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Nestled deep within the tranquil, sleepy hideaway forest, Pu Sam Cap Grottoes in Pu Sam Cap Commune began bustling in July 2006 and then has been attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors.

In the previous article “Sin Ho – the rooftop of Lai Chau province”, I have introduced another traveling route to Sin Ho – Lai Chau when you come to Sapa and promised to bring more information about a nearby spectacular attraction, here we go – the Pu Sam Cap Caves.

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(View from the Pu Sam Cap Mountain – source: internet)

From Lai Chau town center, it takes around 10 minutes driving to Pu Sam Cap Mountain, which is about 1,700m above sea level. Then from the parking lot, it is reached on a short but strenuous walk uphill, which is rewarded by the spectacular views of the valley and Nam Ron River.

Upon arrival, visitors can have the panoramic broad view of the valley. The whole village is often covered by clouds, though sunlight pierces through, drawing bright spots and shafts on the overcast landscape. Below, the waters of Nam Ron River are barely visible as it winds their way through the mountains.
This complex has 2 big caves named Thien Mon and  Thien Duong.

Thien Mon cave appeared with a large arch and deep pure interior. Stepped into that mysterious darkness, we will feel the cool air of stone and the whisper of the wind. Columns of stalactites are on the undulating ground. Every water drop from small stones falling into your hair brings the moist feelings under the early summer rain. In the cave ground, there are lots of stalactites marbles crystallized by the distilled water from the rock in millions of years. The standing, lying or overlapping marbles create multitude of both familiar and marvelous shapes and enrich the imagination of tourists. Coming to the center of Thien Mon cave we will be surprised with high wide arches and flat platform. We can enjoy wholeheartedly the cool fresh air and listen to wind singing through the stalactites which echoed as the piano melody. A little light appears from the end of the cave creates a contrast of ethereal light and dark.

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(Thien Mon Cave – source: internet)

Leaving the Thien Mon cave, it takes us half an hour passing through the forest to reach the Thien Duong gate with pristine, natural and attractive beauty. The heaven in view of visitors is as a watercolor painting. The way down to the cave provides visitors the thrilling feelings when they have to use vines along the cliffs to climb down – the curving road gradually went down looks like the terrace field. The deeper we go into, the more multi-dimension space we reach when stalactites hang down to illustrate the familiar images of life such as flowers or the gardens. In addition, there are different and strange shapes that take the audience into the world of imagination.

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(Thien Duong Cave – source: internet)

Both of the caves can be visited within a day with the combination of Lai Chau town center market. Beside strolling around Sin Ho to see how local people and ethnic minorities life is, those grottoes will definitely bring you the sophisticating and iconic experience of the mountainous area in the Vietnam tours.

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Half of the boiling summer has gone in Northern Vietnam and I believe that you all have well enjoyed your beach relaxation for your summer vacation. It is about time to start to farewell the summer and welcome the most expecting time of the year: Autumn for stunning harvesting time of the year. If you have not popped up any ideas yet, let’s follow me with these beautiful golden rice places in North Vietnam, both in the delta area and the mountainous one.

  1. Tam Coc – Ninh Binh Province

Tam Coc has long been famed as the enchanted site for a boat trip through the emerald waterway. From Hanoi, this is also the closest place among the sites that I would like to introduce which can be done within a day for only 120km. Though it is popular for many tourists to Vietnam but your trip is not fulfilled without visiting at the right time of harvesting season since early May each year.

On the boat trip by the local boat men, you will be sailed from this surprise to the other excitement by the breath-taking scenery here. I guess you can’t keep your “WOW” when enjoying the yellow color of a huge natural carpet of rice in the summer breeze, the color of pure greenish-blue Yen stream and the blue cloudlessly shining sky. Also, the journey passing by imposingly ancient rock mountain that leads you to Ca, Hai & Ba limestone grottoes which are adorned with glistening stalactites will create an unforgettable picturesque scenery.

  1. Mu Cang Chai – Yen Bai Province

If the photo shoots of harvesting rice season in the delta area is not enough for your passion, now we will move further to the mountainous area of Vietnam to indulge yourself in the amazing beauty of the national heritage site. Mu Cang Chai is a rural district in Yen Bai Province, 290 km away from Hanoi and is emerging as an ideal place for a large number of foreigners instead of only Vietnamese as before. To reach this heaven on earth, you will pass by the most dangerous pass in North Vietnam: Khau Pha Pass.

No matter what time of the year you choose to travel here, there will always be amazing scenery to watch, but the best time to visit these beautiful lands is during the grain season from mid-September to early October when you will be absolutely thrilled by the majestic beauty of this golden sea of rice. There are three most attractive stops that can’t be ignored to catch the most mind-blowing beauty namely as: Che Cu Nha, La Pan Tan and De Zu Phinh villages.

Looking down from the top of hills, tourists can see awe inspiring terraces fields stretching along the mountain side till the bottom of steep valleys that looks like streams and rivers, making it the natural masterpiece of giant rice staircases leading to heaven. Besides the amazing rice fields, you may also have chance to see a plenty of local life moments by H’mong & Thai ethnic peoples. The rustic lifestyle of these tribal people together with the breath-taking nature surroundings makes Mu Cang Chai one of the top destinations for any authentic experience lovers.

  1. Sapa – Laocai Province

Sapa, 350  km to the North West of Hanoi is always an attractive tourist destination all year round that can be undeniable: in winter, white snow falls (occasionally) covering mountains, in spring plum flowers blossom in the warm sunshine, in summer peaches are ripe and in autumn the rice blooms in sunshine.

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Unlike other places in Vietnam that can have two crops a year, there is only one crop per year in Sapa starting from June to October. Therefore, to see the most beautiful scenery in Sapa, tourists are highly recommended to come here when the rice fields are ready to be harvested with lovely smell of new rice since late August to September.

In the ripe rice season, tourists can embark on the greatest trekking route along the Cat Cat Village, down the Muong Hoa Valley, go around the Lao Chai, Tavan Village or standing from the top of the mountain at Ta Phin Village for gorgeous golden grain fields and scattered       stilt houses of H’mong, Red Dzao and Tay, Zay peoples. Nothing is more perfect than seeing the whole valley painted in various shades of green and yellow and dotted with bright colors of red or indigo of traditional costume worn by farmers working on the rice paddy fields. Why don’t you try it on for this autumn?

  1. Bac Son – Lang Son Province
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Panorama of Bac Son Valley from Na Lay mountain

Only 160 km from Hanoi to the North East, Bac Son Valley is located in the heart of Bac Son District of Lang Son Province which is also a paradise of ripe rice season in July attracting tourists from all parts of the world. To get more information, you can click: Indochina travel Vietnam 

Rice fields in Bac Son have been rated as “A rare green field of the planet” on the tourism website whenonearth.net for its amazing and unique features. The reason is that this valley owns incredibly high mountains which are about 500-1200 meters high. These mountains, together with the valley’s rice fields, create a great scenic landscape that you can only see its best after climbing on top of Na Lay mountain which is about 600 in height above sea level. From here, you are absolutely amazed by the stunning 360-degree scenery of mountains, villages, rivers and farms.

The pristine beauty of Bac Son Valley also changes in different time of a day. In the morning, the valley becomes dim because of the thin layers of fog cover on the slopes of limestone mountains. At sunrise, smog disappears and the first beautiful sunlight begins to brighten up Bac Son Valley. At dawn, the sun gradually hides itself behind limestone mountains, which creates a wonderful beauty for this destination.

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You will be surprised to see this picturesque scenery of diferent colors from lush green to brown yellow

After sunset, Bac Son Valley becomes more sparking by the light of daily schedule in houses on the foot of limestone mountains. At any time, Bac Son Valley also offers a taste of tranquility and serenity for visitors’ soul.

    5. Hoang Su Phi – Ha Giang Province

Hoang Su Phi of Ha Giang Province is one of the most spectacular but least-travelled areas in northern Vietnam (300 km from Hanoi) – with mountains covered in lush rice terraces. The harvesting time of Hoang Su Phi is a little later than in Sapa or Mu Cang Chai, from September to end of October is the best moment for photographers.

 

Beautiful rice terraces are stretching along this area but the best place to have the nice shoots is Nam Ty, San Sa Ho, Ban Luoc, Thong Nguyen. The rice tree itself is taller than in Mu Cang Chai and the terraces is also at higher altitude.

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These rice fields are not only a highlight to atract tourism, but are the home and the food supply for many of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities like Mong, La Chi, Dao and Nung, giving it a diverse appeal. Though the system of rice cultivating is somewhat traditional with simple tools, the aged-old knowledge of taking care of rice fields has maintained its fertile ground artfully, making Hoang Su Phi become the most wanted site for dream explorer and an ideal destination for hiking tours, trekking tours and photography tours with homestay experience at local houses of the hill tribes. It is not superlative to call Hoang Su Phi the magnificent work of local people.

Tips for your stunning photos:

To have a safe and fun trip with a fruitful photo hunting, you should remember these tips:

  • Due to the different period of rice planting, the harvest time is varied among places that noted clearly above for each site. Therefore, choosing the right time will bring you a collection full of colors: from lust green to dark yellow and even the dark brown color.
  • Choose suitable clothing when traveling to the rural mountainous area, including thin jacket, walking shoes and hat to keep your greatest physical condition.
  • Do not forget to prepare your battery and backup memory card as the photo chance is endless. Choose the colorful clothes and scarf to make you beautiful in any moments.
  • Be respectful to the local culture. Bring along some snacks and candies for you and for kids and never spoil them by giving money.
  • Ask the locals for their advices on the best spots for sightseeing and you may have off-the-beaten-track that you will never know.

Now more than never, do not hesitate to take a trip to Vietnam’s Northeast and witness the art and beauty of the most wondrous rice fields in the world. Wish you the best harvesting season in Vietnam trip!

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When you look at the S-shape map of Vietnam, the highest spot in the North West area which is marked by a red dot is Sin Ho, Lai Chau province.

Beautiful Sin Ho

Beautiful Sin Ho- source: internet

Lai Châu Province is unlike any other area of Vietnam. Not only is it the most sparsely populated are in Vietnam but it was also once a semi-independent White Tai confederation known as Sipsong Chu Thai. This was absorbed by France into French Indochina in the late of 19th Century and subsequently became part of Vietnam following Vietnamese independence in 1954.  This is reflected in the great cultural diversity seen today. Lai Châu has long been the poorest province in Vietnam and also the least developed.  The scenery of some of the most stunning sceneries you can see in all of Vietnam. The epic limestone mountains stretch out in every direction, many are lined with ancient forest, valleys are planted with rice, corn or neat little tea plantations. Located 60 km west of the town of Lai Chau, Sin Ho has the north border next to Yunan – China, the south is Tua Chua district, the east is Phong Tho district and the west is Muong Te district. If you have a chance to wander around by motorbike, it is even a more amazing and unforgettable experience to see the rice terraces or to catch a glimpse of the “cloud sea” in sunset/sunrise.

The cloud ocean in the sunrise

The cloud ocean in the sunrise- source: internet

Beside the spectacular views of the mountainous area, the highlight of Sin Ho is the weekend local market. Most of the local residences living around the town will join in the Saturday market, but Sunday is more attractive as it seems plenty of hill tribes from other villages gather here such as Red Mong people from Mo Village, Dao people from Phang Xo Lin Village or Phu La people from Pu Sam Cap town which is located quite far from Sin Ho and takes nearly one day for transporting.  They come here to sell and exchange handmade goods with the traditional bags behind their back. This market is colorful with the unique dresses, delicious and authentic food presented each ethnic minority.

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local people are trading goods- source: internet

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Sunday market- source: internet

Over the recent years, Sapa is seemingly becoming worldwide known for its beauty and diversified culture which lead to the fact that a lot of travelers wish to explore here. With aim to guide guests to another similar but less touristy destination, I am thinking of putting Sin Ho to our classic itinerary. That would be really unique!

Firstly, you need to catch a night train to Lao Cai as the normal way to travel to Sapa then start the tour in the morning. However, it is highly recommended to be on the train on Thursday night then you will be able to see the market on Sunday.

Day 1 – Lao Cai – Lai Chau: Drive up past the Silver Fall to the scenic road QL4D, through the Hoang Lien Son National forest, the Heaven Gate and especially Tram Ton Pass (Vietnam highest road on 1900 meters)

Day 2 – Lai Chau – Sin Ho

Day 3: Sin Ho – Sapa

Another remarkable point is visiting spectacular Putaleng Cave system which we will have another article on this coming soon. Keep update our newest blogs of Indochina Voyages Travel

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Sapa is famous for its unique beauty and climate all year round so anytime can be considered the best time to visit this magic land. If your travel period is within the summer of Vietnam from May to September, heading to Sapa is a brilliant relief to avoid the scorching hot weather and burning sunshine then feel the rush of cool air filled in your breath. Let’s explore Sapa in summer with: Indochina holidays

  1. Weather in summer

Located at the North West mountainous area of Vietnam, at a high altitude of 1600 meters comparing to the sea level and 380 kilometers away from Hanoi, this is an ideal location for summer retreat with pleasant climate and fresh atmosphere.

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The average of temperature in Sapa town is only approximately 15 degree Celcius in which there are two warmest months: July & August when the temperature can reach up to 29.4 degree Celcius for day time. While the winter in Sapa is getting colder with fog and drizzle all day even some years with heavy snow falls at the highest peak, the summer in Sapa witnesses sunny days and cool nights at a very relatively stable temperature. Therefore, it is certain that summer is the perfect time for photos hunters and trekking lovers. However, summer is also the rainy season so sometimes of the day so this unfavorable condition of hot, humid and wet may hinder your enjoying fresh air and strolling around this lovely town. The only way to continue with your trip is to be well prepared for these sudden and infrequent showers.

  1. Breath-taking scenery

Thanks to its nature, the growth of diversified sauna & fauna make Sapa a distinctive and breathtaking beauty. This period can be divided in to 2 different parts: The first part is from May to end of July when it is time for the ethnic to grow rice terrace along the hills. You will be surprised by the whole valleys covered with lush and green color of rice. The vivid and lively pictures can’t be completed without the image of hard-working buffalos pulling plough across the terraces under the instruction of the tribal people. The second part is the August until early October when the terraced fields change seasonally to gold color when being ready to be harvested  under the sunshine and this is the most satisfying scenery that any tourists traveling to Sapa must see at least once in their lifetime.

On this occasion, tourists may also be awed by beauty of blooming colorful flowers along the slopes and down the valleys. Summer is the season of pensées flowers, the flowers of love and nostalgia. The cherry, pear, peach and plum also go into harvest time with juicy fruits. These can be a little sour but fresh taste and soft fragrant can relieve any tourists during hot days of summer.

The must see sites during your visit this period of time are: Ta Van village, Muong Hoa Valley, Ta Phin village and Ham Rong Mountain where you can enjoy the spectacular scenery and lovely surrounding countryside and tribal villages.

  1. Getting ready for travel

To have the most comfy and joyful trip to Sapa during summer, these tips are hopefully very helpful for you:

As the summer is quite cool, you can totally wear shorts, T-shirts and thin clothes but do not forget to bring a light jacket when hanging out at night or climbing up to the summit of mountain, Fanxipan for instance. A raincoat, umbrella is needed in case weather change. And it is great to have a scarf with you regardless of warm weather or cold weather because it can be multi-functional than you know.

If you love trekking, a pair of proper walking or trekking shoes is a must not miss so that you can feel free to wander around the town for the whole day or go uphill and downhill into the tribal village.

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The chance of photos during summer is unlimited so this will be an excellent time for your passion of photo taking. Rechargeable battery is also an evitable stuff to bring along so that you will never feel regret of not having enough power for keeping all of stunning moments.

Due to the long walking outdoor, a few of snacks, milk or candies will be great to “charge” yourself while doing trekking or finding a resting place for food and drink. If you meet the lovely children on the route, these candies can be nice gifts for them but these can be easily bought in Sapa so there is no need to bring from Hanoi.

I believe that after reading this article, there will be no doubt for heading to Sapa this summer and wish you an enjoyable and memorable vacation in North Vietnam.

Happy traveling!

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Recognized as natural reserve, Pu Luong straddles the two districts in Thanh Hoa province, an ecological treasure trove, this area has great potential for ecotourism, it is managed sustainably. The Pu Luong is an area of outstanding beauty, culture interest and high biodiversity value stretching from Mai Chau in the North to West to Cuc Phuong national park. While Mai Chau is now crowded with tourists, just 80km away, Pu Luong remains as calm as it was decades ago. Visitors venture off the beaten track will discover pristine forests, terraced rice fields and thatched-roof stilt huts. Indochina tours

The Pu Luong is an area of outstanding beauty, culture interest and high biodiversity value

The Pu Luong is an area of outstanding beauty, culture interest and high biodiversity value

Why Pu Luong

Pu Luong Region stretches all the way from Mai Chau to Cuc Puong National Park. The region is quite unknown among most tourists, but that does not make it less worth to visit. Pu Luong may attract you thanks to its stunning rice terrace fields, beautiful nature, breath taking mountain passes and traditional villages of ethnic minorities who still retain their unique cultural heritage and way of living. Pu Luong offers many opportunities for tourists, such as trekking in the forest and along the rice terrace fields, cycling through the reserve and visiting many authentic small villages. It is a real “off the beaten track” destination.

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Best time to visit Pu Luong

The best time to visit Pu Luong is during rice harvest season, from September to November or February until May. This time, the plantation is lush and weather is pleasant. Pu Luong can be best accessed either from Mai Chau or NinhBinh.

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What to do in Pu Luong?

In Pu Luong, visitors have different choices for their tours, such as discovering the beauty of the natural landscape, ecological forests with plentiful fauna and flora or learning the simple and interesting customs and habits of the Thai and Muong people. Adventurous visitors come here to escape modern life, this is the interesting ideal for trekking trips  or cycling options.

Trekking: Choose from a number of magnificent trekking routes, passing through outstanding rice terrace fields, stunning hills and valleys and fascinating hamlets giving a glimpse of daily life. There are several trekking loops to choose from ranging from a short 5 km scenic stroll to nearby villages to a challenging hike to conquer Pu Luong’s highest peak.

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Rafting: Travel as a fisherman and cruise down a calm river on traditional bamboo rafts and watch local farming life by on either side. This peaceful way of floating through the Cham river is very unique and far from boring as beautiful scenery is everywhere around you. For the active, you can join in with your own paddle and experience the daily journey of the local fishermen. We recommend to combine this activity with the water wheels walk.

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Cycling: The steep valleys and off-road tracks provide a breath taking route for any biker. Cycle past stunning rice terrace fields, narrow dirt tracks, hard-surface valleys and mountain passes. Transfer options are also available for those who want to enjoy the scenic trails without the challenge of a continuous upward climb on the return. Biking level differs from easy, moderate to advanced. Leisure cycling through local villages is also an ideal options, practically in the lowland of Pu Luong.

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Relaxing: Besides all activities, we highly recommend you to relax and do nothing. Enjoying the peaceful atmosphere, relaxing with green field, read books, join our daily gardening, farming, watering and rice cultivation.

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Where to stay

1/ Pu Luong Retreat – An eco-resort with beautiful terraced field area. Located on a hillside, this 3 star eco-lodge is built in great balance of nature and offers stunning views of the valley below and Pu Luong Nature Reserve from afar. The property has 9 mountain view bungalows and a comfortable sharing wooden house on stilts. It also features a restaurant, a traditional spa house and a swimming pool.

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2/ Home-stays

There are few home-stay options in and around Pu Luong Nature Reserve. For a more isolated, rustic, and spectacular home-stay, head into the nature reserve. Home-stays don’t get more atmospheric than in Bản Hiêu, a small but spread-out collection of thatched bamboo houses on stilts, built on a steep mountainside.

Do you want to stay in a total peaceful place, away from the mass, with outstanding beauty and bio diversity along with villages of ethnic minorities?

Come to Pu Luong Nature Reserve and be amazed!

Source : Pu Luong Retreat

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Stage 2: Mu Cang Chai – Than Uyen – O Quy Ho – Sapa

You can then go from  Mu Cang Chai to Sapa about 150km following 32 NR, then about 4 hours moving along 4 NR on the right.

You should visit Mu Cang Chai town in the morning and check out of hotel to leave for Sapa at noon. It is advised to stop for lunch at Than Uyen. The landscape here is greatly different from Mu Cang Chai, with tea hills along the stretch of road and sparse terraced fields.

Mu Cang Chai

Mu Cang Chai

Stop at O Quy Ho pass right at the entrance to Sapa. On a clear day, the scenery is incredibly beautiful. If you are lucky, you can see “Cloud Passing Through” – an interesting natural phenomenon of Hoang Lien Son park. Admire the sunset in O Quy Ho and then enjoy the third day in miraculous night mist of Sapa together with the grilled specialties and the cold here.

O Quy Ho Pass

O Quy Ho Pass

You need at least 2 days discovering and experiencing the life in Sapa and its many features. The first day can be spent exploring Ta Van terraced fields and villages of Mong & Dao people. The next day is for wandering around the town, Sapa market, Ham Rong park, and enjoy panoramic view of Sapa from high above. The sunset in Sapa is spectacular, especially on cloudy days, where you can see the sunset on Hoang Lien Son peak, or go around the town, sit in the church and see the sunlight fade out.

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You can leave Sapa at night or spend one more night enjoying the cold of Sapa and its many strange dishes (Sapa cuisine) the depart next early morning. The way from Sapa to Hanoi through Lao Cai is about 350km.

Notes:

  • At this time in mountainous areas the seasons are transitioning so you should bring a coat and a warm blanket.
  • To avoid fog, do not drive your motorbike in the evening. Remember to bring all necessary papers and a motorbike repair kit with spare tube and type.
  • It is essential to bring a map and know your destinations well
  • Prepare personal items such as clothes, coat, gloves, helmet, sleeping bag, raincoat, rain boots, upholstery, personal medical supplies. When packing your backpack, arrange items in plastic bags to protect against rain and moisture.

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Weather in Vietnam

Vietnam is a long coastline country divided into 3 parts: North, Central and South. Being affected by monsoon seasons, the climate of Vietnam varies considerably from region to region.

The North:

Normally, there are 4 seasons in the North of Vietnam.

Spring lasts from Feb – April after Lunar New year. The temperature is about 15 – 20 Degree Celsius with some light rain may fall in this period of time. In the mountainous such as Sapa or Mai Chau, it is still very cold. The temperature is about 10 Degree Celsius or even drops lower.

A scenery of Mai Chau, Hoa Binh, Vietnam.

A scenery of Mai Chau, Hoa Binh, Vietnam.

Summer and autumn normally starts from the beginning of May until the end of October. It’s very hot at this time with some occasional rain. Heavy rain always occurs from the beginning of May until the end of July and sometimes during August. Luckily, rain only lasts for a few hours so you still have chance to go outside in the evening.

Winter – the coldest time starts from November until the end of Jan. The cold of Vietnam’s winter is quiet different from the Western country since it’s dry and a touch cooler. Frost and some snow may occur on the highest mountains in the north for a few days a year. Surprisingly, it had snow in Sapa town on this Dec, 2013 which had never happened before. People are getting worried because of this strange phenomena is also an affect of the greenhouse effect.

–          Central

Actually there are 2 main seasons in the Central of Vietnam: Dry and rainy season. In general, the rainy season in the English: Da Nang Vietnamcentral starts later than in the North and South, and ‘overpasses’ until December, with the two months of October and November characterized by typhoons and heavy rains. You can expect heavy downpours in the months of October, November and December, although there are plenty of sunny intervals.

For coastal areas and the parts of the central highlands facing northeast, the season of maximum rainfall is during the south monsoon, from Sep-Jan. These regions receive torrential rain from typhoons which move in from the South China Sea at this time of the year. The weather at this time is cloudy with frequent drizzle.

 

–          South

English: Children walking through the streets ...

Children walking through the streets during a rainstorm, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.

There is quite a large difference in climate between Northern and Southern Vietnam. As long as Centrer part, there are also 2 main season in Southern Vietnam: Dry and rainy season. While there is sometimes you may feel pretty cold in the Center, temperatures are high all year round for southern Vietnam. It is always around 30 – 35 Degree Celsius or sometimes it reaches 40 degree Celsius in the summer.

Rainy season in the South begins from Jun until the end of Oct with some heavy rain suddenly fall but it will stop right away.

In conclusion, the best time to visit the North of Vietnam should be from Nov – March when the weather is mild. For the middle, it should be from May to Jun and in the South it is from Nov – April.

If you would like to visit the whole country, just schedule your trip from Feb until the end of April when you can avoid the rainy season.

Let’s pack and explore Vietnam!

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