End of monsoon in northern Southeast Asia means time to do some travel planning. When rainy season ends, the low season also finishes, and the dry high season begins. If you want to snag a travel bargain you need to do it now.
Those grey clouds you see above the tropical gardens at The Slate resort on Phuket, above… well, on this sunny Sunday in Siem Reap I’m looking at similarly ominous clouds move in right now – despite being blessed with a clear blue-sky morning. I might be jumping at the cracks of thunder and sitting in the darkness in a couple of hours.
October is an odd month weather-wise here in the tropics. We’re nearing the end of monsoon in northern Southeast Asia and in a month the rainy season – or green season as we wet season-lovers like to call it – will end, and with it the regular rain that keeps the countryside so lush and gorgeous. In the meantime, anything is possible, from completely rain-free days to relentless downpours and flooding.
October is also the month when those who haven’t yet planned their end of year holiday in Southeast Asia start to panic, sit down to do some trip research, and freak out when they find that their favourite Thai beach resort is booked solid or that Siem Reap design hotel they’ve been dreaming about is also full.
So sit down today and make a plan today. If you’re considering coming for the Siem Reap Water Festival in late November, then you really need to book a hotel now.
End of Monsoon in Northern Southeast Asia Means Time for Travel Planning
Over the last week, I’ve suddenly been getting queries about bespoke itineraries and questions from readers planning to spend their end of year holidays here in northern Southeast Asia – in countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos, and Myanmar.
Why? Well, it’s almost the end of wet monsoon in northern Southeast Asia and by the time December arrives it will be dry and cool – cool for this part of the world, anyway, with an average temperature in Cambodia of a very comfortable 25-26°C or 77-78°F.
As magic as the monsoon season is for those of us who live here, most people simply don’t want rain to fall on their holiday, especially at the end of the year when many people are dreaming of doing little more than lie by a pool or on a beach with some good books and good company.
The not-so-surprising thing: everybody wants to book their Southeast Asian holiday during the Christmas-New Year week – the busiest and most expensive time of the year to travel. For many, that is the only week they can get off work, especially our North American friends, and they, like the Europeans, are also looking for a sunny escape from their chilly winters.
Last high season, Southeast Asia saw the largest increase in tourists of any region in the world, a 10% growth according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (the global average was 6%), with most travellers arriving between the Christmas-New Year period and April. Although we certainly didn’t feel it, living here, Cambodia, along with Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, apparently saw double-digit growth.
But as the Christmas-New Year period is the busiest week of the year in Southeast Asia’s holiday destinations, especially those with sunshine, beaches and stunning swimming pools, the best hotels and resorts are already fully booked. (In Siem Reap, for example, Viroths is already full). That means it’s going to take more time to find something special that’s not insanely over-priced, even in affordable Southeast Asia.
Travel the week before Christmas-New Year – or the week after – and you’ll still find hotels with availability that won’t be ridiculously over-priced, along with some holiday bargains. But you really have to book soon, as everyone is starting to plan northern Southeast Asia travel for that time of year right now.
If you can go even earlier and travel at the end of monsoon in northern Southeast Asia, so at the end of November – and then spend your Christmas-New Year period at home – you’ll find even better travel deals than you will a week or two later when prices skyrocket and some hotels and resorts will only allow multi-night stays with compulsory gala dinners for Christmas and/or New Year’s Eve.
Travel at the end of the dry season in April – although it’s scorching hot (Cambodians call March and April ‘summer’) and is definitely the month for beach lovers looking for fast tans – and you’ll find some fantastic end of season holiday deals on hotels, package holidays, tours, and cruises, such as this Southeast Asian cruise, offered by Luxury Escapes.
So what about southern Southeast Asia? The countries closer to the equator, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, East Timor, Borneo, Brunei, Christmas Islands, and Cocos Islands, have their own monsoon seasons. For the countries south of the equator the weather is the opposite to what it is here in northern Southeast Asia. Things are a bit more complex in Malaysia and Singapore.
Malaysia experiences two monsoon seasons: the southwest monsoon, from April to September, which affects western Malaysian, and the northeast monsoon, from October to March, which hits the eastern part of the Malaysia, and is the wetter of the two. Some tropical resorts on islands such as Tioman close and ferries stop running, while on the other side of the peninsula, on Penang and Langkawi it’s business holidays as usual.
What many travellers don’t realise is that the weather is similar in Southern Thailand, which borders Malaysia. On the Andaman side, on Southern Thailand’s west coast, where Phuket, Krabi and the Phi Phi Islands are located, the southwest monsoon from April to October means a lot of rain. Southern Thailand’s east coast and islands in the Gulf of Thailand, such as Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, however, are wettest from September to November.
Although oddly enough, the weather doesn’t seem to be a factor for travellers heading to Thailand as much as it does travellers to Cambodia and Laos. While tourists stay away during the rainy season in Cambodia and Laos, they just keep going to Thailand year-round, rain or no rain.
The weather in Singapore, being so close to the equator, is a little different again and quite complex. While Singapore is also affected by monsoons, the city-state has fairly uniform temperatures, high humidity and rain year-round. While locals are aware of the subtle variations from month to month, tourists wouldn’t notice and are generally unfazed – probably because they’re not going to Singapore to spend their time on the beach or by a pool.
Insider Tips for Booking End of Year Holidays in Southeast Asia
Start researching now
All good trip planning starts with research. Why not begin browsing Grantourismo for inspiration, ideas and information? We have plenty of stories, guides and itineraries for Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, including Bali, and you can trust that our advice is accurate, informed and opinionated, as we live in Southeast Asia and are continually travelling the region for our work as food and travel writers.
Money no object, travel for Christmas-New Year
It really is lovely here for Christmas in Southeast Asia, with the grand hotels festooning their facades with decorations and holding Christmas lunches with carols and Santa Claus. And the weather is gorgeous, especially in northern Southeast Asia as it is the best time of year weather-wise – sunny and dry, with glorious balmy days and cool evenings. You’ll actually need to pack a light cardi or shawl for the evenings and early mornings.
On a budget, avoid the Christmas-New Year week
Travel before or travel after Christmas-New Year, if you don’t need to take your holidays over that busy, expensive period. The weather will still be lovely the rest of December, January and February, and the best hotels and resorts will still have some rooms (you’ll just have to search a little longer) and it’s cheaper than during that peak tourist period.
Book your flights as soon as possible
Once you decide when you’re travelling, book your flights ASAP. We’ve been using booking.com for flights, as we like to do everything on the same site (we use the site for hotels but you can also book rental cars on booking.com), plus it’s powered by Kayak, one of the oldest and most popular flight search engines around.
Book your accommodation very very soon
Once you book flights, book hotels, resorts or villas as it’s just going to get more expensive as the weeks pass and the closer we get to Christmas-New Year and the best hotels and resorts will run out of rooms. Browse our guides to accommodation in Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Battambang, Ho Chi Minh City, Central Vietnam, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Sapa, Luang Prabang, Singapore, Bali’s Seminyak, Yogyakarta, and Yangon. We’ll be adding more soon.
Book a holiday package for the best deal
There are quite a few sites that offer package deals including hotels, transfers, some meals, and perks such as welcome drinks or a bottle of wine, but we love Luxury Escapes as they offer ‘luxury for less’ deals (some thousands of dollars lower than you’d normally pay); best price guarantees (if you see a better price elsewhere they’ll match it); a ‘buy now book later’ option (you can grab an offer while it’s available, but select dates later); and 7-day ‘change of mind’ refunds (you can cancel within a week if you change your mind, no questions asked). Not all of those are available on all offers, though, so read the fine print (see below).
Be aware of peak period blackout dates
When you find a hotel, resort or package you love, read the fine print before you get too excited and start making other plans. Most discounted holiday deals aren’t offered during that Christmas-New Year period, typically from 24 or 25 December 2018 until around 2 or 4 January 2019. Rules differ for each property so read the fine print so you’re not in for a shock when you actually book.
Look out for peak period holiday surcharges
Again, read that fine print before you get too excited about a brilliant package holiday or hotel deal you spotted. Non-refundable surcharges are often added during those blackout dates over the Christmas-New Year week and other especially busy periods and holidays.
Book car rental next
If you’re planning on doing some driving in Southeast Asia book car rental next. Driving is easy in countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. We’ve driven all over Thailand updating guidebooks and there’s some lovely driving to do. We once picked up a rental car in Koh Samui, then drove to Phuket, and back up to Hua Hin, and that was a fab place to drive. We also enjoyed road-tripping in Thailand’s northeastern Isaan region and from Chiang Mai up to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle.
Book tours and activities soon
As with flights and hotels, tours and activities also fill up over the high season. We love Get Your Guide for booking tours and activities, such as cooking classes, street food tours and guided walks. The site is also a great place to book VIP airport immigration fast-track services, book airport transfers, buy city passes, and book private tour guides. Also book tickets for shows or concerts as these also sell out over the busiest period. For instance, in Siem Reap, it’s essential to buy tickets for Phare Cambodian Circus and the Sacred Dancers of Angkor well in advance. The Siem Reap circus is so popular they add a second show a night on some days during high season, but these can also sell out.
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Image courtesy of Luxury Escapes.