A trail of cyclists weave their way past the shack, bikes loaded down with everything and anything; blue silk, banana clusters tied together with brown string, crates of dried fish and pork. There’s a sense of growing urgency as the market thins into the rapidly darkening landscape, rice paddies still visible on either side of the road. Brown specks - previously distinguishable as water buffalo, now blend into the fields. There’s a far-off honking, which is heeded as a warning. Rain, and lots of it, is coming.
It’s June in Sa Pa, Vietnam’s mountainous region, and the rainy Monsoon season has just struck. While dramatic downpours might normally have you running for cover, here are 10 reasons why you should visit Vietnam during the rainy season, pluviophile or not:
10 You can plan your days with precision
There’s no braving the rain in Vietnam, for locals it becomes a part of everyday life. While downpours are guaranteed, it doesn’t happen 24/7. In fact, it only falls steadily for an hour or two.
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It’s actually quite easy to track, thanks to its accurate timetable. There are often long, dry patches in the morning, pockets of time where you can explore the countryside, beaches, towns, and landmarks (and still soak up the vitamin D), whereas in the afternoon, when it’s more likely to rain, you can hit the museums, restaurants, and temples to stay dry. Characterized by warm, muggy temperatures with crisp, cool downpours that serve as refreshing breaks, you might find yourself donning the wellies anyway.
9 Travel by train is cheaper - and cooler
Take any alternative means of transport for more than a few hours, and discomfort will set in like a virus hijacking your cells. It doesn’t take much for symptoms to manifest. Sweaty nausea on rattling buses, mob-induced panic after being cattle-herded into planes, the sickly suffocation caused by artificial pine pervading car rentals. They’re all equally awful, but easily avoidable.
Trains mark the difference between travel and transfer. Visit Vietnam in the offseason, and cheaper rates and special discounts are guaranteed. From patches of dazzling blue sea to snaggles of glistening vegetation, you’ll have plenty of spectacular scenery to lap up. Plus, sleeper trains whisk you from one side of the country to the other, meaning you get to run the entire length of Vietnam’s eclectic coastline, from the comfort of a bunk-bed.
8 You’ll beat the crowds
What is it we hate about being a tourist so much?
More tourists. When you visit Vietnam during the rainy season, there aren’t as many beach-hogging travelers to crash your perfect sunset snap. With fewer tourists crowding your go-to landmarks and cities, the monsoon season makes Vietnam less frustrating and more navigable.
7 You’re right on time for the best autumnal dishes
A wonderful blend of fragrance, taste, and color, Vietnamese food has to be experienced with all five senses - it really is that good. In any restaurant, tables groan under the weight of dishes like spicy pork, fragrant soups, and sizzling hot pots. Your tastebuds will be singing from the plethora of variety. And there is absolutely nothing like digging into sweet sticky rice while the rain pours outside.
6 Towns based on water become strife with life
There are towns in Vietnam which survive and thrive on water. Take the lake top villages built along the Mekong River, teetering on stilts. For many locals, the rainy season is their favorite time of year, as heavy downpours make the river (their livelihood) swell and become strife with marine life - in it, they catch up to 100 fish a day, which they then dry out and sell to locals and tourists for a profit.
5 The national animal is in its element
Water buffalo are used by farmers to plow the fields and cart goods back and forth through sticky mud fields. Aquatic plants make up most of their diet, so when it rains, they’re in their element. They can be seen mellowing in swamps, marshes and plodding through rice paddies when the rain strikes.
These gentle giants aren’t for everybody, because the sheer size of them can freak out tourists - on average, they weigh up to 1,200 kilograms. (That's almost as much as a mid-size car.) So we get it. Collectively nice as a whole, harmless in the distance, but catch one separate from the crowd, up close, and you’re faced with a hulk of fur and muscle which is frankly quite terrifying. But they’re docile beasts, far more interested in the rain than in you, we promise.
4 Hunt for the king of all mushrooms and feast on Funghi
The Nam Moi mushroom is a rare delicacy that grows once a year in southern provinces, though it’s particularly common in the Mekong Delta. Known fondly as the ‘termite mushroom’ because of its prime predator, the Vietnamese serve it in thick creamy chicken soups, cook it into creek premna broths, and fry it with chili. Its popularity stems from its flavourful flesh, which when cooked right, tastes like chicken.
There’s a science to this mushroom-picking art, and it takes grit to get right. Termite mushrooms are found in hot but humid conditions, growing on forest carpets when moisture from the rainy season is still present. They grow at night and die within a day, so it’s important to pluck them at dawn. This is when you’ll see villagers cutting fields and heading for the woods, equipped with torches, serrated knives, and plastic bags - a mob mad for mushrooms.
3 More daylight hours to soak up
The sun rises at 5:30 am and doesn’t set until 19:30 pm, which means you can pack an awful lot of sightseeing into that window of opportunity.
It also means that farmers rise as early as 3:30 am to tend to their animals and crops, so if you’re staying in traditional countryside digs, expect to be woken by cockadoodles.
2 The rice paddies are at their most appealing
If you've ever visited Vietnam during top season, you were probably pretty disappointed by the already harvested crops, faded a dark brown from dried rice husks and dried out weeds. The rainy season is the busiest time for local farmers. Rice planting occurs from May to July - and thanks to the moisture and daily downpours, the rice fields sprout green stalks and reflect the sun- making for many a mile of dazzling greenery.
1 The rain itself
Rain has a naturally calming effect - and in Vietnam, it helps reassure you in the gloomiest of moods. Even if you’ve hit up Vietnam in chase of its famous beaches, afternoon showers are perfect for those seeking a respite from the scorching sun (and third-degree burns).