Vietnam is a stunning country and one I recommend to every single person who asks me about living in Southeast Asia. After spending 3 years living in Vietnam, I had the incredible chance to see a lot of the country in all seasons.
The thing that's tricky about planning a trip to Vietnam is that most people underestimate just how long the country is. Given it's length, the entire country doesn't experience the same weather all year round. The rainy season is different in each part and some areas get surprisingly chilly, especially in the mountains.
Most assume that Vietnam experiences a tropical climate all year round in every part of the country. While it's true much of the year, it's not the golden rule.
There are 3 main regions in Vietnam and each have their own distinct climate:
- Northern Vietnam
- Central Vietnam
- Southern Vietnam
Although you won't see an incredibly drastic change from region to region, unless you had the mountains, they do have different seasons so the best time to visit Vietnam depends on where in Vietnam you're going.
Regardless of where you go in Vietnam, the summer season is usually peak season. That's typical for most of the world as people have time off from school and families tend to travel then. In most cases though, that's not the best time to visit Vietnam. With the exception of Central Vietnam where you can expect sunny skies, it's the rainy season in the rest of the country.
Let's dive into the different regions and when is the best time to visit each.
The Best Time to Visit Northern Vietnam
While I never lived in Northern Vietnam, this region is certainly the most scenic and is home to many of the best places to visit in the country. If you're interested in incredible nature, you'll most likely want to plan to spend at least a good chunk of your trip here.
Northern Vietnam includes popular spots like:
- Ha Long Bay
- Ha Giang
- Tam Coc
Other than Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, these places along with plenty of others all are based around outdoor activities and adventures. Because of this, you want to be pretty smart about when you plan your trip so you can fully enjoy the views.
The Weather in Northern Vietnam
If you're ever going to feel "winter" in Vietnam, it'll be in the northern region. Here the seasons mirror what you're most likely use to in Europe or North America, just hotter. The summer season is around May-October and the winter November-April.
The heart of the summer season is also rainy season in Northern Vietnam so while the rain might cool down the hot temperatures, they also might derail plans like completing the motorbike loop in Ha Giang or sailing in Ha Long Bay.
Since winter can get quite chilly, especially up in the mountains, it's important you plan for this. Most visitors pack shorts and dresses for their trip to Vietnam but you'll want pants and a sweater and something even heavier if you'll be in the mountainous far north around December or January.
So, when's the best time to visit Northern Vietnam?
Given the risk or rain, intense heat, or cold weather, I'd recommend you visit this region during the shoulder seasons. Think October or April. You'll have the mildest temperatures and shouldn't face much rain.
The Best Time to Visit Central Vietnam
Central Vietnam is the place you'll want to go for beaches. Other than Phu Quoc in Southern Vietnam, Central Vietnam is home to the country's best beaches. This region is the 2nd most visited region, after stunning Northern Vietnam.
Central Vietnam includes popular spots like:
- Phong Nha
- Da Nang
- Hoi An
- Nha Trang
- Da Lat
After living in Da Nang for 2 years, I got a true sense of the seasons here and what each month offers. And what I can say: the seasons in Central Vietnam are much more mild than those of the north and south.
What I loved about living here is that you still get cooler temperatures November-February but never need more than just a sweatshirt. In the hot summer months, you most likely have the sea to cool you down, too. The intense heat and humidity Vietnam is famous for is a little more bearable when you can splash in the waves.
The Weather in Central Vietnam
What really sets the weather apart in Central Vietnam though is that their rainy season is different than the other regions. Here, you can expect a season wet season usually accompanied by typhoons in the fall, around September, October and November. It'll still rain a bit during the rest of the cooler winter months but not as consistent as in October and November.
January and February were my favorite months in Central Vietnam and if you're more interested in getting custom clothes made in Hoi An or eating Vietnam's cuisine in Hue, they're the best time to visit. You might still see some rain but the pleasant weather means you won't be sweating buckets after just a few minutes outside.
Keep in mind though that this time can coincide with Lunar New Year, depending on the year. As Vietnam follows the lunar calendar, this time of the year means most everything will be closed, even supermarkets. Unless you're able to join a family for new year celebrations, I'd recommend not visiting during Lunar New Year.
If you're looking for the best beach weather though, come to Central Vietnam in the summer months. From March to August, you can expect hot dry weather ideal for tanning in the sand.
Typhoon season can sound really scary but it wasn't as bad as it sounds on paper. Some places, like Hoi An, have a terrible tendency to flood during these storms but cities like Da Nang are a little better equipped to handle the excess rainfall. Just be sure to listen to the advice of the locals and if they say to stay indoors, do as told. The sea is incredibly dangerous during these storms. Trees can be uprooted and belongings can fly about in the wind so be sure to bring your things indoors.
The Central Highlands Exception
The only exception to all of this is Da Lat and it's surrounding mountain towns in the Central Highlands. Given it's higher elevation, the temperatures are usually cooler than it's lower altitude neighbors. Locals tend to flock to Da Lat when the temperatures elsewhere in the country become too unbearably hot.
The Best Time to Visit Southern Vietnam
While last on the list, Southern Vietnam is certainly not the least. The main city of the region, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), tends to get a bad rep among tourists but after living in HCMC for 1 year, I can say it's simply misunderstood.
But it's hot. Almost always hot. Southern Vietnam really has that stereotypical tropical monsoon climate. And when it rains, it seriously rains.
Other than Ho Chi Minh City, Southern Vietnam includes popular places like:
- Mui Ne
- Mekong Delta
- Phu Quoc
- Con Dao
This region is relatively flat and doesn't offer nearly the diversity in temperatures that both the north and center offer. Although I said my favorite beaches were in Central Vietnam, the southern beaches on the islands of Phu Quoc and Con Dao are world class.
The Weather in Southern Vietnam
In Southern Vietnam, it's really only hot or hotter. This region offers two main seasons: rainy season and dry season.
Both the northern and southern regions have their rainy season in the summer, from about May to October. What really struck me as unique in South Vietnam is the rain each day came and went about the same time, usually from 4 pm until 6 pm. I remember this so clearly because it was exactly the time I left my English teaching job each day to drive home. Sometimes I'd make it right before the downpour would begin, other days I wouldn't be so lucky!
A word of advice: if you can see the clouds roll in, it'll start raining much sooner than you expect. Usually once it starts, it rains very hard very quickly. It's not uncommon for the streets to flood during this time.
The rest of the year in Southern Vietnam is hot and dry. The weather in the rainy season tends to be a little less hot than in the dry season, even though it's summer. The rain tends to cool everything off so summer nights after the rain has ended are usually quite enjoyable.
The best time to visit Southern Vietnam is the first half of the year, around January to April. While the temperatures will be hot, you won't have to worry about flooding or sporadic downpours.
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Tips for Planning an Incredible Trip to Vietnam
Visiting Vietnam is certainly one of for the books, even with the hot and sometimes rainy weather. Whether you're planning a beach vacation, an outdoor adventure, or a cultural affair will greatly change when you think the best time to visit Vietnam is.
Regardless of the type of trip your planning or where exactly you'll go while in Vietnam, here are a few helpful tips:
1. Don't pack a rain jacket!
I know this sounds counterintuitive after talking about the intensity of monsoon season but seriously, you won't be able to buy as good of a rain poncho as you can in Vietnam. As soon as the rain starts, or just before it, people will be all over the streets selling high quality ponchos that go to your feet. Buy one (not the thin cheap plastic ones) and I promise, you won't get wet!
2. Only drive a motorbike if you're ready
Life runs on motorbikes (and coffee) in Vietnam. While it can be tempting to hop on a motorbike yourself when you visit Vietnam, I urge you to take a little precaution. Personally, I loved driving a motorbike there and my baby blue motorbike I have tattooed on my arm in remberance.
But, I got to know traffic ebbs and flows and how thinks do and don't work on the roads of Vietnam. I also had my husband, someone who grew up driving motorbikes in busy Bogota, to show me the ropes and get my confidence up.
Being able to drive yourself will open up a lot of doors and allow you to explore more of the country but only do so if you're fully comfortable on a bike and ready to bend to how they drive, not how you're maybe used to.
3. Don't shy away from local food
I absolutely love the food in Vietnam but didn't necessarily feel that way right off the bat. At first, I was a little thrown off by the strange combinations and the fact that I couldn't read any food sign.
It's surprising when I think back on it because I'm usually a really adventurous eater but a recent bout of food poisoning in Thailand had me erring on the side of caution. Don't let that deter you though - in the 3 years of living in Vietnam and eating a whole lot of street food, I never got seriously ill.
What you do need to know though is much like the best time to visit Vietnam, the food to try varies from region to region. It's usually possible to find all of the most loved dishes anywhere in the country but the quality and abundance will definitely flourish from region to region.
Do yourself a favor and find out the top dish for the city you're in and try it from the comfort of a teeny red stool squeezed onto the sidewalk.
4. Don't try to travel too fast in the country
I've met countless tourists that plan to see all of Vietnam in about a week. That's just not enough time to visit Vietnam completely. If you plan to go from Southern Vietnam to Northern Vietnam, you'll spend too much of your time in transit.
While there are easy and cheap flights connecting many of the main cities, its not unlikely for them to be delayed at the last minute. You do have some options for train travel and comfortable sleeper busses but given the incredible length of the country and lack of highway infrastructure, this is a very time consuming process.
I suggest instead you either plan to spend at least a few weeks here or you stick to one region and traveling via public transportation outside of the cities.
5. Have an open mind
Vietnam is an incredible country - with beaches, mountains, caves, and massive cities. If though this is will be your first time in Southeast Asia, expect some culture shock. Things are done differently and look differently than you're most likely used to.
And honestly, that's the beauty of travel: to experience places that toss you outside of your comfortable zone at the snap of your fingers. But it's worth preparing yourself for. That way you go into it with the mindset that you're excited to experience something new, not scared of it.
This country is full of friendly people, regardless of when you're visiting Vietnam and where you go, so get ready for an incredible adventure in an incredible country.
When is the Best Time to Visit Vietnam for You?
Now that you've had a look into the different seasons coinciding with the different regions of the country, when will you visit Vietnam? While my answer is typically shoulder season throughout, to avoid peak season and enjoy fewer crowds, your decision should be based on where you want to go and what you want to do.
And if you just can't decide when to visit and how long to stay, do what I did and stay a few years. Trust me, living in Vietnam is an incredible experience.
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