With so much to explore and add to your travel plans for this region, it can be hard to decide on the best time to visit North Vietnam. In this article, we’ll review the seasonal changes in the area, and run through some of the most beautiful places worth a visit.
Typical weather in North Vietnam
Vietnam is dominated by monsoons, and the North sees all four seasons (humid spring, scorching summer, dry and cool autumn, and dry and cold winter) with distinctive changes in weather. Rain is expected for much of the year, ranging from light dustings to massive downpours that may even flood the city. It does suffer from the effect of storms, but nowhere near as severe compared to coastal cities and provinces in Central and South Vietnam.
On the other hand, the winter may be an unpleasant experience even for travelers well-inured to subzero temperatures (even though most of Vietnam is never cold enough for snow, some provinces get a little of it depending on the year).
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Best time to visit North Vietnam
Depending on your personal needs and preferences, one person’s weather-based travel plans may look very different from another. From November even until March, Hanoi suffers from biting winds that gnaw people’s bones to the marrow even through thick coats. Unlike what some sources might suggest, end of January – start of February is not a good time to visit. During that time, Tet (Lunar New Year) dominates the calendar. After the festive and frantic preparations, the country virtually shuts down for a week, and there might be nothing to see, do, or even eat for the unwary traveler outside of convenience stores. The Vietnamese also travel during this public holiday.
In terms of weather, March is the best time to visit Vietnam if you want to cover the whole country, and the North is no exception. As the year goes on, temperatures begin to rise. May sees rain but remains dry enough for adventures to the great outdoors. It will stay this way until July, when downpours slam both ends of the country. Trekkers should avoid August, as well as anyone wanting to take a boat trip on Ha Long Bay, because the deluges will scuttle your plans.
As September begins, Hanoi enters a romantic golden autumn that has been immortalized in many poems and songs. Leaves fall like rivulets from the many trees that line the larger streets. (Photo ops are quite common on a certain stretch of Tran Phu Street leading to Chu Van An Street and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.)
Beautiful places to travel in North Vietnam
The city of “a thousand years of culture” is a mosaic of culture and history, each section holding its own secrets and wonders. The heart of the city, the Old Quarters (also known as “the 36 streets of Hanoi”) was formed when Hanoi was called Ke Cho (“market”, or “market folk”) as a merchant town by the Red River.
For most of Vietnamese history, Hanoi has been the capital under different names, one of the most famous being Thang Long (“city of the ascending dragon”). Now, the city has expanded, and the narrow small houses of the past have given way to sparkling skyscrapers, multi-floor “tube houses”, and gated urban communities in the rest of the city.
The past is still often a mere bus or bike ride away, with accessible locations such as the legendary Sword Lake and Ngoc Son Temple, or the Imperial Academy – Temple of Literature complex (which housed the first university in Vietnam), and even the Ancient Citadel of Thang Long. Related Tours: Hanoi Tours (Daily Tour)
Ha Long Bay
The legendary dragon took flight in Thang Long, and here in Ha Long Bay it alit (“bay of the descending dragon”). Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, the blue waters of this bay are covered in karst formations, each having its own name and story. For example, the symbol of Ha Long tourism itself is the Trong Mai Islet, a pair of rocks resembling chickens – a rooster and hen, or two fighting cocks, depending on who you ask.
A dense cluster of about 1,600 limestone caves and grottos create an intricate system that seems to take visitors into a fairytale landscape. Cruises and high-speed boats can take you past these jewels of the East Sea, and even allow you to spend a night on the waters, dining on freshly-caught and expertly-prepared fish and squid.
Several resorts and homestays in Mai Chau offer a first-class experience to rest and recreate in the midst of relaxing nature. If you’re not content in simply basking in the comfort they provide, you can head out and see what the province has to offer.
First up, there is the Thung Khe (or Whitestone) Pass, a fog-wreathed route carved into a limestone mountain. In this place also has Lac Village which is home to hundreds of stilt houses up to 700 years old.
Next, Pom Coong Village offer small, handmade souvenirs for purchase. Mai Chau also famous for Mo Luong Cave contains a dazzling collection of stalagtites and stalagmites in inventive shapes, and was actually a base for the Resistance against the French to coordinate. Finally, you can park your vehicles at villagers’ houses and climb down to Go Lao Falls to watch silver water descend from a height of 20m.
Ha Giang is often advertised as “beautiful year-round”, and the province certainly lives up to that epithet. It boasts stunning natural scenery: seas of clouds floating overhead in blue skies, lush greenery, imposing mountains, and deep valleys. A common way to experience this in full is to rent motorbikes (or hire drivers) to take you on a route called the Ha Giang loop.
Lovers of flora can find an array of plants here to admire: from peach and plum blossoms in the spring to buckwheat flowers at the end of the year. Another attraction are the terraced rice fields that go from verdant to gilded in the harvest season. The 19 ethnic groups that live here have a dazzling array of cultural quirks and traditions that you can observe or participate in as well.
Located at the Southern tip of the Red River Delta, Ninh Binh has plenty of things to write home about. The ancient citadel of Hoa Lu (the capital before Ke Cho became Thang Long) boasts an impressive history. The Tam Coc – Bich Dong cave system (part of the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex) was named “second most beautiful caves under Southern skies” and “Ha Long Bay on land”. Religious pilgrims can pay obeisance at the record-breaking immense complex of Bai Dinh Pagoda, or marvel at the eclectic blend of Vietnamese and European architecture style of the Phat Diem Stone Cathedral.
In short, all the historical sites, nature’s finest works, opportunities to explore different ways of life, and more are all on offer for your best time to visit North Vietnam. Leaving its status as a battlefield firmly in the recent past, the country is constantly soaring in international esteem and opening its doors to welcome new friends who come from away.