Vietnam is a diverse and fascinating place! But before starting your journey here, its always helps to get some tips, so our seasoned traveller Karen Hewell offers her expertise on what you need to know when travelling Vietnam.
Southeast Asia, despite popular belief, is not all sand and sun. Although most Southeast Asian countries are famous for their sandy beaches and swaying palm trees — and for very good reason — the region is prone to the same fluctuations in weather and temperature as most other places in the world. Although much of Southeast Asia enjoys year-round warm weather thanks to its home just along the equator, some spots have dramatic differences in weather depending on where in the country you’re travelling. And since most that venture to Southeast Asia do so to explore many countries and regions in one lengthy adventure, packing smart and light is a matter of doing your research and being particularly crafty about what you bring along.
Perhaps one of the most varied climates in all of Southeast Asia is Vietnam. With a coastline of over 3,000 kilometers and three distinct regions, northern, central and southern Vietnam all have differing rainy seasons and vastly different temperatures in Autumn and Winter. If you’re planning on exploring the length of the country during the fall and winter, you’ll need to be extra careful about what you pack, since packing too much (or not enough) can make for an uncomfortable travel experience!
When it comes to choosing what clothing to bring along on your travels in Vietnam, there are a few things to consider before you even bring out the suitcase. Here’s our Vietnam travel tips to help you decide what clothing to pack!
1. How’s the weather?
Average Temperatures: 12-20*C
Average Rainfall: ~ 50mm per month
Northern Vietnam is particularly magical in the autumn, and the time from September and November is both a favorite time of year for both locals and travelers to the country. Generally, this time of year is when temperatures finally begin to dip after what is usually a humid and hot summer, and most locals are quick to pull out the sweaters and boots for the occasion.
The pleasantly cool weather, however, is generally short lived before the winter months take hold. Surprisingly, northern Vietnam can get surprisingly cold, with the northern-most cities like Sapa dipping to particularly chilly temperatures. In addition to the cold temperatures, northern Vietnam remains especially humid even during these cold months, and rain and drizzle isn’t uncommon. Clothes need to be up to the task of keeping you warm and dry, so keep this in mind when choosing the layers.
Average Temperatures: 22-25*C
Average Rainfall: ~300mm per month
The central coast of Vietnam is famous for its weather for good reason — boasting year-round warm and breezy weather and less extreme rainy seasons and monsoons. That said, with the breezy seaside air comes plenty of humidity, and the sand and sun can make for some sweaty discomfort if you don’t pack right. Plus, central Vietnam’s rainy season is at its peak through the winter months.
For the fall and winter, the central coast as well as cities further inland (like historic Hue or Dalat) can get especially hot and sticky, with sunshine being particularly intense. The locals have found clever ways of battling both with minimal discomfort, by swapping tightly fitting and skin bearing fashion for looser and thinner fabrics that cover more. That way, you can battle the sun without slathering on sunscreen, and avoid the nasty pitfalls of tightly fitting clothing in the heat.
Average Temperatures: 25-30*C
Average Rainfall: ~ 70 – 100mm per month
Southern Vietnam is nestled just along the equator, and thus enjoys the year-round sunshine that its cozy spot between both hemispheres provides. That said, what southern Vietnam lacks in cold weather it more than makes up for in rain, and the south’s rainy season is in full swing come early autumn. Thankfully, the southern region dries considerably in the first months of winter (usually around November), with temperatures staying breezier and cooler usually until December. Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong are usually breezier than its northern counterpart, so although temperatures are hotter, the humidity is usually a bit lower. For more specific averages by month, visit the Vietnamese Embassy in the UK’s website for statistics throughout Vietnam.
2. What will you be doing?
While you’re packing your bags, it’s important to consider what kind of beating your threads will be taking during your overseas adventures. After all, the suitcase of a person bound for two weeks of walking tours and urban adventures will certainly look different from someone preparing for rock climbing and trekking. Your travel activities will surely have a big impact on what should go into your suitcase and what should be left at home.
Although it’s easy to assume that shorts and tank tops would be more comfortable for outdoor activities that might work up a sweat in the heat, the opposite is usually true even in the fall and winter months. Insects and sunshine are a year-round reality in Vietnam, and long sleeves and pants protect from both without the need for sun and bug lotion. Go for light colours and looser fits to stay comfortable in the heat.
Vietnam’s cities might be more developed than rural areas, but they are some of the most bustling in southeast Asia. Consequently, walking the pavements is often the same workout as trekking along a mountain, so good shoes are a must even in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. During rainy season in the south as well as the cold humidity in the north, leather clothing and suede don’t bode well with the moisture. Go for more durable fabrics like wool and thick cotton in the cooler temperatures and linens in the south to avoid your favorite clothes getting damaged.
3. Where will you be staying?
Traveling through Vietnam means that you’ll certainly have plenty of exciting options for accommodation, and sometimes the fun of visiting Southeast Asia is the opportunity to experience a homestay. And although homestays can be exciting cultural immersions, they can also pose some interesting situations for comfort. During the winter months, its important to remember that in homestays, air-conditioning and central heat are not available, and that your clothing will need to be up to the task of keeping you warm or cool.
When staying in a hotel, air-conditioning also keeps your living space (and consequently your suitcase and clothing) drier and less humid. This usually protects your clothing from mold, which can invade your suitcase in a matter of days in Vietnam. If you are planning on staying in a homestay for a few nights, consider throwing something into your suitcase that will help absorb moisture and reduce musty smelling fabric, like a dryer sheet and silicone packets.
4. How are you travelling around?
If you’re traveling by land or by boat, you’ll have less frustration with moving your suitcases around than you will if you are flying between destinations. It’s important to remember that Vietnam’s domestic carriers often have different luggage allowances, and that the suitcase that you bring on your international flight might cost you extra to transport within the country.
In the end, the best way to avoid frustration is by simply packing light. There’s plenty of great information on strategies for packing lightly when travelling, like this one specifically tailored to winter clothing. By packing versatile clothing that lends itself to layering (especially clothing that can be worn in both hotter and colder climates when traveling north to south) you’ll save plenty of space in your suitcase for souvenirs and keepsakes.
Ready to pack your bags? Check out how to explore all of Vietnam during the most beautiful time of the year with our Vietnam Highlights Tour, or create a custom itinerary to explore this magical corner of Southeast Asia.