Monsoon Seasons in Vietnam

Submitted by tomo on October 8, 2012 - 1:41am

In South Vietnam, like the rest of tropical Southeast Asia (but not North Vietnam), there are only two seasons: rainy season and dry season. Hanoi has the traditional four seasons with mild but cold winters.

The actual timing of monsoon seasons varies from country to country and there are many regional monsoons throughout the world, including the United States. In Saigon and the Mekong Delta the dry season is from about November to February (around Tet) after which the weather transitions into rainy season around June. April and May can be uncomfortably hot without the respite provided by rains.

The difference is not just in precipitation but also temperature. The temperature range for Ho Chi Minh City throughout the year is generally 25C to 33C, whereas in the hottest days of May it may reach a max of 35C and the coldest nights of December may reach as low as 20C. For travelers who want to enjoy the coolest and driest weather then the months of November, December, and January would be the best, although travelers to Da Lat can come any time of the year and enjoy cool weather.

Tropical Storm Weather

During the wet season, there are also many tropical storms and typhoons off the sea to the east. These storm systems often batter the Philippines and then head to central or northern Vietnam and usually only cause heavy rain to fall on Saigon which rarely gets directly hit.

How should you prepare for Vietnam's weather?

1. Bring an umbrella! Vietnamese people seldom use umbrellas and when they do it's to block the sun not rain. Umbrellas are not that easy to buy in Vietnam.
2. Most of the year it can be pretty sunny although the cooler weather is accompanied by overcast skies. Vietnamese people generally cover their skin with long sleeves and pants (and extra socks, gloves, and face masks) to avoid sun exposure. More foreigners don't, and so may want to use some sun screen which can be purchased at Western-style pharmacies here.
3. You can buy various rain coats here but mostly they are targeting bike riders, who need freedom of movement of their legs thus exposing the legs to rain and puddle splashes. You can buy them for around $1. You can buy cheap and easily ripped ponchos for around 4 per $1 and these come in small enough packs to carry with you. There are some interesting only-in-Vietnam raincoats such as ones with two head-holes so both the driver and passenger on a bike can share one rain coat, and also rain coats with a clear window in front in order to allow a bike's headlights to shine through.
4. Wear comfortable walking sandals. Most tourists walk a lot and they stick out because they're the only ones walking. When it rains your feet will get wet and you may be forced to walk through puddles. You don't want to wear socks or shoes that don't wash and dry easily.

When it rains, it pours

During the normal rainy season, there are many consecutive days where it will rain shortly every day. People who get caught driving in the rain will often pull over and seek shelter in front of shops or at bus stops. They should probably just ride busses more during the rainy season, but that's another topic altogether! It's best not to have any set schedule during the rainy season that way you can wait out any sudden downpours rather than trying to make appointments. You will find that Vietnamese people will use heavy rain as an excuse for not coming somewhere on time.

It's that time of the year again. Flood time!

Saigon and Vietnam's Mekong Delta generally has two seasons - rainy and wet. But at the end of the year somewhat coinciding with the dry season is high tide season where the highest tide level maxes out some meters above low tide. Each year the effects of high tide on Ho Chi Minh City get worse, not just due to climate change or rising sea levels, but due to 1) urban sprawl taking over former urban flood plains which would have absorbed some rain water (rain water just makes the problem worse but isn't the root cause) with construction and paving over of land with impermeable surfaces, as well as 2) a general sinking of the city due to (illegal) leaching of underground water supplies reducing the water table level and 3) lost efficiency of canals where piles of trash thrown in the rivers is blocking the flow of water back out

This week's high tide times so you know when your streets will be flooded: (data comes from Saigon Port dumped into a Google Doc which is then proxied through this site to overcome cross-site script hacking in order to hide the days outside of this week)

Escaping the Saigon Heat

Submitted by tomo on March 7, 2012 - 11:11pm

This post is not about basketball.

This post is about staying cool.

During my first few months in Vietnam I sweat a lot. Now I sweat less.

1. Change your genes. If you are Vietnamese, you sweat less. If you are derived from Europeans, you will sweat more at the same temperature. You can "get used to it" and not using the A/C more than necessary helps to acclimate (it will feel a lot more humid if you've been in a cold A/C room all day) but you will never stay as dry as a Vietnamese person. Hmm, we're off to a pretty bad start...

2. GTFO. Saigon and southern Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia can be pleasant during the dry season. In Saigon, that means November to February. December and January are the best times of the year to be here, and also the time most expats are likely to go back to their own countries for Christmas/New Year/Tet. Which is really a shame.

The rainy season from June to October are mixed, weather-wise. But when it does rain, and usually after it rains, the cool winds that created the rainstorms succeed in bringing down temperatures. But it can be quite hot and humid before it rains, or if the skies are promising rain yet failing to deliver.

April and May are pretty awful. Go to Dalat or something.

3. Stop moving. Stop exercising. When the sun is out and it's hot, don't exacerbate the situation by walking around. I used to think walking was normal, or even bicycling. Vietnamese people think it's insane. If you must exercise, do it before the sun comes up or after it goes down.

Riding a motorbike helps immensely. When it's not super sunny, it can be in the 30s and the wind still feels cool. You might think Vietnamese people are crazy for wearing jackets in this heat but a light, airy jacket does serve to keep the sun off. There are also these "nets" for motorbike seats that keep your seat from getting too hot to sit on in the sun as well as slightly increasing airflow to your sweaty arse.

4. Baby powder. If you're male and not Vietnamese you probably have a lot of useless body hair. Fur is great for keeping your body warm during ice ages but it's a gross evolutionary vestige in Saigon's climate. Combined with sweat and trapped under clothes it becomes even more uncomfortable. Use something like baby powder (which Johnson&Johnson have made available to us!).

5. Siesta. Just sleep all afternoon if you can. It's a worthless time to be outside unless you're poolside.

BONUS: Stick ice cubes down your pants.

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