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Having travelled to all of Vietnam’s 63 provinces, I’ve put together this personal guide to where in Vietnam I would most want to be at different times of the year. I love weather, and it’s a fundamental consideration for me when planning when and where to go. Many people assume that Vietnam is bathed in tropical sunshine year-round, country-wide. But Vietnam’s climate is complex, variable, and very local: tropical monsoons, extended dry seasons, chilly winters, and the crachin (the name French colonials gave the grey drizzle hanging over the Red River Delta during Lunar New Year) are but a few of the weather conditions travellers can expect. As a long, narrow country – with a spine of mountains to the west, a curving coastline to the east, and flat river deltas in the north and south – Vietnam’s weather is anything but predictable. The following guide will help you decide when and where to go.
GUIDE: WEATHER IN VIETNAM
A Personal Guide to When & Where to go
Being English, I’ve always longed for sunshine and warmth, but now, having lived in Vietnam for a decade, I also appreciate the pockets of cool, misty, autumnal weather that certain areas experience at certain times of year. Monsoon rains also have a romantic appeal for me, as do the magnificent skies that the rainy season brings. Below I’ve split the year into quarters (blocks of three months) and written up a summary of where my favourite places to be are for each quarter. I’ve included links to relevant Vietnam Coracle guides to the places I mention.
Click on a time period below to read more about my chosen destinations and weather conditions for those months:
- JANUARY-FEBRUARY-MARCH: (southern dry season)
- APRIL-MAY-JUNE: (northern spring)
- JULY-AUGUST-SEPTEMBER: (central summer)
- OCTOBER-NOVEMBER-DECEMBER: (northern autumn/southern transition)
Map pin colours are as follows:
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Weather: southern dry season
Where to go: Saigon, beaches, islands, Central Highlands
The first three months of the year is the height of the southern dry season. South of Nha Trang, Vietnam’s coastline sweeps westward, sheltering the southern provinces from the northeast monsoon, which brings cold, grey weather to northern and central regions. From Nha Trang all the way down to Phu Quoc Island, at Vietnam’s southwestern-most tip, the conditions are glorious: blue skies, warm sunshine, relatively low humidity, sharp light, and cool mornings and evenings. It’s perfect beach weather.
The water is calm, balmy, and blue on Phu Quoc Island at this time of year: it’s by far the best season to explore the many beaches of this tropical retreat in the Gulf of Thailand. Meanwhile, on the Con Dao Islands – far out in the East Sea – winds can blow hard, but this only serves to cleanse the islands; making the beaches, forests, and cliffs shine in the briny air.
Follow the sand from Vung Tau all the way up to Cam Ranh Bay on the fabulous Ocean Road. Cool nights and hardly any rainfall make this ideal camping weather: take advantage of Vietnam’s growing phượt culture (independent travel on the cheap) and pitch a tent at one of the campsites on the southern sands. There’s something inherently life-affirming about endless blue skies and the warmth of the sun on your skin: I take a road trip along the southern coast every year, during the Tet Lunar New Year holiday (January/February), and each time I do, it fills me with joy.
It’s not only the coast that basks in southern sunshine at this time of year: the Central Highlands are at their best during the winter months. Dalat, Bao Loc, Lak Lake, Cat Tien National Park, and the southern reaches of the Truong Son Mountain Range all enjoy the same dry, bright weather as the coast. Daytime temperatures in Dalat are around 25°C but the nights are cold. This presents a satisfying contrast: swim in the sea at Mui Ne in the morning and be wrapped up warm by the fireside in Dalat by evening. The highland pine forests are dry and fragrant – again offering a good chance for camping – and, with the coffee harvest over, the scent of coffee blossom fills the air. A favourite trip of mine at this time of year is the Southeast Loop, which takes in both mountains and coast. Since I live in Saigon, I enjoy the city at all times of year, but the cool nights during the dry season – when you can sit outside eating dinner without perspiring – are particularly nice.
Weather: northern spring
Where to go: extreme north & northeast mountains & valleys
As the southern dry season comes to an end, temperatures in the south being to soar: humidity rises, the air thickens, and conditions become stifling. It’s time to head north to the mountains and valleys, where spring is taking hold: the sun regains its warmth after the cold winter, and the grey mists begin to lift from the peaks and rivers. Blossoms, wildflowers, and crops begin to bloom, and a fresh new light illuminates the grand northern landscapes.
In the far north of Vietnam, the hauntingly beautiful province of Ha Giang is slowly waking from the frosts of a hard winter. A rocky landscape of limestone pinnacles that rise and fall like petrified waves on a ruffled sea, Ha Giang’s mythical landscape is never in sharper focus than in early spring. There’s no better time to ride the legendary Extreme North Loop.
Meanwhile, in the northwest, the giant peaks of the Hoang Lien Son Mountains prick the spring sky. Although temperatures may still be a little chilly at 1,500m, it’s still a good time to visit Sapa and drink in the mountain views. But to get a real flavour of how grand the scenery is in this region, and how the many ethnic minority peoples go about their lives, head west to Sin Ho or east to Muong Khuong. The landscape here is on a scale not seen anywhere else in Indochina, so it pays to see it in clear weather: visiting in early spring increases the chances of this.
Southwest of Hanoi, the warm clear weather makes a wonderland of Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Cuc Phuong National Park, Mai Chau, Thanh Hoa and Ninh Binh provinces. I call this area ‘The Limestone Valleys‘ because meandering rivers cut through steep, forested limestone hills. Rice terraces decorate the slopes, bamboo forests whisper in the breezes, and the waterways are clean and clear, not yet muddied by the runoff from the summer rains. This is Vietnam at its prettiest. A homestay in a wooden house on stilts in Pu Luong Nature Reserve is the best way to experience it.
Weather: central summer
Where to go: central cities, Ho Chi Minh Road, south-central beaches
The summer months bring hot, rainy, steamy and oppressive weather to the whole country. While the south experiences its rainy season, the north is unbearably hot and sticky, with frequent rains. Central regions are subject to similar conditions, but the long coastline and easily accessible mountains make it much more bearable in this part of the country. A plethora of cultural sites also provide a welcome distraction from the intensity of the weather. On the other hand, the ‘scale’ of weather at this time of year is an attraction in itself: massive heat, cathedralic thunderclouds and violent rains are exciting aspects of visiting an exotic tropical country. Being on a beach at dawn with the sand already too hot to step on; seeing an angry thunderhead rear up over an ancient Cham temple; sheltering under a tree while watching the rains sweep over the jungle canopy on the Ho Chi Minh Road – these are unmissable summer monsoon experiences for me.
The three main central cities, 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, could keep me occupied for weeks.
The Hai Van Pass links these cities, and most people make the road trip between Danang and Hue via this scenic coast road. However, I choose the inland route instead: a rarely used section of the Ho Chi Minh Road that meanders across spectacular mountains between Thanh My and A Luoi. Whether bathed in sunshine or shrouded in mist, this road is superb. If that’s not enough, continue north on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road from Khe Sanh to Phong Nha: a staggering ride through some of the most pristine, remote countryside in Vietnam. 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. At the end of this stretch of road are the famous caves systems of Phong Nha, Son Doong, Hang En and more.
South of Hoi An, the beaches of Binh Dinh and Phu Yen provinces are some of the most attractive and unspoiled in the country. The honeycombed coastline hides numerous sandy coves, secret bays and tiny islets, such as Vung Ro Bay. At the height of summer the empty hot sands, blue waters and clear skies have a benign and somehow immortal beauty. Drop in to the laid back beach town of Quy Nhon for the best seafood in Vietnam.
Weather: northern autumn/southern transition
Where to go: Hanoi, the Northeast, Mekong Delta
The ’embers’ are best spent in the northern and southern extremes of Vietnam. Towards the end of the year the weather starts to turn grey and drizzly on the central coast and highlands, but up in the Northeast it’s beautiful and balmy. This little pocket of the country, mainly Cao Bang, Lang Son, and Bac Kan provinces, is under-appreciated by many domestic and foreign 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. Criss-crossed by country back-roads, it’s easy to get off the beaten path in this region.
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 – only then do you have time to appreciate the multiple layers of this thousand year-old capital – but the summer is too hot to be on foot, and the winter too cold and wet: autumn is ideal walking weather.
While autumn is taking hold in the north, the southern rainy season is gradually transitioning to drier conditions. This is a good time to be in the Mekong Delta. A water-world throughout the year, by the end of the rainy season the Delta is full to the brim. Rivers and canals are at their highest level, rice fields flooded, and fruit orchards bursting with colour. Kien Giang, in the southwest corner, is my favourite Mekong province. Unlike the rest of the Delta, there’s some high ground here, especially around the laid-back town of Ha Tien, close to the Cambodian border. Ha Tien has plenty of Mekong charm – crumbling French colonial-era shophouses, shady backstreets, a busy waterway, excellent street food, a bustling fish market, and a waterfront promenade. Boats leave regularly from the pier to Phu Quoc Island which, along with other islands in the Gulf of Thailand, can be seen out on the horizon. Get here in November/December and you can jump on a boat to Phu Quoc and start the year according to this guide all over again.