluxe room.

The wet season is when the local farmers are at their busiest, and the scenery, from the swollen rivers to the lush green fields, is spectacular — and there can be very few other visitors around to admire it as you travel through the countryside.

The big sights of the region – the temples, pagodas and monasteries – can often be seen with barely a visitor spoiling that perfect photo of a monk strolling around a temple in Bagan, Myanmar, or ruining that must-do selfie at Angkor Wat near Siem Reap.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

As the wet season builds, something else happens in the region. The boat trips begin again — from cruises in Myanmar to navigating the Mekong River in Laos — while the floating villages really come alive on the Tonle Sap in Cambodia and Inle Lake in Myanmar, which means they’re at their photogenic best.

If you plan your itinerary well — sightsee in the mornings and have a backup plan for the afternoon — you won’t come away disappointed. If and when it does bucket down, it’s generally spectacular, either with incredible winds and torrential rain, or a lightning and thunder show of pure nature, so do what the locals do and stop to take it in.

For many locals, monsoon in Southeast Asia is the best time of year to visit!

About Author

Lara Dunston

Lara Dunston

Lara Dunston is an Australian-born, Asia-based travel and food writer who has contributed to Australian Gourmet Traveller, Feast, Delicious, The Guardian, National Geographic Traveller, Wanderlust, The Telegraph, The Independent, CNN Travel, Travel+Leisure Asia, DestinAsian, Conde Nast Traveller China, and more. Since leaving Sydney in 1998 with her photographer husband Terence Carter, she has lived in the Middle East, spent eight years living out of a suitcase, and now lives in Siem Reap. Lara and Terence blog on slow, local and experiential travel at Gran Tourismo


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