Simple as this question might sound, finding the right answer is a tricky task. While being located in Southeast Asia grants Vietnam a year round tropical climate, the country’s unique geographical shape, spreading over 600 miles in length and owning 2000+ miles of coastline, adds significant regional diversity to the weather pattern from North to South. This means any month can mark the best time to visit a particular place. In most cases, there won’t be seasons with leaves changing colors or white snow pouring down, but some good timing will save you from the flooding in Central Vietnam or let you embrace fully the breath-taking scene of Ha Long Bay in Northern Vietnam.
Let’s untangle Vietnam weather’s complexities by breaking the country down into 3 regions: the south, central and north.
Best months to visit: all-year round (but beware for some brief downpours and seasonal flooding)
Worst months to avoid: Nothing too serious
The southern part of Vietnam is generally blessed with a stable warm-to-hot weather (averaging 25-35C) throughout the year. There are, however, two distinct seasons: dry and wet ones, as created by the southwest monsoon. The dry season spans from December to May, with a tendency for more heat and rain towards May. The wet season takes over from May to November, whereby rain concentrates especially between June and September. (And by “wet season” I mean you should expect some rain almost every day.)
Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC):
During the wet months, brief afternoon downpours are known as a signature “treat” of the city. In fact, I grew up memorizing a few lines of a popular love song, Sai Gon Rain (“Mưa Sài Gòn”), which capture the essence of such showers quite well:
Mưa Sài Gòn
mưa tuôn ào ào
vội vã qua mau
cơn mưa bất chợt
rồi cũng qua mau
Roughly translated into:
then soon passes
A sudden rain
Will soon pass
As the lyrics remind us, these monsoon downpours typically come and go fast, but in such unexpected manner that it is always wise to bring a raincoat or an umbrella whenever you go out.
Rainy days are becoming an issue as flooding is becoming a more and more serious concern. During peak rainy months, rain can keep falling persistently on and off the whole day in large quantities, while the city’s disorganized urban planning and dysfunctional waste management operations mess up the drainage system. As a result, it does not take long for a heavy rain to turn into a city-wide flood. Recently, on September 26th 2016, HCMC witnessed record rainfall over the last 40 years, which submerged almost every city corner from the ground floor of Bitexco skyscraper to Tan Son Nhat airport, paralyzing traffic flow and causing considerable facilities damages.
Overall, it’s worth experiencing the short-and-sweet showers of HCMC at least once in your life, but always take extra caution to check weather forecast and stay indoors during torrential rains.
Mekong Delta Region
While the region shares similar dry and wet seasonal pattern as HCMC, the weather here is a lot more humid. More importantly, unlike HCMC where flood is such a nuisance, flooding months count as a plus here. As the geographical landscape is diverse with all sorts of rivers, streams and canals, local people are known to “live with floods”.
Within the rainy season, floods are most expected between September and November. Floods bring along abundant type of fish and other seafood resources to serve both as a source of income and daily meals for the locals, not to mention all the fertile alluvium to feed the rice-farming land.
In fact, flooding, or floating, season is widely considered the best time to visit Mekong Delta region, where you can experience vibrant floating markets, try out some fresh fish catches and enjoy delicious seafood. Trust me, the unique flavor of seafood delicacies here, especially fish and crab, is unmatched by anywhere else in Vietnam!! (My recommendation is the must-try sweet-and-sour fish soup (“canh chua cá”) served in mouth-watering hot pot style, with your own pick of fish)
Last but not least, for those who are dying for the juicy tastes of tropical fruits, fruit picking season is from May to August, though various types of tropical fruits should be available all year round.
Best months to visit: February to August
Worst months to avoid: September, October and November, with heavy rain and flood and/or typhoons warnings
Thanks to the Truong Son mountain range, the central region of Vietnam is sheltered from the effect of the southwest monsoon. The months between April and early September are thus filled with hot, sunny days. However, under the influence of the northeast monsoon, late September to December usually signals days of persistent rain, plus threats of typhoons from the Western Pacific between August and November.
Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang
Central Vietnam is well-known for its extreme weather condition, of which all these cities can stand as clear examples. When it is hot, the scorching heat can reach as high as 40oC (usually between June and August). When it rains, it pours non-stop day by day, making flood a must. When it is stormy, typhoons hit hard and hurricane-force winds sweep everywhere. Therefore, always double check that you know what you are in for when traveling to these cities!
To understand what flood might mean, check out the clip below:
For those especially interested in Hue’s traditional values, try to visit the city in late April-early May, where Hue Festival normally takes place every two year (the next one will be in 2018). During this festive week, Hue sheds its typical tranquil pace of life to vibrate with a host of large-scale events, from cuisine feasts to sophisticated cultural performances, attracting swarms of both domestic and international visitors. Meanwhile, If beautiful beaches in Hoi An or Da Nang are what you are looking for, the best bet is to go between May and August, where golden sand, cool air and clear blue sky await.
Best months to visit: March to May, September to November
Worst months to avoid: July and August
The northeast monsoon brings uniquely cold and dry weather to the North of Vietnam from November to April, while summer days from May to September are hot and humid with rainfall peaking in July and August. The northern region is a stark reminder of the truth that being in Southeast Asia does not make the whole Vietnam automatically hot all year round. In fact, December to February can get extremely cold, even frosty and/or snowy in more mountainous areas, so make sure to pack some real warm clothes if you head for North Vietnam during those months!
Unlike the dry-or-wet HCMC, Ha Noi enjoys four distinct seasons. Spring and autumn make the ideal time to visit this capital city, as it offers a combo of cool air, little rain and charming fragrance from beautiful local flowers in full blossom (cherry blossoms in spring and alstonia (“hoa sữa”) in autumn).
Summer months can be as hot as 40C, plus frequent drizzly days making the air super humid and the outdoor life hard to explore.
During the winter, temperatures average 15-17C and can drop to lower than 10C on especially chilly and windy days of December and January. Winter also quickly strips off tree leaves, so there is not much scene to see or do. If you still happen to be in Ha Noi during winter months, on the bright side, this is the prime time to chill with family and friends around heart-warming hot pots or BBQ Treat. Thankfully, rain is reduced in winter, as another Vietnamese love song famously describes: “Ha Noi this season is devoid of rain/ The chill of early winter blows wind through your scarf…” (“Hà Nội mùa này vắng những cơn mưa/ Cái rét đầu đông khăn em hiu hiu gió lạnh…”)
Ha Long Bay
The best time to appreciate the beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage gem is actually similar to that of Sapa: March to April and September to October. Both time periods bring the ideal condition – clear sky, gentle wind and pleasantly cool weather – to cruise between breath-taking limestone pillars or explore spectacular islands.
If possible, try to avoid January and February when the climate is cold and foggy, thus affecting visibility. June to August does not make wise decision either, for a number of reasons: these are the hottest and wettest months of the year, with showers and even typhoons an expected feature. This is also the summer vacation time of local Vietnamese people, so the sight is probably super packed with tourists and thus too crowded to be enjoyable.
Are you ready to have the best time in Vietnam?
If you manage to reach these last few lines of the article, I hope you have felt a little bit, if not a lot, more confident about where to go at which time in Vietnam. Or if you have no say in picking the time, at least you know what clothes to pack and what accessories to bring along to best suit the various weather conditions here. Worry not, because even if the weather sucks, the food in every season at any region will compensate!
In case you still need some final dose of inspiration to head to Vietnam, check out the following viral clip made by a backpacker who traveled 1650 km across Vietnam and captured its raw beauty: