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When to travel to Vietnam

Think Vietnam and you might imagine a steamy jungle and hot sun - and you would be mostly right. But even though Vietnam is tropical, you will find a real range, from chilly mountaintops and cool highland areas to sun-drenched coastline and, yes, that steamy jungle, too, laced with the swampy rivers you have seen in movies. Opposing monsoon seasons in the north and south mean that seasonal changes are different in north, central, and south Vietnam. And the good news for travelers is that this means it is always high season somewhere in Vietnam, and the tropical south is always warm. Vietnam can be broken into three distinct geographical and climatic zones as follows:

The north is cooler than the rest of the country. Winter months, from November until January, can be quite cool, especially in mountainous areas. Northern temperatures range from 60°F to 90°F (15°C-32°C). If you are going far north to Sapa or Dien Bien Phu along the China/Laos border, be sure to bring one extra layer of warmth (a pullover will do); near Sapa is Fansipan, Vietnam is highest point, and there is even the occasional freeze and snow at this altitude. Hanoi, the capital and in the north, as well as nearby coastal regions around Haiphong and Halong Bay, experience relatively high humidity year-round and a rainy season from May to October. Winter months are cool (as low as 57°F/14°C) and somewhat damp, but the heat starts to pick up in April and makes for a hot, wet summer (many Hanoians get out of town, to the mountain towns or nearby beaches off Haiphong or Vinh). The best time to visit the north, though cold in midwinter, is from November to the end of April.

The Central Coast follows an opposing monsoon pattern to the north, with warmer weather in the winter months - and during the July-to-October high season on, especially for regional tourists - and wet, colder weather from November to May. Coastal Vietnam - Quy Nhon and Nha Trang - experiences steamy temperatures like the far south (70°F-90°F/21°C-32°C), but coastal wind can have a cooling effect. Raging storms and frequently large typhoons strike the coast in summer months, from July to November; often during this season, the surf is too rough for swimming. The Central Highlands just inland and on the southern end of the Annamese Cordillera range, receives nearly double the rainfall of the national average, and this cool plateau, in towns like Dalat and Pleiku, is cool throughout the year.

The south, the region around Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, is steamy hot year-round with only periods of rainy and dry weather. Temperatures range from 70°F to 90°F (21°C-32°C), with a hot, dry period from March to May seeing temperatures in the 90s (30s Celsius). Summers are hot, humid, and rainy.
Because of the regional variations in weather, a part of the country is seasonable at any time of year. Most travelers in Vietnam trace a north-south or south-north route with flights connecting on either end (or adding continued travel to Cambodia or China). Depending on the duration of your stay, you can plan to follow the good weather, hitting Saigon in February or March and tracing warmer weather up the coast.

Note: Avoid travel during the Tet Holiday in January and February. Tet is a Christmas and New Years celebration rolled into one, and anyone and everyone is going over the river and through the woods to their respective grandmothers house. Transport is always fully booked and Vietnam visa is difficultly to apply. Unless you are lucky enough to enjoy Tet with a Vietnamese family, be forewarned: During this time, many travelers find themselves stranded, hotels completely full, and roadways crowded with traffic and revelers.

Less is More: Packing & Clothing in the Tropics - Keep it light and loose. You are sure to hit hot sticky weather on any route in Vietnam.
The old traveler rule Less is more applies here; bulky luggage is an albatross in Vietnam. Fast and light is best. Loose, long-sleeve shirts and long pants, preferably cotton, are recommended. Shorts are good for swimming but not great for the backcountry, where mosquitoes are ferocious. Also note that shorts are generally worn by children, not adults (although long shorts are more accepted, especially for young men), and for women only rarely (with sporting events being the exception). Foreign visitors are somewhat exempt from these conventions, but why not go local where we can? Use Vietnam visa on arrival service to get your visa at any arrival airports to save time and money. A wide-brimmed hat is essential protection from the sun, and some even carry an umbrella to be used either as a parasol or as cover from sporadic rains. Sandals are acceptable in most arenas. Affordable laundry service is available everywhere, and thin cotton dries quite quickly - great for a bit of sink-washing instead of carrying around heaps of laundry.

Sea of sleeping dragons in halong bay

Hanoi is star is on the rise but it is Halong Bay that is the city is premier tourist attraction. A few hours east of the capital, the atmosphere at the place of descending dragons couldnot be more different from the burgeoning metropolis.
I am on board the wooden junk Bhaya Classic III which is a cruise in Ha Long Bay languidly through a menagerie of monoliths which rise like broken teeth out of the pale green waters of the South China Sea. The karst islets have been named elephant, fighting cock, wading ox and the kissing rocks by fisherman who have trawled these waters for fish and molluscs for thousands of years and by the Chinese who have used Halong Bay to launch invasions. Each time they have been repelled by Vietnamese ingenuity rather than by any magical powers the locals say are imbued in the grey shapes. They believe the islets were formed when a family of dragons, sent by the gods to repel the Chinese, spat a protective wall of jade and jewel into the bay. The dragons then settled at Halong Bay and remain sleeping.

The scientific explanation is not so romantic. It says the karst islets are the remnants of a flooded and dissolved mountain range. There is also conjecture on just how many there are. The empirical count is about 3000. But ask any local and you will get the number 1969 - the year of the death of Ho Chi Minh, the father of modern-day Vietnam. But the beauty of the ancient forms is beyond debate. No two are the same. Most are mottled with vegetation and are being further degraded by roots. Some are too small to support life, while others are home to isolated populations of bantams, antelopes and monkeys.

There are cavernous islets and a few are merely elevated rock pools. Sailing between them is an antidote to busy Hanoi for Halong is as somnolent as it is picturesque. The shell middens of the Soi Nhu people found on some of the bigger islands date back 18,000 years and the bay still supports floating villages. We leave Bhaya Classic III taking a short motorboat ride to a pontoon and then on to a rowing boat. Between a clutch of islands, the village of Vong Vieng, population 250, floats on blue plastic barrels which are vivid against the gloomy sea. Some of the houses are in isolated clusters. All are colorful and easily seen, spread low among the great monoliths. A few have fish farms attached, others are just a domicile.

Bamboo beams stretch the length of one jetty where a dog lies on a porch, head on its paws. Every house has a dog and they serve three roles - they are used to hunt animals such as antelopes; they protect the floating villages; and they are eaten. Perhaps the sleeping dog was resigned to the latter for others are more active. One runs to the end of the wooden landing, eyes the water, looks at us in the boat, glances back at the water, then turns, deciding it is all too hard. At another house, a man lies in a hammock, trying to ignore a little dog tied to a post whose barks echo around the bay. We paddle under a huge arch formed by one of the islands. Heavy drops of water leach through the rock, landing with a thud on the boat. Our oarsman doesnot speak any English but gestures that myself and four other passengers should have a photo taken in front of the arch.

It is a difficult exposure. He has a bright sky, jet black rock and light bouncing off the water to contend with but he is adamant and motions for us to move left, then right, then a little left again while he maneuvers the boat with one hand on the oar. And then, after carefully focusing the SLR he is commandeered, he nails a perfectly exposed photo. In one sheltered bay, there is barely a whisper of wind and all is quiet but for the motorboats. Steps lead through the mangroves and up the cliff face to Sung Sot or Surprise Grotto, a gargantuan three-chambered cave complex of lakes, and delicate rock formations which are like clumps of candle wax. As with the islets, most have been named - the lion, elephant, the cat and Buddha.

Although the caves have been known to fishermen for eons, they were only rediscovereded by the French at the turn of the last century and were used as a Viet Cong arms dump during the Vietnam War. A wooden junk enters the bay and the serenity is broken as a gaggle of Chinese tourists disembark, led by a tour guide squawking through a loudhailer. His voice bounces around the bay growing more frenzied as his charges climb the steps towards the cave. A flick of a switch has transformed a tranquil scene into a race meeting. It is enough to wake a sleeping dragon.
Source: www.dulichso.com

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