Climate and Weather in Malaysia

RetirePedia's Roving Reporter Jim VeinotBy Jim Veinot

Climate is an important factor when retiring abroad (for some, it is even the most important!). Let me give you an overview over the climate and weather in Malaysia to help you decide if it is for you or not.

For our purposes we’re going to talk about Peninsular Malaysia and not the northern coast of Borneo that is part of this country and known as Eastern Malaysia.

To give you a geographical fix, Malaysia is south of Thailand, east of Sumatra (part of Indonesia) and north of Singapore. On the western shore of the Strait of Malacca and across from Sumatra lies the capital, Kuala Lumpur (see the map below).

Weather in Malaysia: Geographical MapMap of Malaysia with the Peninsula on the left and Eastern Malaysia on the right

Geography and its Effect on the Weather in Malaysia

The country is classified as equatorial and has a tropical rain forest climate. It is mountainous, with lowlands towards the shores and in the valleys. The mountain range runs north/south with run-off rivers flowing to the shores. 

As you might expect, the higher the elevation the greater the rainfall and the lower the temperature. This is the kind of trade-off you can come to expect in most equatorial nations, unless they have become deserts as a result of being relatively flat.

Malaysia is subject to El Niño and potential climate change from global warming, which may result in increased rainfall and flooding, followed by drought. Sea levels will increase as well.

It is also subject to two monsoon seasons as a result of winds from China and the Pacific which are followed by winds from Australia and its deserts.

Although winds are generally light, it is the change in wind flow patterns that determines the Malaysian seasons: the Southwest monsoon brings slightly drier conditions from June to September, and the Northeast monsoon from November to March brings the heaviest rainfalls.

The two shorter periods in between the monsoons lack the cooling monsoon breezes, which makes the temperatures feel hotter than they actually are.

Regions and Climates in Malaysia

Weather in Malaysia: Monthly RainfallThe map shows that the East coast and Central highlands receive more rainfall than the rest of the peninsula [Image source: andrewting-8kc.weebly.com]

Malaysia is divided into three geographical areas when we talk about climate and they are the highlands, the lowlands and the coastal areas. There can be some variation in each of the areas, depending on latitude and shoreline orientation.

The East coast is generally sunny with moderate temperatures for six months of the year from April until September, ranging between 23℃ (73°F)  and 30℃ (86°F) and rainfall between 10 and 30 centimeters (4 to 12 inches) per month.

Couple that with beautiful beaches, warm waters and great food and you can understand why this part of the country is gaining steadily in popularity, particularly on the outlying islands. March to October is marked by constant wind and rain, however.

The West coast is composed of mudflats and mangrove swamps, with many inlets and bays. The plains leading to the coast have been cleared and cultivated. The wettest months here are from May until October.

You’ll find the capital on this coast, Kuala Lumpur, which is wettest from March to April and from September to November. Rain usually falls between 4 and 5 in the afternoon and can be quite refreshing.

The lowlands feature much the same temperatures and rainfall as the coast, but are decidedly more humid. Vegetation captures the rainfall and it slowly evaporates into the air as the sun shines.

This is a fantastic environment for plant growth, which proliferates the lowland region. This area is also home to some of the more popular resorts of Malaysia.

The highlands receive much more rain as the heavily laden clouds meet the mountain tops and unburden themselves of their cargo. Much of this area is heavily forested, with large valley sections well cultivated. Deforestation is becoming a major issue, however.

There are a variety of highland areas to explore, each with its own set of climate parameters. In the Cameron highlands, for example, temperatures range between 22℃ (72°F) in the daytime and 14℃ (57°F) at night, which is very pleasant.

Humidity, however, is always above 75%. Rainfall is at its lowest in January, with a scant 95 mm (3.7 inches) in the month, rising all the way to 250 mm (10 inches) in the spring.

The Genting highlands, as another example, feature highs between 31-32℃ (88-90°F) and lows between 21-22℃ (70-72°F). Rainfall is between 160 mm (6.3 inches) in June-July and 280 mm (11 inches) in October-November. There are thriving resorts in this area and something for everybody in this nation! 

Further Notes on the Weather in Malaysia

The major advantage of air conditioning is often not that it cools the air, but that it dries it. Humidity accentuates the temperature and if your body isn’t used to it then you might need to look at this alternative.

Also, in most cities in Malaysia, the smog is heavy which traps the air and increases temps. Another reason why you might want to check out a/c.

Malaysia is subject to intense flooding from time to time, when the monsoons, generally from the north-west, bring heavy rains and the rivers can’t handle the runoff.

Flooding can lead to mudslides and other dangerous situations so it’s worth seeking some elevation and researching the patterns in any area you’re looking at.

Finally, typhoons have been known to strike Malaysia with devastating results. They are, however, quite rare.

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