A frequent question from visitors is when it is actually the best time to visit Vietnam. Check it out, since the answer depends on where in Vietnam you want to go.
Fishing Boat on Long beach, Phu Quoc | photo: Frank Fox (cc-by-sa)
Climate, seasons and weather conditions
2016 and 2017 were the first years when we actually saw the climate change to fully impact the weather conditions in ways never seen before in Vietnam. 2016 the rain came late and hesitantly, but lasted longer. However during dry season 16/17 we had frequent rains, mostly when we finally had an evening off to hit the nightlife and sometimes even thunderstorms and floodings.
Nonetheless, the overall climate I describe in this article is still valid, just bring your umbrella or raincoat along please.
Vietnam is a long country, stretching from North to South over 1650 kilometres. Therefore the climate is vastly different in various regions. Also mind the elevation, since the Central Highlands may catch significantly more rain than the Mekong Delta for example. But mainly I think it depends on how you prefer to spend your holidays in Vietnam. If you want to stay at a nice and cosy beach resort, sipping cocktails and getting a tan, you will want to set your timing different than if you want an active holiday with ziplining, hiking and biking.
Roughly the climate can be divided in two parts: The North features four seasons while the South has just two, dry and wet. The meteorological divide between the two main climates is the Hai Van pass between Hue and Da Nang, a change that you can actually feel when you travel south during the winter as I did when I first came to Vietnam.
In the north of Vietnam we have four seasons rather than two. If it rains during the cold time of the year, the rain can get quite unpleasant, but fortunately that is not often the case. Let's break the seasons down and check when it is the best time to visit.
Spring is probably the best time to visit the North. The air is filled with the scent of flowers and the nature awakens to prepare for the warm and rainy time that follows. Springtime in Hanoi is usually wet and while you should always bring an umbrella with you, enjoy the countless flowering plants that use the damp weather to bloom.
In Hanoi itself, springtime lasts from February to April and the average temperature during the day is between 15°C and 20°C. Mind that springtime is also the time of the traditional new year festival in Vietnam (Tet Holiday), the longest and most important festival of the year. Quite like in China for the Chinese new year, daily life slows down to a crawl and most businesses are closed over Tet. Transportation is hard to find and most hotels cost double, because tradition requires people to visit their hometown.
Summertime in the North is hot with average daytime temperatures of around 32°C in Hanoi, a number which has increased in recent years due to climate change. Summer lasts from May to August with July being the hottest month of the year.
Normally summers used to be relatively dry, but in recent years the North features dry summers or wet summers and you never know before. Heavy rainfall can cause as much flooding as in the South and while at noon the sun may steam you in your clothes, the afternoon strikes with a thunderstorm. Enjoy the heat, but bring an umbrella for you never know, the weather may change fast.
Fall is probably the best time to visit the North and the most romantic time of the year in Hanoi. The trees wear their colourful autum dress and the weather is balanced and not too hot, around 25°C. However, the season lasts only for a few weeks from the middle of September until the end of November, even if these dates may shift recently.
The nice weather has it's impact on the people it seems, the pace is a bit slower and you should fall in as well, enjoying the beauty around you and the interesting, rare dishes that come up with the new harvest. Young green rice for example. Now I believe that, if you manage to get the timing right, autumn is the best time to visit the North of Vietnam.
The winters in the North are typically cold, at least for a tropical country. In Hanoi the temperature can go as low as 10°C, while Sapa and the Northern Highlands may experience even frost. Together with the humidity of the season, it may get quite chilly, so prepare yourself with proper clothing.
However, cold temperatures in Vietnam have their very own charm. When people gather around the fires of roadside kitchens, sipping tea from hot cups while women prepare fresh, hot snacks. It's lovely.
In the South, especially in the low lands of the Mekong Delta, Saigon and the coastal cities like Nha Trang and Phan Thiet, we have two distinct seasons: Rainy season and dry season. I would say that any time is the right time to visit the country here, but if you plan on tanning and warming yourself up from a cold winter in your homeland, come rather during dry season.
White Dunes Mui Ne | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox
The dry season lasts from December to the end of April. It is not raining much, the sky is clear and blue. From January to March, there is almost no rainfall at all and the temperatures climb to an average of 28°C, which is the perfetc weather for warming your bones and chill at the seaside of resort towns like Mui Ne or Phu Quoc Island.
If your goal is to relax at a beautiful beach resort, this is the best time to visit Vietnam.
In Saigon, the dry season comes with dust though and even if you are just visiting, you may want to buy a package of face masks at some pharmacy. The streets of Saigon are not really clean, and lack of rain adds to the air pollution big time.
The temperature does not fluctuate that much in the South. It is always hot in the lowlands and cool in the highlands of Southern Vietnam. The hottest time of the year is between March and May. Tourists escaping from their cold and depressing winters welcome the heat, but for the locals it is a torture of a special kind. The heavy use of air condition often causes the government to cut the power of whole wards or districts for hours during the hottest time of the day to safe energy.
Recently the dry season is not that dry anymore and rainfall is more common than in the past, however it does not really keep you from enjoying your time. Actually the time is the most attractive time of the year when it comes to celebrating Christmas, New Year and Tet Holiday. But be careful, since during Tet most Vietnamese travel and hotels, as well as transport tickets of all kinds are either expensive or simply sold out and many businesses are closed. On top of that, some venues use the time to drastically increase the price.
Rainy season is the time of Rồng, the great dragon of Vietnam, who is responsible for rain and thunder and the sea. Recently the dragon seems to be disgruntled by the above mentioned climate change, so the weather is not as stable anymore as it was in the past.
Dragon of the Sky | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox
From September until December, the temperature reaches a low down here in the South, and people enjoy the comparatively cool weather. You need to bring a raincoat or umbrella along, but major downpours are rare.
From May until November is the time of the monsoon and there is a short afternoon shower almost every day. Sometimes there is a heavy thunderstorm with insane rainfall and flooding of entire wards, since the drainage system cannot cope with the sudden increase of the water level.
Myself I enjoy the rainy season much more than the rest of the year and it is also the best time for budget travellers since during low season rooms and services are cheaper and the best tour guides are not scooped up by big travel agencies.
I would say from November until January is the best time to visit the south of Vietnam. Balanced temperature and rainfalls make it nice to travel during this time of the year. It is unsurprisingly the high season of tourism in Saigon as well.
We already mentioned Tet Holiday, the Spring Festival or traditional Chinese New Year. This is the by far largest, longest and most important holiday of the year. Its significance is deeply rooted in traditional belief and family life of the Vietnamese people, so it's not surprising that during Tet everything is different. Many businesses are closed and if they are open, they usually are short on staff, because it is imperative that people visit their families.
In big cities like Hanoi and Saigon where the majority of working people originates in other provinces and just came to the big city to seek their fortune, leaving parents and grandparents behind in their villages - during Tet there is a vast exodus of young people to their hometowns.
Most domestic flights, trains and buses will be sold out, as well as hotels booked. Prices for the few remaining rooms skyrocket, especially in popular holiday towns like Dalat or Mui Ne.
Mind that banks are closed and ATMs won't be restocked for a while, so finding cash can result in a longer pilgrimage.
The government does not work during public holidays as well. Please bear that in mind if you plan on extending your visa.
Here the list of public holidays in Vietnam:
- 01.01. & 02.01. Calendar New Year
- Tet Holiday
usually by the end of January & beginning of February - the actual time depends on the lunar calendar, so you have to look it up each year individually. 2017 it lasted from 26.01. until 01.02.
- Hung Vuong Temple Festival
the 10th day of the 3rd lunar month, actually the first king's death anniversary
- 01.05. International Labour Day
- 02.05. Reunification Day
marking the fall of Saigon in 1975
- 04.09. Independence Day
marking the declaration of independence in 1945
Phu Quoc Roads | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox
There are some special conditions in every region of Vietnam and we try to collect useful data about these. For now we have separate articles about the climate on Phu Quoc Island and Da Lat. More to come.
Sometimes Rồng, the great dragon, gets a bit emotional about us humans messing with th climate. Or other things. Then we have a typhoon, a major tropical storm with a huge destructive potential. August to November is the typical season for typhoons. Even if the edges of a typhoon occasionally reach as far as Hanoi, usually the coastal areas of the Centre suffer the most. Most typhoons have already lost much of their power once they reach Vietnam, but they are very tricky to predict. If you stay in Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An or another coastal city while a typhoon is on its way, make sure to check for updates online or with the receptionist of your hotel, just to be safe.
The Best Time To Visit Vietnam: Conclusion
It's anytime. From September to January the conditions are ideal to visit the South, while spring and fall are perfect for travelling Hanoi and the North. If you don't mind some rain, the South is yours to enjoy all year round.
Fishing Boats in Da Nang | photo: (cc-by-sa)
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