How to Survive the Humid Heat of Indonesia?

Alexis
Modified on January 4, 2024

The humid heat of Indonesia can be hard to survive for certain people. Here are my advice to survive the moist heat of Bali.

Reminder: what is the effect of humidity on perceived heat?

Before delving into the best tips to withstand the moist heat of a tropical climate, it's necessary to remind what humid heat truly feels like and why it's a type of heat that is particularly challenging to endure when you are not used to it.

Stormy weather in the middle of summer: the closest to the humid heat of a tropical climate

For those living in a temperate climate who have never experienced the humid heat of a Southeast Asian climate, it is undoubtedly challenging to get a precise idea of the sensation of such humidity.

In my opinion, the closest comparison in a temperate climate is that moment just before a heavy thunderstorm where you feel the humidity rising, the wind dropping, and even without the sun, you start to experience uncomfortable sensations, including heat.

The humidity in all of Indonesia and much of the rest of Southeast Asia is like this, but worse, and all the time, not just 5 minutes before a storm.

Basic principle: the more humidity increases, the less our body sweats

The main reason that explains why humidity changes the perceived heat is that air loaded with water prevents our body's sweat from functioning since it clogs the pores of our skin.

Our body has almost only the sweating mechanism to lower our internal temperature and keep it at around 37°C. Above 37°C, it's called a fever, and it's not very pleasant, as you probably already know.

When there is no sweating, there is simply no cooling system for your body to rely on, so you quickly overheat.

Perceived heat in relation to humidity does not follow a linear curve

The average temperature in Bali is relatively stable throughout the year, but the humidity level is a bit less so, making days in the dry season feel much cooler than some days in the wet season, even if the temperature has only changed by 2 or 3 degrees.

In June, we even take out our sweaters for mornings and evenings when we feel that we've dropped below 25°C. When you are used to 28-30°C moist, 25°C cold is almost a polar climate in comparison.

In short, a 31°C in a Mediterranean climate (dry) in the south of France/Spain/Australia is hot, but it has nothing to do with 31°C in a Southeast Asian climate. A 31°C in Southeast Asia is often closer to a hefty 41°C in the Mediterranean in terms of perceived temperature.

Here is a table summarising this issue to illustrate my point. The axes represent the actual heat and humidity level, and the middle values represent the perceived temperature.

What is the humidity level in Bali?

Bali has a humidity level that rarely drops below 65%, and generally stays below 85%. On average, the humidity level ranges between 75% and 80%.

The driest months are from June to August, during the peak of the dry season (logical, I know), and the most humid months are in December and January, during the peak of the rainy season (also very logical).

Some things to know about Bali's humidity

Humidity and its impact on heat perception vary significantly depending on individuals and situations. Here's what I've noticed over the years in Bali, and what can be useful for anyone dealing with these climates for the first time.

Perception of humidity differs throughout the day

One might think that the most challenging aspect of humid heat to endure would be in the middle of the day when the sun is scorching, but it's actually the opposite.

The sun, on the contrary, reduces ambient humidity by "vaporising" it. At noon, I don't necessarily want to be in the blazing sun, but it's really not the time of day when humidity is the most unbearable, at least generally.

The times of the day when humidity can be very uncomfortable are usually when the sun sets, and humidity suddenly increases, especially if you are in an enclosed and unventilated space.

Humidity is particularly hard to bear during sunny days in the rainy season

rainy season bali

The humidity during the rainy season is not necessarily to be feared... when it's raining.

When it rains, there is little sun, so less heat in general, but more importantly the rain cools everything, just like after a storm in a temperate climate. So yes, when it pours in Bali, it's humid. But it's not hot AND humid, which remains the most problematic.

The worst days of the year in Bali in terms of humid heat are often those relatively sunny days in the rainy season when the air is extremely humid... but without any rain. Bonus if it hasn't rained for days. These days can be really challenging even for the locals.

During the "el nino" years, since trade winds completely shifts, it can be rainy season with low to no rain in Bali. These years are often the toughest to endure in my experience in term of heat discomfort.

The shoulder season, meaning March/April and September/October, is somewhat at risk as well for these particularly sunny days with humidity that sticks to your skin at the slightest effort.

In some places, humidity can be harder to bear than others

Not all places are equal in terms of heat perception. Among the most unbearable places for humidity, I can mention:

  • All enclosed and unventilated spaces (gym, house, room, office, warehouse, etc.)
  • Forests
  • Sheltered rice fields
  • Riverbeds at the bottom of mountains

In short, if Balinese humidity is already complicated for you by default, it might be wiser to avoid these places if you don't want to faint.

heat and humidity indonesia

Not all humans are equal when it comes to hot humidity of tropical climates

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to humidity and heat is that some people fare better than others. Without any particular effort. Yes, it's unfair.

Of course, those who already live in hot climates, and even better, tropical ones, have a certain advantage over those arriving from Northern Europe in the middle of winter and experiencing the hottest and most humid days in Bali head-on.

But Southeast Asians are also better equipped than other ethnic groups for various genetic reasons that favor them in these climates (fewer pores on the skin, less secretion of greasy sebum, many sweat glands, etc.).

humidity bali

Adapting to humidity can take an extremely long time

If you think you're going to adapt to the humid heat of Southeast Asia in 2 days, you're wrong... big time!

In reality, it often takes several months or even years to fully adapt to ambient humidity. And let's say it clearly, the unluckiest of you that just don't have the correct body for it may never adapt...

My tips to minimise the effects of Indonesian climate humidity on your body

I am one of those who initially struggled to adapt to the heat in Bali. Like many of my peers in this case, I made mistakes and eventually found tricks to make tropical days and nights more pleasant, even during the peak of the rainy season.

Wear loose clothing as much as possible

Take a look at how Indonesians dress, and you'll quickly notice that tight-fitting t-shirts and slim jeans are quite rare. 

It's not a coincidence. Humidity is much easier to endure when you don't have clothing that sticks to your skin.

That being said, the length of the clothing doesn't matter much. You won't feel much cooler in a short-sleeved shirt than a long-sleeved one. It's even the opposite if the sun is shining. Again, look at how Indonesians dress, and you'll quickly understand why they do what they do if you try to imitate them.

If there's a lot of hate for synthetic materials like polyester in Europe, favouring more natural materials (cotton, linen, etc.), but in my experience, the critics don't necessarily hold true in tropical climates. Breathable fabrics used for sports (so many of them in polyester), and anything that dries quickly in general, prevent many humidity issues. They might look less cool though. But convenience and comfort rarely go hand in hand.

Avoid closed shoes as much as possible

In Europe, it's common to wear closed shoes (like sneakers) with shorts. Here, people prefer to the opposite combo: pants with sandals.

I can't say exactly why, but having open-toed shoes makes an absolutely huge difference in humidity and therefore perceived heat.

Be proud to show your toes!

anti heat shoes bali

Shower every morning and evening like most Indonesians and you will feel cooler

Most Indonesians shower twice a day. Whether they are rich or poor, using hot or cold water, it doesn't matter. Some even shower at the office or during lunch break.

The shower simply cleans the pores of your skin, especially the sweat and sebum that stick to it, clog it, and prevent it from breathing when humidity is high. After the shower, you feel like you've lost 10 degrees for a few hours, and your skin breathes... until it "clogs" again. It's magical and tragic at the same time.

No need to take particularly long showers to feel the effects. You can even shower with a bucket like many locals so. The essential thing is to exfoliate your skin a bit.

Avoid greasy sunscreens, makeup, and cosmetics that clog your pores

Anything that clogs your pores is to be avoided in a tropical climate like Bali: humidity already does a very good job!

I made the mistake during my first month in Bali of covering myself in sunscreen to hang out on the beach without a shirt... bad idea. The next day I was covered in heat rash.

To protect yourself from the sun, nothing beats long clothing. If you use sunscreen, go for sprays or sticks rather than creamy ones.

Others have shared similar experiences with makeup, sometimes too heavy, which prevents the skin from breathing and causes more problems than anything else.

Baby powder (talc or cornstarch) can save your life

Baby powder, whether it's old-fashioned talc or modern cornstarch, is really something to have with you if you struggle with humid heat.

Many Indonesian moms put it on their children before letting them play outside, and it's true that the results are quite magical.

I personally don't use baby powder every day in Bali either, but on days when the heat is unbearable, when I'm sick, when I'm in an environment without air conditioning, or when I walk in cities like Jakarta or Singapore, I don't hesitate for a second.

baby powder

A ventilated and/or air-conditioned room is always easier to endure

Ventilation can make humidity a bit more bearable. The advantage of a fan is that it helps you survive and even sleep in a room without air conditioning while getting used to the humid heat little by little.

Air conditioning is, of course, much more radical: no more problems with humidity or heat. But it doesn't necessarily help you get used to it, and transitioning from a dry environment at 20°C to a humid one at 32°C can be tough and cause other problems like sore throats.

But in an office or a bedroom, air conditioning is still more than welcome and allows a certain control of the ambient environment that is impossible with just a fan.

Surprisingly, exercising helps to endure the heat

Science says that exercising also trains your sweating system, increasing, among other things, the number of sweat glands and their efficiency.

I can say it's been quite true in my case : since I started exercising in Bali in a non-air-conditioned environment, in plain heat and maximum humidity, I tolerate humidity and heat much better without any other major change in my life.

I'm not encouraging you to exercise in scorching heat on your first day in Bali, but getting your body used to intense efforts in a hot and humid environment (typically the local gym) might help you better endure the climate. At least in the medium term when you're hydrated.

Indonesian destinations to escape the humid heat

If Bali's humidity is still unbearable despite my tips, don't worry, there is one last, more radical solution, which is simply to escape to Indonesian regions less hot and where humidity is much less of a problem.

Since Indonesia is in a tropical location, this most often means heading to mountainous regions. Luckily, there are many, and they are often very nice. 

There's more to life than the sea!

The Bedugul and volcanic region: a breath of fresh air in Bali

All central Bali, where there are both active and less active volcanoes, is much higher in altitude than the rest of the island. If the humidity remains high, this time it tends to refresh you rather than suffocate you.

Among the cool and high destinations in Bali, you'll find:

  • Bedugul
  • Munduk
  • Around Mount Batur
  • Around Mount Agung
  • Around Mount Batukaru

And many more.

bedugul bali

Bandung: the second largest city in Indonesia is at altitude

Bandung is the second-largest city in Indonesia, and by far the coolest city of its size in the archipelago.

If you want to visit a big city in Indonesia but are afraid of suffocating, it's better to avoid Jakarta or Surabaya. Head to Bandung and its slightly more temperate climate.

Rest assured, if you come from Europe, you won't be too cold. For those who live in Bali or in a tropical zone all year round, pack warm clothes; the temperature can drop to almost polar limits of 18°C!

The lake Toba region in Sumatra

Saying that Lake Toba, located in Sumatra, is next to Bali would be a bit exaggerated. But it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the archipelago, and arguably one of the ones that can be the coolest (relatively).

The perfect opportunity to discover a unique culture on a vast island.

Conclusion

Yes, humidity in Bali is generally very high and makes the already intense heat sometimes very suffocating.

Not everyone experiences it the same way, but there are still many tips to cope with it and avoid ending up boiling from the inside. The simplest is to follow the dressing and lifestyle of the locals.

With over 270 million inhabitants, if their routines were so bad, someone would have noticed by now.

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