"What's the best time of year to go to Shaolin?"
Never. Don't go. Ah, you're talking to a guy who just got back, and is still dealing with the dysentery. How nearsighted and selfish of me.
Actually, there's no great time to go to Shaolin; each and every season has it's ups and downs. Let's take them a month at a time, starting in, well, January. Sounds like a good place to start.
January is not exactly the best time to go, unless you like peace and quiet and miserable cold. It's peaceful and quiet, mainly because not many people are there. The students have mainly all left the village to go home for their religious holidays. And, it's cold, damn cold, because, it's, well, winter. And, if you're expecting heat in your nice little room, with nice hot running water for you nightly bubble bath, forget it. There might be a smattering of snow on the ground, but that's all dependent upon the gods of the snow; it's not all that frequent. Bitter cold is, and you can expect it every night. And night starts at around 5PM, and ends at 7AM. So, your workout day is not the longest, or the warmest, in the world. My advice is, January is just not the month to be there. Same for February. Expect temperatures around 0 to 7 degrees Centigrade. And with the wind, which doesn't affect Shaolin village as much, but does a hell of a job on the Dengfeng portion of Songshan, the cold can be brutal.
March things start to get a little better. The cold winter nights turn into cold spring nights, but the days start to warm up a little. The students return from home, or where ever they return from, and outdoor workouts, though not the nicest things in the world, begin again. The days are relatively short, as they're on the ending days of winter, so evening workouts won't exist. March isn't bad. April would be better.
April and May are far better times to train at Shaolin. The days are warmer, and longer; the nights are comfortable. There are drawbacks to the spring, and they consist of these little black flying things called flies. They lie to eat foreigners for some reason (my guess is, the Chinese men wreak too much of stall cigarettes), and, apparently, from what John Chen tells me, they know gong fu. The flies can be quite the nuisance if your workouts are going to be bringing you outside. Something to consider. But, with earlier mornings and later afternoons, you can get more workout time in. And the days will be more temperate.
June is not a bad month, if you don't mind heat. And, usually, drought. Is the water running today? No, the pump died, again? Another pump is being brought from Beijing? No, from Hong Kong? No, from New York? Oh, it will be here tomorrow? Same shit, different day, no water. Get used to it. And get used to ridiculous temperatures, temperatures that start early in the morning, and end late in the afternoon. Temperatures, if you believe the government's thermometers, that range from 30 to 35 degrees centigrade. Temperatures, that occasionally, by government thermometer, can rarely hit 39 degrees centigrade. Temperatures that, by everybody else's thermometers, can reach 50 degrees centigrade. Oh, and with humidity that hovers in the 90 to 100 percent range. So, when the government is saying it's only 95 degrees Fahrenheit, it's really well over a hundred. Regardless, it's damn hot. So, start your workouts at 6AM, before the black flies get up, end it before 11 AM, and start again in the late afternoon and early evening. The advantage being, nighttime doesn't come until around 8PM, so you've got a long day. And, no water. Be prepared to smell. Badly.
July and August tend to be the rainy months, so expect a lot of it, especially in July. And when I say rain, I mean rain. Lots of it. It either comes in this little drizzly shit that lasts for days; days of muddy outdoor workout areas that are virtually useless until dry. Or, one day of torrential downpour, which soggies up everything for again, a few days. If you're working outdoors, expect some time off, in July when the storm clouds come rolling in. It's fun to watch though, and the lightning storms can be quite dramatic. Besides, July is a great time to take that bath that you needed to take during the month of June. Just remember to bring soap outside with you.
August brings, well, what else? Mosquitoes. You usually get them after rainstorms. And from what I'm told, they know gong fu too. They also might have disease, so keeping your inoculations up to date, including Yellow fever, is advised. Being wary of the signs and symptoms of malaria isn't a bad idea either, especially if, after you get home, you just don't feel all that well. That "hot and bothered" feeling that you get when you first see your' girlfriend for the first time in a month might be something other than hormonal excess. A good supply of bug spray/juice always helps; I always first use it on the mattress to kill the wildlife before my first night in the sack.
September brings cooler weather, shorter days, and less bugs. Perfect time of the year to go. Except, if you don't like lots of people around when you train. Because every other year, the annual wushu festival (Hey, I don't call it that) is held in nearby Dengfeng, and with it, comes thousands of people. So, if quiet sanctitude is what you're looking for while you're deep into your workouts, you might want to avoid the first week of September, in the odd years.
October is my favorite month. Shorter, though cooler days, cold nights, and, few, if any, tourists. Expect darkness around 6PM, and with it, the beginning of bitter cold nights. Don't expect any heat in Shaolin village, and of course, the water pump is still coming from Australia. (The one from New York got lost).
November and December get pretty cold, and it's generally not advisable for people who have a choice, to choose not to be there to train. It gets pretty cold. Besides, in these months there's turkey to eat and presents to open. You'll have trouble doing that in Shaolin, so, why go?
Oh, and if you still want to go, after all of this, have a good time. Just don't forget to bring some industrial strength toilet paper with you.