May is low-season in Myanmar, largely due to the weather. The central plains are often sweltering hot, ranging from 97 to 99 Fahrenheit degrees most days. It's more searing at the beginning of the month and toward the end, temperatures begin tapering off.
The mountains are much cooler and more pleasant—Inle Lake, for example, averages about 86 degrees and up near Pyin Oo Lwin, it's only about 81 degrees. The beaches fall somewhere in between (usually around 93 degrees), although the breeziness of the coastline makes them feel much cooler.
Toward the end of the month, the wet season begins to roll in and most of the country starts seeing scattered rain showers. The month averages 15 rainy days, although it's rare for it to rain all day. Usually, the mornings are clear and the precipitation arrives in the afternoon. The exception to this is up at Inle Lake where it usually remains sunny and pleasant throughout most of the month. Ngpali on the southern coast gets hammered with rain and the roads close; however, most of the other beaches offer pleasant weather this time of year.
Crowds and Costs
If crowds aren't your thing, May is a wonderful time to plan a trip to Myanmar, especially if you're not as picky about the weather. The heat keeps people away the first half of the month and the rain keeps them away the second half of the month. Although the tourist sites aren't quite as deserted as they are during the full-on wet season, this shoulder time sees a significant drop in crowds. Not only that, the prices are often better, too. Some hotels run special shoulder season deals and you can often find specials on tours and activities as well.
Where to Go
The mountains rank among the best places to visit in Myanmar in May. It's a wonderful time to cruise around Inle lake in a long-boat, weaving in and out of the lush, reed-filled canals. You'll see birds swooping down among the water lilies and beautiful sunsets over the mountains. It's also a good time to visit the hillier towns north of Mandalay such as of Pyin Oo Lwin or Hsipaw.
Along many pockets of the coast, you'll also find conditions ideal to visit. Ngapali gets a lot of rain and the roads close so you should avoid this area this time of year. However, towns like Ngwe Saung, Chaung Tha, Myeik, and Dawei are typically quite pleasant, especially at the beginning of the month. The weather hovers around 93 degrees and the gentle sea breeze is warm and salty during this time. There can be rainfall later in the month but even that is usually limited to the afternoons. The mornings can be sunny, hot, and snorkel-friendly. It's a wonderful time to try out this seven-day tour of the Myeik Archipelago (where you're likely to spot whale sharks, stingrays, and colorful coral)
The first half of the month is usually too hot to enjoy places like Yangon, Bagan, and Mandalay; however, by the end the temperatures drop and it's often a great time to explore these destinations since there are so few crowds. You'll find great deals on hotels and you can navigate the temples without elbowing people to make room. Give this five-day "Highlights of Mandalay and Bagan" tour a try during this time of the year.
What to Do
With temperatures warm and pleasant (yet not too sweltering) throughout the entire month, May is a great time to take a boat ride at Inle Lake. Check out the beautiful hand-woven silks or stop by to see the famous cigar ladies who will show you how they roll tobacco. It's also an excellent time to visit the Nga Hpe Kyaung monastery where the cats roam (and snooze) freely, or view the shimmering architecture of the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda. In the evening, head up the mountain to the Red Mountain Estate Vineyards where you can watch sunset over the valley while sipping Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc.
In Ngwe Saung, you can rent a bike to cycle around the quaint beach town, or learn to make traditional Burmese food at one of the Garden Breeze Restaurant's cooking classes. In the coastal town of Dawei (also called Tavoy), visit the reclining Buddha at the Shwe Thalyaung Pagoda or head north two hours to Nabule Beach where you can swim and sunbathe with even fewer crowds. In Chaung Tha, check out the pristine Gaw Yan Gyi Island.
At the end of the month, temperatures will be cool enough to brave the central plains. There, you can take a hot air balloon ride over Mandalay and sunset or walk through the ancient ruins in Old Bagan. Yangon is full of amazing temples including the Sule Pagoda where you can make a wish by pouring water over the image of Buddha that corresponds with the animal from your day of birth (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc.) All three of these cities are incorporated into this 10-Day Highlights of Myanmar itinerary.
Events in May
Buddha Day ("Vesak Day"): This major Burmese celebration, which marks both the birthday and enlightenment of Buddha, falls on the full moon day of Kasong (the celebration is sometimes simply called "Full Moon Day of Kasong") and thus the dates change every year. Sometimes it's as early as mid-April but often it falls in May. It's a national public holiday during which people pour water in honor of Buddha's enlightenment at the foot of a banyan tree. It is also called the Bo Tree Watering Festival.
Shit-Thaung Pagoda Festival: Held in Mrauk U every year, this eight-day celebration takes place at the Shit-Thaung Pagoda in the Rakhine State. The eight-day festivities include boat racing, boxing, wrestling, water pouring. At night, thousands of flowers and glowing oil lamps are offered to Buddha.
Traveling to Myanmar in May? Check out this great itinerary
Eastern Myanmar: Off The Beaten Path – 7 Days. This unique tour is perfect for May vacations because it's concentrated in the mountains around Inle Lake, Kalaw, and Loikaw where the weather is cooler and the rain is less frequent. It includes magnificent sites like the 8,000 golden Buddhas of the Pindaya Caves and tour of hundreds of stupa ruins at Pa-Oh village.