- Kerry Newsome
A monthly travel guide to your best experiences in Vietnam
To travel, to experience and learn: that is to live.”
– Tenzing Norgay
One of the most asked questions I get from travellers is - When is the best time to visit Vietnam.?
The answer isn't a simple one. Vietnam being a long skinny country with a shoreline of 3,200Kms, weather can vary significantly from North to South. I hope you will find this guide useful in your trip planning.
January: January is the ideal time to consider cooler weather pursuits in Vietnam. In the northern region, particularly the famous Sapa town, located in Lao Cai province. Sapa is known for its stunning rice terraces, which are at their most beautiful during the winter months. The weather is chilly, making it perfect for trekking and exploring the local hill tribes. If you head to these locations make sure you are rugged up as it can snow in Sapa and roads can be drizzly. It is advisable to get some advice on best things to do prior to booking for this area.
The south is your best bet for warmer weather but it too can have more frequent wet days but much warmer than the north and still with medium to high levels of humidity.I know from experience visiting another northern area called Ba be Lake, it was freezing cold. However, with puffer jackets and warm under clothing it meant we had the pristine lake and the caves to ourselves, and the beautiful cherry blossoms were just starting to break through. Less tourists and more chance for local interaction.
February: February is a good time to visit Vietnam's central region. I mention this as somewhere between late January and mid February Vietnamese celebrate TET. This is a celebration that is waited for all year. You will find the ancient city of Hoi An becomes a sea of colour with flowers and fruit tree sellers lining the streets in the lead up. Combine that with the colourful lanterns and it’s a joyous time to be there.
The weather is mild making it perfect for exploring the city's historic sites, such as the Old Town, the Japanese Covered Bridge, and the Hoi An Museum of History and Culture. The city is also known for its beautiful beaches, which as the month ages are warming up for swimming. Earlier in the month it may still be long sleeve weather and not warm enough to make the dive into the ocean or pool. But a week later this can change. You just never know in Vietnam.
Kerry in February in Ba be lake - Vietnam
March: March is the ideal time to visit Vietnam's central and southern regions, and further afield, the famous Mekong Delta. The weather is warm and humid, making it perfect for exploring the region's famous floating markets, such as Cai Rang and Phong Dien. The region is also known for its beautiful landscapes, including rice paddies and coconut groves. Hoi An is especially nice in the central region, and one of my favourite times of the year for mooching through the old town and finding new hidden gems in the alleys. Drinking coffee, people watching, sipping a cocktail at Happy Hour and chatting with locals. Basing yourself in Hoi An is a good plan as from here there are many activities and day trips to enjoy, that still mean you are back in time for twilight by the Thu Bon river.
Photo Credit - Thomas Levine Photography - Photo Hoi An - March
April: April is a great time to visit Vietnam's central highlands, particularly the city of Dalat. The weather is cool and dry, making it perfect for exploring the city's many waterfalls, such as Pongour ( a beautiful waterfall you can reach so close your hands can touch the falls) and Datanla.
The city is also known for its beautiful gardens and flower farms, such as the Valley of Love and the Dalat Flower Garden. A quaint and particularly European style city you will see and feel an atmosphere of fresh flowers, fruits and rolling hills.
This is also an opportune time to head to Phong Nha and go caving, motorbike riding through the hills, trekking and soaking up the small town community of Phong Nha with locals.If you would like to know more about visiting Phong Nha I suggest you contact Phong Nha Farmstay and visit the podcast I did with Ben Mitchell a great Aussie bloke who has been living there for many years now and will give you the local knowledge you need.
May: May is a great time to visit Vietnam's northern region, particularly the famous Ha Long Bay. The weather is warm and humid, making it perfect for exploring the bay's many limestone islands and caves. The bay is also known for its small beaches and opportunities for swimming and sunbathing. Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay are a must if you visit Vietnam around this time. The limestone mountains jutting from the mesmeric coloured water will be a lifelong memory not just stored on your phone camera. The central and south are hot and very popular for those wanting to soak up the sun at any famous beach cities like Danang, Nha Trang, Phu Quoc Island and Mui Ne. March to May are ideal for other places in the north like Ha Giang.
June: June is a great time to visit Vietnam's central region, particularly the city of Hue. The weather is HOT and humid, making it perfect for exploring the city's many historic sites. It is the hottest time of the year so be prepared with lighter clothing and sunscreen. This month really makes it safe to head to most places along the 3,200 shoreline as long as you like it VERY hot during the day with the odd downpour.
July: July is a great time to visit Vietnam's southern region, particularly the city of Nha Trang. The weather is warm and humid, making it perfect for swimming and sunbathing at the city's many beaches. Nha Trang is also known for its many water activities, such as snorkelling and scuba diving, and its famous cable car ride to Vinpearl Island featuring a veritable Disneyland of experiences for kids. Across most of Vietnam it is HOT, so if that’s how you like it, then it’s your time.
August: August is a great time to visit Vietnam's northern region, particularly the city of Hanoi. The weather is hot and humid, making it perfect for exploring the city's many historic sites, such as the Old Quarter, the Temple of Literature, and Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum. The city is also known for its delicious street food, which can be enjoyed at the many night markets. Early morning by the lake is delightful as the air is at its coolest, and you will see people dancing, exercising, running, and doing Tai Chi. Further in the north the weather is conducive to explore the mountainous regions due to panoramic views of the rice fields, but if it rains in places like Ha Giang it can be wonderful one minute, but drizzly and wet and slippery the other. August and September are recommended as good times to go, but please see note below for further information.
Photo credit Jack Taylor - Ninh Binh Episode - https://www.whataboutvietnam.com/series-4/episode-16/ninh-binh---the-mystical-rival-to-halong-bay
September: September is my favourite overall Vietnam time of year to visit most places in Vietnam. I call it a “safe bet! It’s a great time to visit Vietnam's central region, particularly the city of Da Nang and Hoi An. The weather is warm and mostly dry, making it perfect for exploring the city's many historic sites, such as the Marble Mountains and the My Son World cultural heritage Temples. The city is also known for its beautiful beaches, such as My Khe Beach, and its many water activities, such as jet skiing and parasailing.
Further afield Hoi An has An Bang beach and because the weather is a little milder it makes you feel like getting out more during the day. The nights are delightful and it’s a fun thing to do, to go strolling along the beach alleys to find the best local bars to listen to music and eat the local catch from the day.
October: Is a great month for the south. The rainy weather is starting to dominate in the central and northern region, which can ruin any type of fun adventure. Or if you love the rain like I do, it can make it a whole lot more fun. Important to note: It is Typhoon season and sometimes the power of these can be highly destructive and can definitely ruin any holiday and although the locals are used to them, they take them seriously and buckle down. I have stayed in the central region in October before and had no issues, but weather is becoming more and more unpredictable.
November: November is not a great time to visit Vietnam's central region, as it becomes very dull and rainy. Hoi An has been known to flood many times. However, it can be a good time to visit the city of Hue. The weather is cooler and it can make for the perfect time for exploring the city's many historic sites, such as the Imperial City and the Hue Royal Palace. The city is also known for its beautiful landscapes, such as the Perfume River and the surrounding countryside, which are perfect for cycling or motorbike tours.It may be the perfect time to visit a wellbeing retreat close to hue called Alba Wellness Retreat and Spa. I can vouch for a visit as the experiences are NOT weather dependent and you will walk away after the Yoga, massages, Onsen and meditation feeling like a new person. Check out our special offer here and the podcast I did with the GM Hylton Lipkin here.
The north is becoming a lot cooler, verging on cold. However, that just means you can choose to do more indoor activities, like shopping, visiting museums, dining out and for those adventurers on good days, it makes for a good time to visit areas like Ninh Binh.
December: December is the time of year where you can expect people "rugging" up in the north! It can make a nice time to visit Vietnam's northern region, particularly the city of Hanoi. The weather is cold, making it perfect for daytime pursuits such as exploring the city's many historic sites, such as the Old Quarter, the Temple of Literature, and Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum. The city is also known for its delicious street food, which can be enjoyed at the many night markets. It's also a perfect time to attend the famous Hanoi's New Year Countdown at Hoan Kiem lake. Further north it is getting super cold, so unless that is what you want to experience I would suggest avoiding, till it warms up. It can snow in Sapa at this time, but not enough to ski and very drizzly.
The south will offer you more options as it is warmer, but generally it can be wet. The city has a vibrancy and you will soon find out that rain doesn’t deter the Vietnamese from doing too much. So don’t let it stop you either!
Off the beaten track
For those harder to get places in the north like Mai Chau, Ha Giang, Mu Cang Chai, Ban Goc Waterfalls etc, locals say the best time is around March to May or September and October. These regions take over 6 – 8 hours to reach by bus, or car from Hanoi, and once you arrive in the region of Ha Giang for example, it takes at least 4 days to do the whole loop. Meaning you are driving 8-9 hours per day.
For trip planning in these areas I urge you do lots of homework to curate the kind of experience you want to have there. You can’t really expect a Travel Agent in your own country to understand or appreciate the nuances of weather in these regions, unless they specialise in Vietnam travel. The images you see on social pages are on all the perfect days. No one is posting on Instagram the days when the roads are so misty you cannot see 50 yds in front of you, or the roads are choked with traffic. They say to have these amazing experiences you have to have time, patience and pick the right operators to do them with.
Suggestions for respected operators in Sapa and close regions - http://www.ethosspirit.com/ - Please check out the Episode I did with Phil Hoolihan talking about Sapa and how managing expectations for tours in these regions is important. You can go here to listen.
For regions like Ha Giang I got to interview Tom Stone and he likewise knows the area well and his team can offer up some local knowledge to help you plan the kind of experience you want. His team’s best contact is through facebook here https://www.facebook.com/flipsidevietnam/ The interview and transcript I did is here.
Disclaimer: It has to be said that with global warming the weather is becoming harder and harder to predict. Please use this article as a guide only. What was once is no longer something you can set your calender to. The suggestions made in this article are from personal experience and talking with locals in the regions and cities suggested to visit, but it is by no means going to be perfect.
TIP for travellers: Facebook is a great tool for communication with operators in Vietnam. If you have plans that could be affected negatively by weather, I strongly suggest you check in with the operator via their Facebook page or reach out to a Travel group, or venue in the region as they will give you the most up to date information at the time.
Written by – Kerry Newsome 2023
“To travel, to experience and learn: that is to live.”
– Tenzing Norgay