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South-eastern Asia Weather Overview

South East Asia consists countries east of India, south of China and north of Australia. The region is home to rainforests, deserted islands, white sand beaches and turquoise blue waters; visitors flock here searching for their own piece of tropical paradise.

In geographical terms, there are two main regions of south east Asia; mainland South East Asia, consisting of Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia; and maritime South East Asia that is made up of the islands and archipelagos of Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Philippines and East Timor. The two regions have fairly similar climates though there are some definite differences.

A tropical climate prevails across South East Asia. The whole region, with the exception of the far north of Burma, lies within the tropics. So whenever you decide to visit the temperatures will be either hot or extremely hot! Rainfall is high across the region and varies according to the monsoon winds: the southwest monsoon and the northeast monsoon. Whether it is dry or wet season, rain falls frequently.

MAINLAND SOUTH EAST ASIA

The weather is typically hot and humid year round. Rainfall is seasonal and can be incredibly heavy. The rain usually falls in short sharp bursts; even in rainy season you can still enjoy many hours of sunshine.

It never gets cold in this part of the world, although the hilly northern reaches of the region can see chilly winter nights. The mountainous far north of Burma is an exception; it is the only area in south East Asia lying above the tropics and its elevated areas see cold temperatures. The mountains rise up to almost 6000m and some are snow-capped year round.

In the northern half of the mainland – namely Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and northern and central Thailand – there are 3 main seasons in the year: cool and dry from November to February, hot and dry from March to May, and hot and rainy from June to October. You can find a detailed weather overview of Thailand here.

The southern half of the mainland, the peninsula that stretches down from just south of Bangkok in Thailand to the southern tip of Malaysia, experiences more of a two season climate dictated by the monsoons; the southwest monsoon from May to September, and the northeast monsoon from October to April. The northeast monsoon generally brings the wettest weather. Temperatures are hot year round with little seasonal fluctuation. The weather in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur is typical of this region and you can find a detailed overview of the city’s weather here.

A few major weather phenomenons can threaten this part of the world. The most common comes from flooding and landslides after prolonged heavy rain. There was terrible flooding in Burma after a severe cyclone in May 2008. Disastrous weather events such as this are becoming more common with the progress of global warming.

The Burma cyclone was a rare event. Cyclones threaten the coast of Vietnam more frequently. Typhoons can rear up in the South China Sea any time between May and November and though the majority miss Vietnam, some do make land on the coast, threatening lives and livelihoods.

 

OCEANIC SOUTH EAST ASIA

Oceanic South East Asia consists of Singapore and island countries of Indonesia, the Philippines, East Timor and Borneo which encompasses Kalimantan (part of Indonesia), Sabah and Sarawak (both part of Malaysia) and the tiny country of Brunei.

There is generally a two season climate here, wet and dry, dictated by the northeast monsoon from October to April and the southwest monsoon from May to October. Again, temperatures are hot year round averaging from the low 20s to the low 30s and seeing less seasonal fluctuation than the mainland areas.

Rainfall is high across the region but varies greatly in terms if volume and when it arrives depending on location.

Indonesia encompasses a vast area with a very varied geography and climate. The wet season arrives first in northern Sumatra, usually around September, but the rains don’t hit the island of Timor (of which the newly formed country of East Timor is part) in the southwest regions until November. Jakarta receives the rains sometime in between.  Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore and Malaysian Borneo all receive the start of their wet season at some point during September and April. However, there is one notable exception to this pattern – the Indonesian islands of Maluku in the east receive there rainy season in reverse, i.e. its wet from May to September.

The Philippines also receives its wet season at the opposite time. In the capital Manila the rains arrive in June and leave in October. The Philippines lie in a very active typhoon zone and can be hit by these ferocious tropical storms anytime between May and November. A direct typhoon hit on the country can be devastating with widespread flooding and destruction, not to mention human casualties.

Some of the islands making up Oceanic South East Asia are very mountainous and these can have a strong effect on climate. The highest mountain in the region is the 5050m Puncak Jaya in Irian Jaya, the most easterly outpost of Indonesia. Mt. Kinabulu at 4101m in Malaysian Borneo and the 3805m tall Gunung Kerinci in Sumatra are other notable peaks in the region. Tall mountain ranges not only experience different climates in themselves due to their altitude but can also act as weather blocks, affecting weather in surrounding areas.

The habitats of South East Asia are delicate and there are many concerns over global warming affecting the region, especially with many coasts and islands which are susceptible to rising seas. Furthermore, there is a huge problem with logging as some of the world’s oldest rainforests are being cut down to make way for plantations of rubber trees and other such cash crops. The immediate effects are already visible with flash flooding becoming a more common occurrence as these forests are destroyed. The loss of habitat for many rare species is a major concern and the affects on global climate are still not fully understood.

 

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