When to go to Vietnam

When to go to Vietnam
By Cindy Fan

Seasons and climate

Stretching 1,650km, Vietnam is so long that it has three climate zones — north, central and south — each experiencing its own weather patterns. Tropical monsoons create two annual seasons: rainy and dry. Travellers should also be aware of the typhoon season. From August to December, there is a small chance of a typhoon or tropical depression rolling in from the ocean resulting in serious rainfall and flooding. October tends to be the most intense storm period.

There isn’t a bad time to visit Vietnam as there will always be differences within the country at any given time. For example, in January there can be snow in Sapa, torrential rain in Hue, perfect wind conditions for kiteboarding in Mui Ne and ideal beach weather in Phu Quoc. Choose a few destinations and activities and use the optimal time for those to decide when to visit Vietnam. For the rest, come prepared and take it all in stride like the locals.

High season is December to March; it is cool and dry in Hanoi and warm in the south, a reprieve from the heat and humidity. Attractions are busy and hotels charge higher rates. March and April may be the sweet spot: it is spring in the north, the rainy season has ended in the central coast and has yet to begin in the south. School holidays in July and August are a popular time for Vietnamese families to go on holiday. Expect resorts and tourist sites to be more busy than usual.

Month-by-month

North
The north including Hanoi has four seasons. The best times to visit are April to June (spring/beginning of summer) and September to December (fall/beginning of winter). It is oppressively humid, hot and rainy from June to August, while December to March is cold and indoor heating is rare. Hanoi dips to 10C while mountain regions like Sapa can experience snow. April is a terrific time for Sapa, as well as September/early October when the terraced rice paddies are vibrant, full and near to harvest.

Central
Central Vietnam has two seasons: hot and sunny; cool and wet. Generally, September to January/February is rainy and cool. Unlike the south’s short monsoon downpours, the rain here can drag on. Hoi An’s old town floods after particularly heavy rainfall. When the sun comes out from March to August, it is extremely hot -- the ideal time to hit the central coast beaches.

South
There’s a popular saying in the south: “There are two seasons: hot and hotter”. Temperatures here do not dip below 20C. Expect pleasant, warm, dry weather and tranquil oceans from November to February. The “hotter” part comes in March and April when temperatures soar.

The rainy season runs from May to September. Hotels offer low season rates and tourist attractions are less crowded so it can be a great time to visit by simply working around the daily downpour that lasts an hour or two. Temperatures cool down after the rain, and places like Cat Tien National Park and the Mekong Delta are lush and beautiful. However, lowland areas with rivers such as Ho Chi Minh City do experience flooding. The seas are rough around Phu Quoc Island. Those looking for beach time should head up towards the central coast to Qui Nhon, Da Nang, Hoi An and Nha Trang.

Known as the “city of eternal spring”, Da Lat in the Central Highlands is famous for its temperate climate, warm in the day and fresh at night throughout the year. Like the south, the rainy season is from May to September.

Vietnam_lanternfestival

Festival and events

Tet, Vietnamese New Year, is the country’s biggest celebration. Falling in February or March according to the lunar calendar, this public holiday lasts a week, sometimes longer, with the buzz of anticipation building weeks in advance. The New Year is traditionally celebrated by returning home to be with the family, but it has also become a popular time to go on holiday. That means hotels and transport are maxed out, and some tourist sites and restaurants are closed. Avoid travelling the week before and during Tet.

Taking place on the 14th and 15th day of the eighth lunar month, usually in September, the Mid-Autumn Festival (Tet Trung Thu) celebrates the harvest. It’s also known as the “Children’s Festival”. Youngsters play games, sing songs around the neighbourhood and receive treats. Families honour their ancestors and gift friends with moon cakes. Compact, charming towns such as Hoi An or Da Lat are ideal for taking in the festivities, which culminate in a lion dance procession through the streets.

National Day commemorates Ho Chi Minh’s declaration of Vietnam’s independence from France and Japan on September 2, 1945. Patriotic pride is on full display in the big cities Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang with flags, fireworks and a military parade.

Held on the 14th day of every lunar month, the Hoi An Lantern Festival transforms the already atmospheric town into a glowing wonderland. Locals set up altars in front of businesses and homes, and visit temples. On the touristic side of things, the streets are festooned with lanterns of all shapes, sizes and colours. The gimmick is undeniably pretty and photogenic.

When to go to Vietnam

By Cindy Fan

Cindy Fan is a writer specialising in experiential travel, food, culture and destination guides. The author of Travelfish’s Laos and Vietnam guides since 2014, her stories and guides have been published in CNN Travel, The Australian, The Toronto Star and various inflight magazines.

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