Last updated October 2021 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
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Weather is an important consideration when planning a trip to Vietnam. Many people assume Vietnam is bathed in tropical sunshine year-round, country-wide. But this is not the case: Vietnam’s climate is complex, variable and subject to two monsoons, each affecting different parts of the nation at different times of year. Depending on the region and the month, Vietnam can experience hot and humid summers, chilly winters, an extended dry season, typhoons, and the crachin (a period of interminable grey drizzle in the Red River Delta). A long, narrow country, Vietnam spans both tropical to sub-tropical zones. Some parts of the nation have a temperate climate with four distinct seasons; other parts only have two seasons: wet and dry. At the same time of year, snow can fall in the northern mountains with temperatures close to freezing while the southern beaches are enjoying cloudless skies and daily temperatures above 30°C. But, no matter the month, there’s always a good region to travel in Vietnam. The following guide will help you decide when and where to go.
WEATHER IN VIETNAM
A Personal Guide to When & Where to Go
Below, I’ve written an overview of weather conditions nationwide for each quarter of the year, including a map and recommendations of where to go (and where to avoid) during each time period. Whether you’re planning a south-to-north adventure, a beach retreat, a mountain exploration or a motorbike road trip, this guide will help you decide when and where to go. Please bear in mind that weather patterns are inherently unpredictable: I’ve done my best to give an overview, but of course I can’t guarantee conditions will be exactly as I describe. For up-to-date weather reports, I highly recommend Windy.com.
Click below to read about weather at that time of year and what my recommended destinations are:
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Where to Travel Month-by-Month in Vietnam
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*Disclaimer: Information in this article is based only on my limited reading & understanding of various sources, conversations with people & my own personal experience: I’m not a meteorologist & I can’t vouch for the accuracy of weather-related details on this page. Weather is subject to change.
January, February, March
- Weather conditions: southern dry season, northeast monsoon, northern winter & ‘crachin’
- Where to go: southern beaches & islands, Central Highlands, Ho Chi Minh City
- Where to avoid: north & central provinces & cities
The first three months of the year is the height of the southern dry season, a glorious period of warm, sunny and bright weather in most coastal and highland regions south of Nha Trang on the coast and of Buon Ma Thuot in the mountains. This is the perfect time to travel, explore and enjoy the southern provinces of Vietnam. Meanwhile, however, most of the central and northern regions of the country are subject to the northeast monsoon, which occurs when cold winds blow in from Siberia, Japan and the Korean peninsula, bringing long periods of bleak, grey, damp and surprisingly chilly weather. The popular central cities of Hoi An, Danang and Hue can be quite dark and grim for the first couple of months of the year. Further north, the Red River Delta region – including Hanoi, Halong Bay and parts of the northern mountains – suffers months of persistent light rain and concrete skies, known during French colonial times as the ‘crachin‘ (drizzle). In the mountainous far northwest and northeast of the nation, frost forms on the highest peaks, passes and plateaus abutting China, and some places even experience snow.
South of Nha Trang, Vietnam’s coastline sweeps westward, thus sheltering the southern provinces from the cool winds and unsettled weather of the northeast monsoon. From Nha Trang all the way down to Phu Quoc Island, at Vietnam’s southwestern-most tip, conditions are excellent: blue skies, warm sunshine, relatively low humidity, sharp light, and cool mornings and evenings. It’s ideal beach weather. On Phu Quoc Island the water is calm, glassy, balmy and blue. The same is true of neighbouring islands and archipelagos dotting Vietnam’s portion of the Gulf of Thailand, such as Hon Son, Nam Du and the Pirate Islands. This is by far the best season to island-hop or settle into a comfortable beach retreat for a week or two. Meanwhile, on the Con Dao Islands – far out in the East Sea – winds can blow hard until February, but by March they abate and the archipelago looks fresh, green, clean and shiny.
If islands aren’t your thing, find a resort on one of the the long, sandy beaches and promontories on the mainland, such as Ho Tram, Mui Ne, Cam Ranh or Nha Trang. For more restless travellers, riding a motorbike along the southeast coast at this time of year is a beautiful thing. Link up the following famous quartet of coast roads from Saigon all the way to Nha Trang: the Ocean Road, the Sand Dune Highway, the Dragons’ Graveyard, and the Nui Chua Coast Road – forming the perfect sandy, salty, sunny beach road trip. There’s something inherently life-affirming about endless blue skies and the warmth of the sun on your skin.
Cool nights, low humidity and hardly any rainfall make the southern dry season Vietnam’s ‘camping window’. Pitch a tent at one of the many campsites along the south coast between Saigon and Nha Trang or wild camp in the pine forests of the Central Highlands and along the riverbanks of the southern plains. Every year I spend the Tet Lunar New Year holiday (which usually falls in late January or February) motocamping in the southern provinces, alternating between the mountains and the coast with my motorbike and camping gear: it’s one of the highlights of my year.
The southern dry season is also the best time to explore the mountains, plateaus and forests of the Central Highlands. Daytime temperatures in the mountains are at least 10°C cooler than on the coast, but at night they drop even further, sometimes to single digits. Staying in cosy accommodation in the former French colonial hill station of Dalat or exploring the vast and rich landscapes of the Central Highlands on two wheels is a wonderful way to spend the first quarter of the year. From January to March the highlands are dry, fertile and fragrant with coffee blossom and woodsmoke, and the light and colours are HD-sharp. Finally, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is at its best in the first month or two of the year. The cool mornings and nights make the city much more pleasant and manageable than at other times of year. In January, you can walk the city’s alleyways, explore its markets, or sit on the sidewalks enjoying Saigon’s famous street food, without feeling uncomfortably hot and sweaty.
Although I generally avoid northern destinations and motorbike routes in the winter because of low temperatures and bleak conditions, it should be said that many, many people do travel the north in January and February and absolutely love it. Also, despite the often damp and grey weather in central regions at this time of year, such is the charm of cities like Hue and Hoi An that they can still be thoroughly enchanting, even in the constant drizzle. The same is true of Hanoi. In fact, the cooler temperatures make exploring these cities on foot much more appealing than in the sweltering, sweat-soaked summer months. I am not saying the weather is always bad in central and northern regions at this time of year, or that you shouldn’t visit these areas from January to March. But, for me, given the choice, I will stick to the south and make the most of the dry season.
April, May, June
- Weather conditions: northern & central spring, southern ‘hot’ season
- Where to go: northern mountains, north-central countryside, central cities
- Where to avoid: Ho Chi Minh City & the Mekong Delta
As the southern dry season reaches its crescendo, temperatures in the south begin to soar: humidity rises, the air thickens and conditions become stifling. Meanwhile, in the northern mountains and valleys and all along the central coast, spring is taking hold: the sun regains its warmth as the cold winds of the northeast monsoon fade; the grey mists lift from the highland peaks and the lowland Red River Delta; the damp countryside dries out, flowers bloom and crops begin to grow. A fresh, new light illuminates the grand northern landscapes and the sweeping central beaches. From April to June, the southern provinces are baking hot, but northern and central regions are relatively mild.
In the far north of Vietnam, the hauntingly beautiful landscape of Ha Giang is slowly emerging from a cold, barren winter. The rocky landscape of limestone pinnacles, rising and falling like petrified waves on a ruffled sea, is never in sharper focus than late spring (April-May) or late summer (September-October). There’s no better time to ride the legendary Extreme North Motorbike Loop (although the high passes can still be surprisingly frigid). To the west of Ha Giang, the former French colonial hill station of Sapa, perched on a steep slope high in the mighty Hoang Lien Son Range, basks in crisp, clear spring light. Although, at 1,500 metres above sea-level, temperatures may still be a little chilly, this is the best time of year to visit Sapa town, drink in the mountain views, and even climb Mt. Fansipan, the highest peak in the nation, known as The Roof of Indochina. But to get a real feel of how grand the scenery is in this magnificent region, get on a motorbike and ride one of the jaw-dropping northwest routes. The landscape on these routes is on a scale not seen anywhere else in Vietnam, so it pays to see it in clear weather: visiting between April-May increases the chances of this.
Hanoi is also nice in the spring and so too are nearby Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island, famous for their jungle-clad limestone karsts rising from the calm seas of the Gulf of Tonkin, not to mention the ever-popular limestone valleys of Ninh Binh. But, even more impressive at this time of year, in my opinion, are the verdant landscapes of Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Mai Chau Valley and Moc Chau Plateau, all of which are due southwest of Hanoi. In the warm, clear conditions of April and May, this wonderland is best experienced by homestay-hopping or by riding a motorbike on the Limestone Loop. Rice terraces decorate the valleys, bamboo forests whisper on the hillsides, and rivers, lakes and waterfalls are clean and clear, not yet muddied by the runoff that will come with the summer rains. This is Vietnam at its prettiest.
Moving south toward the central regions, April to June is one of the best times to visit the extraordinary cave systems and landscapes of Phong Nha. Rivalling Ha Giang as the most dramatic and spectacular scenery in the nation, Phong Nha offers lots of great accommodation in which to base yourself while exploring the numerous natural attractions. This time of year is usually a sweet spot between the cold, grey conditions of winter and the heavy rains and high temperatures of summer. Phong Nha has an abundance of great road trips – long and short – that can be ridden by motorbike or bicycle. Finally, the famous trio of central coastal cities – Hue, Danang and Hoi An – are all at their best around April: warm and sunny, but not too hot, humid or wet. Connecting these three cities is the Hai Van Pass, probably the most famous road in Vietnam.
Because of the massive heat and humidity between April and June, it’s generally best to avoid spending much time in Saigon, the Mekong Delta, and the southern beaches and islands at this time of year. Conditions are dry, bright and sunny, but the heat makes travelling quite exhausting, especially if you’re coming from a temperate climate.
July, August, September
- Weather conditions: northern & central summer, southern rainy season & southwest monsoon
- Where to go: central & south-central beaches, south-to-north routes, parts of the northern highlands
- Where to avoid: Central Highlands, southern islands, Ho Chi Minh City
The summer months bring hot, rainy, steamy and oppressive weather to the whole country. But, because conditions are similar nationwide between July and September, this is one of the best times of year to travel the entire country. For travellers wanting to experience all regions of Vietnam in one trip (on a south-to-north road trip, for example), this is probably the best window of opportunity. In the southern provinces, the southwest monsoon has arrived: it’s rainy season for all regions south of Nha Trang. Meanwhile, the northern cities, plains and deltas are unbearably hot and sticky, with frequent heavy rains, making the mountains an attractive retreat. Central regions are subject to similar conditions as the north, but the long coastline and easily accessible mountains make it much more bearable in this part of the country. However, despite the intensity of the heat and rain across much of the nation at this time of year, the sheer scale of these weather conditions is an attraction in itself. Cathedralic monsoon thunderclouds bearing over landscapes; violent rains bringing busy cities to a standstill; beaches where the sand is too hot to step on; sheltering from a storm under a banyan tree as rain sweeps over the jungle canopy – these are all exciting and exotic aspects of visiting a tropical country. The monsoon is an experience.
The south-central provinces of Phu Yen and Binh Dinh – some of the most attractive and unspoiled coastal regions in the country – are at their best during the summer months. This honeycombed coastline hides numerous sandy coves, secret bays and tiny islets. At the height of summer the empty hot sands, calm blue waters and clear skies have a benign and somehow immortal beauty. At the centre of this coastal region is the up-and-coming beach city of Quy Nhon, also boasting some for the best seafood in Vietnam. And the excellent beach conditions extend even further up the central coast, including the islands of Tam Hai and Ly Son, then Tam Thanh beach south Hoi An, and the long, long, empty stretches of sand between Hue and Dong Hoi. All of these beaches are a treat in the heat.
Inland, it’s a great time of year to explore the long spine of mountains forming Vietnam’s central border with Laos. Offering relief from the heat of the coast, the beautiful Trừong Sơn Mountains are remarkably easy to access: in many cases just a couple of hours west of the central coastal cities. There’s no better way to experience these spectacular landscapes than on a motorbike road trip. Several stunning roads traverse the mountains of Central Vietnam: the Western Ho Chi Minh Road – a staggering ride through some of the most pristine, remote countryside in Vietnam – can be completed in just a day or two. There’s a good chance the sun will be shining at this time of year, so the rivers will be ribbons of turquoise, irresistible for swimming. Alternatively, any of the four routes linking Hoi An, Danang and Hue are perfect day trips in the saddle, each one offering different scenery. Or select an even longer route through the highlands, such as the little-known Truong Son Dong Road or any of the Saigon to Hanoi routes, giving travellers a chance to witness how the country changes from one region to the next. Whether bathed in sunshine or shrouded in mist, these road trips are all thrilling experiences in the summer months.
The three main central cities of Hue, Danang and Hoi An, are all fantastic places to spend time during the summer. Excellent food, local beaches, historical sites and friendly people make them easy to love. Cycling around the royal tombs outside Hue, wandering the old streets of Hoi An, eating seafood and enjoying the municipal beach in Danang, and exploring the green and rugged Son Tra Peninsula could keep a traveller occupied for weeks. The multitude of cultural sites in these central cities also provide a welcome distraction from the intensity of the heat and rain. In the north, late summer (September) is harvest season. In certain areas, such as Mu Cang Chai, thousands of rice terraces have been carved into the steep valleys and mountainsides. When the rice is ready to harvest, it turns a luminous gold-brown, creating one of the most visually arresting natural sites in Vietnam. As well as Mu Cang Chai, the rice terraces can be seen on any of the northern motorbike routes.
Travel in the southern provinces between July and September is fine, but the region is not at its best. Ho Chi Minh City can be very wet and horribly humid; the southern islands in the Gulf of Thailand, such as Phu Quoc, can be stormy; the Mekong Delta gets a lot of heavy rain and suffers flooding; and the parts of the Central Highlands, like Dalat, can experience long periods of persistent light rain and grey skies.
October, November, December
- Weather conditions: northern autumn, central rainy season, southern transition, typhoon season
- Where to go: Hanoi, the northeast mountains, Mekong Delta, southern islands
- Where to avoid: central, north-central & south-central coast
The last three months of the year are best spent in the northern and southern extremes of Vietnam. In the north, it’s autumn, with mild temperatures and relatively dry conditions. In the south, it’s the tail end of the rainy season: downpours become less frequent and lose their intensity as the southwest monsoon fades and the region transitions to drier weather. Along the central coast and adjacent highlands, however, conditions turn grey, drizzly and bleak: anywhere from Nha Trang all the way north to Halong Bay can be subject to days of miserable skies reluctant to lift. In addition, September and October is Vietnam’s typhoon season, when powerful storms blow in from the east, affecting much of the nation’s coastline, but usually impacting central provinces the most. This can cause severe flooding in the cities and countryside alike.
Up in the northeast of Vietnam, the weather is balmy and beautiful. This little pocket of the country (Cao Bang, Lang Son and Bac Kan provinces) is generally under-appreciated by travellers. But the richly cultivated limestone valleys – where jade-coloured rivers amble past sleepy stone villages – are as scenic as any storybook version of rural Vietnam. With the harvest over, the rice fields turn beige, but the forests are still lush and green. Ban Gioc Waterfall, one of Vietnam’s most impressive natural sights, is at its most majestic in October. With its network of quiet back-roads, it’s easy to get off the beaten path in the northeast, especially by motorbike.
October in Hanoi is lovely. Gone is the searing heat and stifling humidity of summer: October is warm, bright and mellow. Hanoi is a great city for walking – it’s the only way to appreciate the multiple layers of this thousand year-old capital city – but the summer is too hot to be on foot, and the winter too cold and wet: autumn is ideal. Visit in October, and you’re sure to fall under Hanoi’s spell.
The last quarter of the year is a good time to explore the waterways and cities of the Mekong Delta, in Vietnam’s deep south. By the end of the rainy season, the Delta’s canals, rivers, channels, wetlands and marshes are brimful. The rice fields are flooded and the fruit orchards are bursting with colour. The cities and towns are alive – as they always are in the Delta – with commerce, food and festivals. The Mekong Delta is rich in culture, religion, history, architecture and cuisine – it’s a place to take your time and soak it up, either on foot or by motorbike. What’s more, the Delta is also the gateway to the southern islands, such as Phu Quoc, Hon Son and Nam Du, via frequent passenger and car ferries. October is shoulder season on these islands: an excellent time to visit before the tourists arrive and the prices go up.
October to December can be very bleak along the central coast. The long sandy beaches of this region are marvellous in the sunshine, but miserable in the constant fine rain and grey skies toward to the end of the year. Inland, too, weather conditions in central regions aren’t favourable. The spectacular landscapes of Phong Nha, for example, are often flooded, the central cities of Hue, Danang and Hoi An can experience days of drizzling rain, concrete skies and fairly cool temperatures. Furthermore, typhoons blow in from the East Sea towards central provinces, usually after having battered the Philippines, or sweep down from the northeast into the Gulf of Tonkin, wreaking havoc in Halong Bay and Hanoi. The south is usually spared the full brunt of these typhoons (of which there around 10 every year), but every now and then one of them positions itself right above Ho Chi Minh City, like the space craft from the movie Independence Day (1996). The bottom line is, if you’re travelling during typhoon season, make sure to keep up to date with storm warnings. Windy.com is a good way to do this: view the radar map of Vietnam and click the filter for ‘Rain, thunder’.
*Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this article because I want to: I like weather and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements and my About Page