When's the best time to visit Southeast Asia? I get this a lot from those interested in traveling to SEA, but unsure when to plan their travel. The one consistent thing I've noticed is that it's better when you can plan it opportunely. You find time in between jobs, you're ready to ask for extended leave, you're thinking of trying freelance. Because you'll want more than just two weeks here. Months if you can.
Even with two weeks, put it into your schedule and forget about the weather. It's close to the equator and occassionally pours torrentially. People have been dealing with it for centuries, and you will to when you go. Just bring a raincoat and/or expect to sweat.
But if you need an impetus, I’d say right now [winter 2017-18]. Flights are at their cheapest, and traveling around the region couldn’t be easier.
Because Southeast Asia’s weather in general is unpredictable (and rainy season is often only an hour a day of downpour sandwiched between clear and sunny skies); holidays play less of a role than you think (an academic spring break or American national holiday often means nothing in SEA unless it coincides with something like Thailand’s New Year [water] festival Songkran), and crowds will always be there (travel has become cheap and easy, and we’re all tourists now) — timing matters less than you think.
If you’re serious about planning your foray halfway around the world, consider these two reasons why now may be the best time to travel Southeast Asia:
1. Flights are at their cheapest this December.
For my tour across Cambodia, I’ll be flying in and out of Bangkok, Thailand, from Cleveland, Ohio, for less than $600 — a flight booked just over two weeks in advance. This is a personal best, since on average, I’ve paid between $675-$1000 for my round-trip flights to Bangkok from the States.
That’s because flying two weeks pre- or post-holidays (instead of immediately before/during/after Christmas and New Year’s) is a less popular time to fly and scores you the best discounts.
A couple of flight search tips to help you save even more:
Search for flights out of regional hubs. Los Angeles or New York, London or Paris, Sydney or Singapore — your cheapest flights are likely not going to be departing from your bucolic hometown. For instance, I booked two separate sets of flights for this particular trip to BKK from Cleveland, Ohio: I’m flying LAX to BKK and back for under $400, sandwiched by another roundtrip from CLE to LAX ($<200). Sure, it takes a bit more work to coordinate adequate and correct timing between the separate flights, but you can save around $200. One of your layovers is usually a regional hub anyway, so the total flight time itself is equal if not less than booking a singular flight.
Vary your search schedule. Search for flights Sunday night (when they’re most expensive) to see a price you SHOULD not pay. Search for flights Tuesday or Wednesday morning (when they’re cheapest) to set a baseline. Then after you’ve developed a sample set of flight cost averages and an understanding of the fluctuation, lose the analysis paralysis and book when it’s the lowest you’ve ever seen, as it will probably go up. AND DON’T FORGET TO CLEAR YOUR COOKIES. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. For more info on booking cheap airfare, I’ve written quite seriously in the past about how to find cheap flights.
ALWAYS search flexible dates. You can save $200 on a flight by leaving on a weekday over a weekend. I’ve found departing/arriving on Mondays and Tuesdays to be the most cost-saving. Remember that because of the time change, you could be fast-forwarding or losing half a day — depending on where you’re coming from — so consider leaving a day or two earlier if the price is right, and building the time into your travel plans to account for jetlag adjustment.
Use flight search aggregators. Kayak.com is great for both searching flex dates and aggregating costs from flight providers. I always use Skyscanner.com for flights out east to Asia/India/Mid-East as they include a variety of other international carriers that aren’t always displayed — and may I add, carriers ranked as some of the best airlines in the world.
2. Ease and accessibility of travel. Southeast Asia travel shouldn’t require months of planning and coordination. Entry/exit requirements, visa regulations and other practicalities are effortless to navigate. For instance, most nationalities can get visas processed and stamped on arrival for most countries (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia; though be sure to check your nationality’s visa requirements).
For most areas, advance vaccinations and prophylactics are not required, and are typically safe to travel through health-wise. Your country’s department of state travel warnings and notices, while important and always require consideration, can often be more foreboding and fear-inducing than necessary.
Speaking only of my own experience: I’ve never acquired malaria or dengue, and I’ve never taken prophylactics. In 4-5 years in the region, I’ve never had belongings go missing, or felt endangered and my wellbeing at risk. Am I lucky? Maybe. Do I believe it could also be a reflection of a more peaceful people and safer environment than we are cautioned about? Absolutely.
The convenience and accessibility of the region takes most by surprise. You’ll find you have Wifi in more places than you do at home, most locals speak an impressive amount of English, Asian mega-metropolis public transport puts American city subways to shame, and your closest 7-Eleven has toiletries you not only forgot but didn’t know you needed (let’s talk later about the variety of Korean face masks for sale at convenient stores).
The only thing you really need to worry about? Traveller’s diarrhea. It’s inevitable, but we can still get it sorted.
Interested in coming with me on tour through Cambodia this May 2018? We’re going overland from Saigon to Bangkok, May 16-27, 2018. Get info on the tour. Let me know where you’re coming from and I’ll help you find your cheapest flight out here.