Enter the Land of Opportunity

Unlock the mysteries of Southeast Asia's adventurous hinterlands without the headaches—and high costs—of high-season travel.
Vietnam
Vietnam: A Year-Round Travel Destination (PhotoDisc)

First things first: Vietnam has experienced remarkable economic growth over the past decade, and both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh are geared up to welcome tourists. In fact, tourist numbers to Vietnam in 2005 increased 30 percent over the previous year, so ditch those assumptions that Vietnam's the next Thailand. It's been discovered, which is exactly why you're traveling in shoulder season.

Vietnam's varied topography offers a delicious riposte to the usual shoulder-season quandary as travelers forgo perfect weather for slimmer crowds and cheaper prices. Essentially, shoulder-season strategies here are meaningless, because this thousand-mile-long country divides into regions with distinctly different climates at different times of the year.

"Because of the different monsoon patterns and climate zones for Vietnam, there is no best time to visit," says Michael Buckley, author of Moon's Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos guidebook. "Shoulder season varies depending on whether you are in the north, center, or south."

Ho Chi Minh City and the sprawling Mekong Delta basin, the country's southern breadbasket, are pretty much hot year-round, with varying degrees of monsoon rainfall to boost the humidity over the summer months. The north, home to capital Hanoi, also gets hot, but enjoys cooler yet damper winter conditions from November through March. Meanwhile, the mountainous interior offers a cooler high-country respite from both the north and south's hotter, stickier conditions.

"The peak holiday season for Vietnamese tourists is July and August, when beaches may be packed," Buckley says. "Thus there are several peak seasons: July to August plus November through April, with shoulder season falling April to June and September to November."

However, it's not a simple case of tracking (and avoiding) the months when locals head for the beach or foreign visitor numbers peak, basically the summer and end-of-year holiday seasons.

"In the north, for instance, at Ha Long Bay, July and August is the big season for touring by boat," Buckley notes. "November to March is considered low season because the weather is foggy, cold, with a chance of rain, and there is reduced visibility at Ha Long Bay. Rates drop at this time for hotels and cruise boats."

Which means what for the intrepid shoulder-season traveler? Sniff out the airfare bargains that ease your financial limitations and start planning for a whirlwind tour of the best that Vietnam has to offer, taking into account regional and seasonal weather fluctuations.

CLICK HERE FOR A COMPREHENSIVE LIST OF ALL OF THE AWAY NETWORK'S SHOULDER SEASON PROFILES


Published: 31 May 2006 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

Best Hotels in Vietnam

$49
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Hanoi Imperial Hotel
$48
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Hanoi Elegance Ruby Hotel
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Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
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Hanoi Asia Star Hotel

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