Vietnam is a very long and narrow country! While this may seem a strange thing to say, it means that Vietnam has quite a complicated weather picture, which makes the question ‘when is the best time to visit Vietnam?’ a difficult one to answer!
The Northern and Southern regions of Vietnam tend to have monsoon-like rain between the months of May to September or October. However just to make things difficult, the centre of Vietnam has its monsoon season starting around November and lasting through to February.
I personally visited in November/December, and as predicted, I was fortunate to have wonderful weather in the North and South, but the weather in the centre-left a little to be desired! This meant I had to be a little more imaginative when thinking of ways to pass the time, so I will share with you a few of the amazing activities that kept me occupied!
Get a Tailored Outfit (or three, or four!)
Possibly the most popular way to escape the rain (especially in Hoi An, but also throughout Vietnam), is to go to a tailor’s shop and get some beautiful clothing made. There are so many options to choose from and many tailors will even design something completely from scratch. The quality is stunning, and it comes at an absolute fraction of the cost as it would elsewhere. Just look for reputable places with an idea of what you what, shop around, and you will have an amazing time.
Vietnam is known for its incredible coffee, and there is absolutely nothing better than sitting down is a coffee shop, ordering a hot (or iced) cup and watching the world go by during the rainy periods. A personal favourite of mine was ‘Hill Station’ in Hoi An, located in one of the beautiful UNESCO Heritage buildings. It serves excellent coffee and wonderful deli-style charcuterie platters.
Backstreet Academy is a wonderful organisation that teaches travellers who have a real interest in learning about the culture and hidden traditions of Asia by pairing them with local expert trade or craftspeople.
Cookery Class – Various Locations
Cookery classes are very popular in Vietnam, and for good reason! The food is renowned worldwide for its flavour and freshness. What made this class so special was that it was just my friend and I in a traditional Vietnamese family home. Our guide was a lovely lady who gave us the opportunity to make fresh and fried spring rolls, as well as a local Hoi An speciality known as Cao Lau (pork noodles).
Lantern Making – Hoi An
One of my favourite memories of Vietnam was doing a lantern making class in Hoi An. The historic building was beautifully sat within the grounds of an old temple, and the ladies who we worked alongside were so friendly! You learn how the famous lanterns are made from start to finish, choose your own fabric colours and get to keep a uniquely personal souvenir once you’ve completed it.
Conical Hat Making – Hue
The iconic conical hat is so well recognised around the world as a symbol of Vietnam, and this class allows you to try your hand at making one for yourself. Our local guide was such an incredible lady, who was very patient with my very little needlework experience, and the few hours we spent there absolutely flew by! At the end of the class, you get the chance to take away one of the ‘poetry’ hats – a specific style unique to Hue, as a souvenir.
Caves of Phong Nha
One great way to spend a rainy day is in Phong Nha inside the natural wonders which make this small town world-famous: its caves! The Paradise Cave is absolutely breathtaking, and if you fancy a bit more adventure, try your hand at the Dark (or Muddy) Cave which was some of the best fun, and was one of the most surreal experiences of my entire time in Vietnam. I won’t give too much away about that – you need to do it for yourself!
Seems an obvious thing to suggest, but so often rain can put a literal damper on things, especially when travelling to places you would assume will be hot and sunny. But it really doesn’t have to be that way! Grab yourself a poncho (street vendors selling them for very little money miraculously seem to appear the second a drop of rain lands!) and try braving the elements. Rain and moody skies can often make for excellent photos too…just think brightly coloured umbrellas, or children playing in puddles.
If however, you are still looking for my personal answer to that difficult question of when is best to visit Vietnam, I would have to say October. With a little luck, the Northern and Southern rains will have come to an end, and the Central rain won’t quite have begun. In saying that, rain can come whenever, but there is so much to do in this beautiful country, don’t let a bit of wet weather put you off!
Guest writer Kelly Semper travelled through Cambodia and Vietnam on a Stray Asia Tour. Her favourite aspects of travelling are tasting exotic new foods, photographing hidden wonders and getting off the beaten track.