The likelihood of rain increases throughout the month and throughout the country as Vietnam edges into the hot wet season. Pack rain gear and insect repellent along with your summer clothing.
In the northern hills, Ha Giang starts to see a good deal of rain while further west the Sapa region and Mu Cang Chai are still predominantly and delightfully dry, with an average temperature of around 68-76 (20-24°C). The Central Vietnam coast is shielded by the Truong Son mountain range and in the summer months (May through September) receives relatively little rain, while the Central Highlands begin to feel the effect of the southwest monsoon. Hence, the beaches between Hue and Nha Trang are still tempting, with average temperatures of around 86°F (30°C).
By comparison, southern Vietnam, especially the Mekong Delta, is typified by hot, humid weather and plenty of rainfall (but, fortunately, May is slightly cooler than the stultifying heat of April). As summer progresses, heavy rains can cause disruptions, requiring flexibility along with sound raingear. However, you can still expect plenty of dry spells, And much of the rain falls in short, heavy afternoon and evening downpours.
Crowds & Costs
Early May marks the end of the all-rounder months, with most parts of the country still attractive. For example, you can still enjoy the best beaches in glorious sunshine but without the crowds of earlier in the year. Only three months see fewer visitors than May, although there are regional variations, with much of relatively dry Northern Vietnam (and even the beach resorts of Central Vietnam) still popular.
Vietnamese families will mostly stay at home, awaiting the school holidays that begin in mid-June, so you won’t be sunning shoulder-to-shoulder with locals on popular beaches like Nha Trang or Quy Nhon, and top museums and tourist sites in cities won’t be crowded either. The exception is the April 30-May 2 holiday when a vast number of Vietnamese hit the road for sightseeing that for many locals extends to four days.
One upside: prices of tours and accommodations drop or become easier to negotiate in May. The downside is that while there are fewer travelers, the onset of rainy season brings more mosquitoes.
Where to Go
At the beginning of the month, during April 30-May 2 holiday, city-folk head out of town en masse for a mini vacation. Traffic congestion in the main cities eases, and there are relatively few locals touring the museums and most popular tourist sites. This is a great time to explore Hanoi, Hue and Ho Chi Minh City (at this time of year the temperatures in all three cities averages 84°F/29°C), focusing your time on the main sites and air-conditioned museums. But come prepared for rain!
Since Central Vietnam witnesses much less rain in May than other parts of the country, this is a great month for time on its beach-trimmed coast. The white sandy beaches of Nha Trang and, further north, Qui Nhon are relatively tranquil and the warm water of the South China Sea is generally calm. For a little more seclusion, head to Lang Co Bay, a quiet crescent-shaped beach that is mercifully as-yet undeveloped. Plus, you can combine beach time with cultural exploration in the area’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Hue, and Hoi An.
In Northern Vietnam the terraced rice fields are at their most beautiful—lushly green and brilliant yellow-gold with a new rice crop, twinkling in May—the “falling water season”—with cascades of water running from terrace to terrace. The most photogenic places include Mu Cang Chai, Pu Long, and Trang An at the edge of the Red River Delta.
What to Do
May is a great time to enjoy watersports in Nha Trang or one of the other Central Vietnam beach resorts. Nha Trang and similarly well-developed resorts offer a medley of activities, from sea-kayaking, water-skiing and kite-surfing to parasailing and scuba diving. In fact, Nha Trang is an excellent place to get an international scuba-diving certificate (PADI), as the shallow waters surrounding the islands of Nha Trang are not intimidating to beginners, and also offer a decent snorkeling experience.
Take a hike in Cuc Phuong National Park. Wildlife lovers and travelers seeking active adventure will find Vietnam’s oldest national park (and still the country’s largest nature reserve) rich in biodiversity, with more than 85 square miles (220 sq km) of tropical rainforest, plus plenty of hilly (and often slippery) trails to get the adrenalin pumping.
Most well-known for its April-May “butterfly season,” Cuc Phuong is also home to more than 300 bird species and almost 90 species of mammals, including critically endangered endemic gibbons, langurs, and loris. Count yourself lucky to see them in the wild, but you’re guaranteed eye-to-eye encounters at the park’s Endangered Primate Rescue Center. Wear good hiking shoes, apply mosquito repellent before entering the park, and take plenty of bottled water to stay hydrated.
Traveling to Vietnam in May? Check out these great itineraries
Hiking in Vietnam’s Pu Luong Nature Reserve – 5 Days. Escape the city and unplug on this 5-day village-to-village trek through the idyllic countryside of northern Vietnam.
Impressions of Vietnam – 14 Days. This tour takes you around the major highlights of Vietnam via lesser-traveled paths, including the rice terraces of Ninh Binh and the UNESCO World Heritage cities of Hue and Hoi An.