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A guide to picking the right time for your next Vietnam holiday

A guide to picking the right time for your next Vietnam holiday

Vietnam is as rich in culture and history as it is in natural wonders, and that's why no time is a "bad" time to visit. Still, depending on the kind of experience you aim for, it might come handy to get acquainted with this Far Eastern nation's different seasons, both weather-wise and tourism-wise. And that's what I'm here to try and explain to you, fellow traveller, by identifying the two main ways to interpret the country's travel seasons and by breaking it all down into a month-by-month basis, noting the highs and the lows of travelling during each season, and pointing out which months are best for certain tourist activities – whether you're seeking absolute crowd-free beach glory, exciting nature trails or sightseeing under cloud-free skies.

Two main categories: weather seasons and tourist seasons

Overall and throughout most of the year Vietnam is a warm and humid country with a few seasonal and regional variations. Weather-wise it's tricky to pinpoint to when it will be reasonably dry or cool in Vietnam, mostly because it depends on where you want to go, as this is a country spanning over 2,000 kilometres of land mass, where the weather considerably varies by region. Therefore, there are three different weather systems, one comprising Hanoi and the North, another for Central Vietnam and one more for Southern Vietnam.

Weather tips by region

North Vietnam: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Mai Chau, Cuc Phuong and Ninh Binh

The popular capital city of Hanoi and stunning natural landscapes of North Vietnam are best visited during the winter months of November to April, if you want to avoid rainfall, higher humidity levels and high temperatures. This part of Vietnam has very distinct summer and winter seasons, making it all the easier to predict what the weather will be like at certain times of year. January to March are the coldest months while July to September tend to see the highest amount of rainfall, which is something to bear in mind if you want to sail on a traditional junk boat as severe weather may prevent you from doing this (although it must be noted such weather is rare).

South Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City, Mekong Delta, Phu Quoc and Con Dao, Ho Tram and Long Hai, Phan Thiet and Mui Ne

This part of Vietnam enjoys the most constant temperatures all-year-round, oscillating between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius, with two main identifiable seasons: wet and dry. The wet season starts in May and lasts all the way through early November, with peak rainfall usually registered in the months of June, July and August. Despite this, downpours during the wet season are generally short-lived, with the heaviest showers often seen as heavy mid-afternoon rainstorms. November sees the start of the dry season, which ends in late April or early May, with February to May being the slightly hotter, more humid months. The southernmost cities of Phu Quoc and Con Dao enjoy the finest weather throughout the year, with the highest chances of sunshine even during the wet season.

Central Vietnam: Hoi An, Hue, Dalat, Danang, Quy Nhon and Nha Trang

The central region of Vietnam typically enjoys hot and dry weather from mid-January to late August, seeing temperatures climb as high as the mid-30s in the peak of summer. September to January are considered winter months, with October and November seeing the highest rainfall, occasionally in the form of typhoons, which is why most tourists steer clear of this region in those two months.

Often cooler than Hoi An, especially in the first part of the year, Hue enjoys milder temperatures all-around but because each town sits on opposite sides of a mountain range the weather can sometimes differ greatly between the two on any given day. At Central Vietnam's southernmost point, Nha Trang enjoys a longer dry season that typically runs from January to September with very little rain and high temperatures. The central highlands, where you'll find Dalat, are wet from June to October which could make outdoor hikes and adventures problematic during these months. November to May are much drier but cold in December and January.

Tourist Seasons

Now, tourism-wise (or business-wise, i.e. relating to hotel rates and visitor numbers) identifying high and low seasons in Vietnam is a much simpler process where other elements come into play.

Roughly-speaking though, in terms of tourism numbers, one could say that most visitors to Vietnam split the year into two main seasons: summer, also classed as the rainy season (May to September) and winter, stretching from October to April and generally described as the high season for foreign travellers. Having said this, there are different high and low seasons for different travellers from different nationalities and corners of the world. For example, while most Western visitors travel to Vietnam outside of the low season months, this time marks peak high season for domestic and short-haul visitors (Vietnamese and Asian visitors), so even if you travel to Vietnam during the so-called low season for Westerners, you will still find crowds of domestic holidaymakers.

However, if you seek the cheapest room rates and escaping crowds of Westerners (and you don't mind the rainfall and the sticky hot weather) the low season might be especially attractive to you. Price-wise, this is when hotel and travel agencies offer lower rates and launch special deals, meaning you might benefit from promotional campaign perks and benefits that you otherwise wouldn't if travelling during peak season.

In the majority of cases, during low season you will find most places less busy, will be able to make the most of lower room rates but will have to face the prospect of relentless heat, sometimes accompanied by afternoon rainstorms, that are usually short-lived and might freshen up the atmosphere somewhat. If you brave the weather, you might enjoy a more authentic, nearly tourist-free (Western tourists we mean) Vietnam experience but by contrast, international air fares tend to be cheaper in peak high season and you will enjoy more pleasant weather. You do the maths and work out the equation that best works for you and best accommodates your Vietnam travel priorities.

A word of warning though, and also tip number one: be mindful of unexpected tourism peaks throughout the year, and by unexpected we mean important dates, holidays and festivities in the domestic Vietnamese calendar that draw large crowds of local and regional visitors and which most foreign tourists wouldn't be aware of.

Official holidays in Vietnam to bear in mind

National holidays in Vietnam might once upon a time been insignificant, but now that more and more Vietnamese citizens are travelling during their days off work, mass movement might mean crowded tourist destinations. Watch out for these important national holidays:

  • Tet

    Marking the beginning of the Vietnamese New Year and namely the nation's most important celebration (usually falling sometime between late January and mid-February) it often involves large crowds but also gives you an opportunity to observe up-close and partake in local festivities, flair and joy. Official Tet holiday dates vary somewhat each year and can comprise as much as seven days of full-on celebrations

  • Hung Kings Temple Festival

    Celebrated sometime in early April (or on the 10th day of the third lunar month) this national festivity honours Vietnam's traditional founders and first emperors. The main celebration sees crowds gather at the Hung Temple on Nghia Lin Mountain, located some 85 kilometres northwest of Hanoi. Processions start at the foot of the mountain, stopping at every temple on the way up the 150 steps until reaching the Hung Temple at the top, where pilgrims offer incense and prayers to the ancient Hung Kings. If interested in witnessing a local spiritual ritual this might be a great time to come and base yourself in Hanoi, a smooth (and highly scenic) 40-minute drive from all the action. Expect there to be crowds though, and not just worshippers paying their respects to the diseased kings and making the ascent, but excited foreign tourists snapping away the colourful procession too. Over 6 million visitors flock here every year.

  • Reunification Day

    Typically celebrated on 30th April (unless it falls on a weekend, in which case it is observed on the following weekday), this national Vietnamese holiday is in remembrance of the fall of Saigon in 1975. Also known as Liberation Day or Victory Day (locally called "Ngay Thong nhat") it marks the day the Vietnam war was brought to an end when Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops seized Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and the process of the nation's unification started, joining the north and south to eventually become the Socialist Republic of Vietnam the following year. At this time, and because this holiday is typically followed or preceded by May Day, many Vietnamese take the extended break to visit family or visit museums, beaches and other attractions. Most shops will remain open and tourist sites might be busier than usual.

  • International Labour Day

    Predictably falling on 1st May, this public holiday is observed in many countries across the world, often in commemoration of the labour movement achievements. The Vietnamese take the opportunity of a further day off (often followed or preceded by Reunification Day) to spend time at leisure, visit family or enjoy tourist attractions, so expect increased traffic volume and longer queues in popular hotspots.

  • Vietnam's National Day

    2nd September marks the anniversary of Vietnam's independence from France, a national holiday that's celebrated with parades, political speeches, fireworks and numerous other activities across the country far and wide. The most significant of the parades is the Ba Dinh Square march in Hanoi, where the declaration of independence was made. Expect to see a lot of patriotic ornaments and props everywhere, from Vietnamese flags to posters, flyers and flowers. On the event that this holiday falls on a weekend, it's celebrated on the next weekday.

To avoid or not to avoid?

During all the above festivities visitors might experience a shortage in domestic and international air and train tickets, reduced availability of junk boats sailing along Halong Bay and limited availability in Hoi An's hotel rooms. On the other hand, visiting Vietnam during either of these holidays might prove extra special and memorable as you'll be able to immerse in the local flair of national celebrations and traditions, adding an extra dimension to your Vietnam holiday.

Where to be in Vietnam when: Monthly guide

Even when in Vietnam meteorological conditions are dependent on the region you visit and may vary significantly from one place to another, thankfully there are many varied attractions and tourist hotspots across this vast country to ensure that whatever the time of year you are sure to find the best weather conditions somewhere, and if not you might be guaranteed uncrowded beach resorts, quieter urban hotspots and historic sites paired with rock-bottom cheap room rates.

To learn in more detail what you can look forward to in Vietnam according to the month you visit and where to base yourself to make the best of the weather, avoid certain festivities (or indeed, join in with the crowds) or simply unwind away from it all, I proceed to list a monthly guide, covering different annual time periods and offering advice on where to be and what to do, weather-wise and tourism-wise.

January and February – Tet: to celebrate or to escape?

Sometime along these two months the Lunar New Year will be celebrated in Vietnam, marking a week-long period of festivities and days off for the vast majority of Vietnamese people. The exact dates vary each year according to the lunar calendar and can easily be checked before making travel plans. If you want to visit Vietnam during this time be prepared to witness a joyous time wherever you go, but think first about the weather first to pick your destination. During January and February it can be particularly cold in the country's northern region, with some snow having fallen in recent years on the highest passes from Sapa to Ha Giang. These months also mark the end of the typhoon season for Central Vietnam, which means the weather is at its most unpredictable at this time of year in this part of the country.

So, the south is generally the best place to head to early on in the year, where you'll find bright sunshine and very pleasant temperatures oscillating around 25 degrees Celsius. January and February are also the best months to visit the islands of Phu Quoc and Con Dao. Whichever destination you end up choosing, do remember to check the Tet dates carefully to make sure you don't plan something too complicated one day prior to the Lunar New Year or at least three days after, as most tourism offices, museums and tourist attractions will be completely closed during this time.

Top tips: If you've got your heart set on a round-Vietnam sort of trip around the Tet season, plan to spend less time in the northern and central regions and more in the south. You could even consider pairing your Vietnam holiday with a quick visit to the nearby Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia.

March to the end of May – the finest weather all-around

Generally speaking, this is one of the best times to visit anywhere in Vietnam as the weather is pleasantly mild, warm and bright all around the country. Travelling to Vietnam during this three spring-time months is most idyllic. Weather-wise there's nothing stopping you from visiting any place in Vietnam, so; how to choose where to go then?

North Vietnam is a fantastic option at this time of year, as rice starts being planted across the region's verdant valleys, giving them that dreamy, ethereal look with the beautiful reflection effect of the flooded terraced rice fields. Another great region to explore in these months is Central Vietnam, from the caves of the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park to the sandy beaches of Nha Trang and Hoi An. If you have enough time for it at the end of your holiday, you could add a short visit to the south to round up your trip and get a taste of it all.

Top tips: as this is a popular time for Westerners to visit, make sure to book your holiday well in advance, including tours, excursions, and most importantly, hotel rooms. This is peak season for tourists so some areas, destinations or resorts can get packed and booked full really quick. Have a good, strong sun screen to bring along with you everywhere you go as well as mosquito repellent, especially during the evenings.

June to September

The summer months in most of Vietnam are characterised by elevated temperatures (the highest throughout the year) and tempestuous monsoons. Heat is really strong and humid during this month, so be prepared for scorching, sticky weather with the prospect of frequent rainfalls or storms; although these tend to happen late in the afternoon or early in the evening, meaning that your daytime sightseeing is not likely to be disturbed by rainfall. Avoid engaging in strenuous physical activities and excessive outdoor exercise and seek the cooling splash of waterfalls, rivers and sandy beaches.

Conversely, this is not the best time of year to enjoy Phu Quoc's sandy coastline, but numerous other beaches abound in Vietnam, many of which are less trodden and perfectly secluded. Just ask around and you'll be pointed in the right direction!

On the plus side, room rates will be cheaper, especially during June, July and August and promotional deals will mean that you usually get more for your money than at other times of year.

Top tips: be mindful of the domestic peak travel season. Although summer in Vietnam means low season for foreign Western travellers, local tourism is on a high, which means that places like Cat Ba Island, Nha Trang and Danang can get really, truly packed with crowds of Vietnamese and Chinese tourists. This is why we strongly recommend leaving those popular destinations out of the equation (they are best avoided altogether) during these months and instead venture into other spots that, by contrast, should be completely deserted and crowd-free.

September to end of December

This is the best season to visit North Vietnam! Lovely weather, clear blue skies, plenty of sunshine, mild temperatures and low levels of humidity can only mean one thing: utter perfection! Add to this the fact that it coincides with rice harvesting season (from September to mid-October) and you have true holiday bliss. Prepare to feast your eyes on 50 shades of green rice paddies, a remarkably beautiful landscape you'll never erase from your memory, and get active with some scenic hiking or mountain biking.

Top tips: If you plan on going elsewhere beyond North Vietnam, be warned that from mid-October the weather can get particularly nasty in Central Vietnam, so if you're keen on including it in your itinerary, make it as early as possible, most desirably before September ends or during the first week of October.

The final verdict – It's never a bad time to be in Vietnam!

All in all, if you've read this blog post thoroughly from top to bottom, and taken all the pros and cons of travelling to Vietnam during certain times of the year into account, you have probably concluded there's never really a bad time to visit Vietnam; just preferable times to enjoy certain areas of this riveting nation. Vietnam is always fascinating and soul-enriching regardless of the weather and crowds, plus it's also ideally paired with other nearby Asian destinations like Cambodia or even Thailand, so you could easily make it part of a twin-centre or multi-centre escape. Upon these last words of encouragement, I bid you to go on and start planning that Vietnam holiday of a lifetime you've been dreaming of. With all this info at hand you no longer have any excuse!

James Corporal

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James Corporal

James Corporal

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A nature-loving individual with a thirst for action and a natural-born explorer, I'm a passionate...

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