Vietnam is divided in 64 provinces including…5 cities with ’provincial’ status (Hanoi, Haiphong, Danang, Can Tho and Ho Chi Minh City), Provinces are further sub-divided in districts, then communes and villages. The governmental structure (ministries and mass organizations alike) is replicated at each level down to the commune, the last official administrative level. Each province is headed by a People’s Committee (the executive body of the National Assembly) composed of representatives from ministries and mass organizations are the Communist Party itself, the Fatherland Front, the Women’s Union, the Farmer’s Union and the Youth Union.
The urbanites and the country folk
DON’T be misled by the apparent modernity and sometimes Western- imitating looks of some urban youths. Eighty percent of Vietnamese are still rural folk. If you travel outside Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, you will discover the still predominant importance of tradition. DO adjust your lifestyle and appearance in accordance with the local situation. What is acceptable in the backpacker’s enclave: Pham Ngu Lao Street in Ho Chi Minh City is not necessarily acceptable in more rural settings.
Stretching 1,650 km from North to South (7 degrees of latitude) and from sea level to mountain tops (the highest peak culminating at 3,143 m) on an east-west axis, Vietnam obviously has a wide range of climatic zones. If you’re coming to Vietnam with only shorts and a swimsuit… think again: the country is not all tropical in the 30’s with a refreshing sea breeze. From North to South…
Sa Pa: A cool retreat from Hanoi’s torrid summer temperatures and the closest you can get to seeing a few fleeting flakes of snow in winter.
DON’T forget your sweater, even summer nights can get cool up there. January and February are the coldest months with a slight chance of seeing snow. The best time to visit is from March to May, or September to mid-December, although autumn is much rainier.
Hanoi: has 4 distinct seasons with a hot and humid summer where temperatures can reach 40°C and a surprisingly cold and humid winter that can chill the bones of even snow-loving Northerners. Granted, the temperature rarely drops below 8°C or 100C (the minimum is 5°C) but with a constant drizzle, a sauna-high humidity index and grey skies, it turns unheated cement houses into freezer-like boxes and gets most resident expatiates writing home for their favorite long-johns, woolly hats and duffel coats. Mid January to mid-March can be quite depressing with a near total absence of sunshine (sometimes only two or three short appearances in a whole month) and a fine drizzle called rain dust by Vietnamese.
The average of sunshine during the Hanoi winter is 1.2 hours per day … you get the picture? The most pleasant seasons are spring (March-April) and autumn (October – December). July and August boast about 340 mm of rain per month compared to a low of 22-35 mm for December to February.
Ha long Bay: No doubt you’ll want to go and discover this extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage site. The best times to visit the bay are spring and autumn. During the summer months, occasional devastating typhoons sweep across the northern coastline.
Vinh: Granted, this city is not a favorite of most travel guide writers, but weather-wise, it does have one important asset: its beaches boast the best wind conditions of the country. Who knows, in a few years it might become a windsurfer’s and kite surfer’s paradise.
Hue: Hue must have meant rain in some ancient dialect…your memories of the Imperial City will probably include a few heavy showers or never ending drizzle. At the first signs of rainfall, an umbrella is probably a wise investment. DON’T wait for the rains to stop before you go out and explore the city’s beauties unless you plan to settle there permanently. More scientifically, annual rainfall averages 2,890 mm, compared to about 2,000 mm for most of the country.
Danang: Even if only a short distance from Hue, Danang seems to be spared some of the heavy rainfall of its sister city. An umbrella is nevertheless a most useful article…for rain or sunshine. Dalat: Developed by the French as an escape from Ho Chi Minh City’s heat,
Dalat is always surprisingly and pleasantly cool in summer, especially after sunset. Temperatures never exceed 20°C, hence its other name: the city of eternal spring. DON’T forget a sweater, even in summer. Nights can be quite cool, especially on a motorbike. As for winter, temperatures can drop to 100C.
Nha Trang: This is beach-bum country where parasols and deckchairs sprout from the white sand under feathery coconut trees nodding in a fresh ocean breeze. If you can’t handle this weather, you’re a member of a rare breed.
HCMC: The biggest city in Vietnam is under a typical dry/monsoon temperature regime, with a rainy season from May to November and a dry season from December to April. Temperatures barely fluctuate between an average of 32°C during summer and 28°C during the winter months. Don’t be misled by the term dry season. The average humidity is 80 percent. As for the rainy season, it is characterized by daily short but heavy downpours. Monthly averages are above 300 mm of rain from June to September with January to March being the driest months with about 3 to 15 mm.
Can Tho: The sun shines all year round in the Mekong River Delta and there are no winters. However, the region is flood-prone, especially between August and October when the mighty Mekong bursts its banks to inundate the fertile delta.