Smooth waterfalls near Luang Prabang in Laos, called Kwang Si falls

Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia: when is the best time to travel to Indochina? 

Contrary to popular belief, travel to Southeast Asia can be a pleasure at any time of year. Especially post-Covid, where there is a noticeable lack of international tourists!

It all depends on what you want from your holiday and what your priorities are. Would you prefer to avoid local crowds if it means having a bit of rain? Then travelling in the wet season may be for you – but if you’re a sun worshipper with a beach holiday in mind, you may feel the opposite. 

Since there are upsides and downsides to travel in each season, in this post we’ll try to cover the basic need-to-know information for each region. For a quick overview, however, have a look at our climate graphic to see which regions are experiencing the best weather, and when. 

Vietnam 

Inspiring landscapes, friendly locals and a world of fresh and mouth-watering food. What’s there not to love about Vietnam? There are two main aspects to consider when deciding when to go: weather and festivities.  

Weather 

With its long, thin geography and over 2,000 miles of coastline, Vietnam spans a very wide range of latitudes for its size, meaning that the climate varies quite dramatically between its northern and southern regions. In fact, for the purpose of discussing climate, most people find it helps to divide the country into three separate regions, each with its own weather system. These are: north, central and south.

North Vietnam 

North Vietnam experiences two distinct seasons: a cool, dry winter (November – March) and a hot, wet summer (April – October).  

  • The lowest temperatures of the year occur in Dec-Feb, when Hanoi sees average daily highs of around 20°C, while the highest temperatures are to be found in May-Aug, with average highs of up to 32°C. 
  • In the mountainous far north of the country, the climate differs again. December and January can be very cold (you might even see snow!), and the rainy season from May to September can make travel quite difficult.  
  • The best times of year for trekking in this area are September to November and March to May, in destinations such as Sapa, Mai Chau and Ninh Binh.

Central Vietnam 

Central Vietnam has hot, dry weather from around mid-March until late August, with the temperature remaining relatively warm throughout the rest of the year. In this region the rainy season falls in the months of September through December, with occasional typhoons in October and November. The destinations we love and recommend are Phong Nha, Hue and Hoi An.

Good weather is perfect for cycling

South Vietnam 

South Vietnam sees very little variation in temperature throughout the year, with average daily highs sticking to a narrow range of about 30-35°C all year round.  

  • The hottest months are usually March and April, and the coolest around December.  
  • Rainfall is almost non-existent from December to April, while the rainy season sweeps in from May until October, dropping off in November. Downpours are usually short and heavy, and typhoons are rare.  
  • Ho Chi Minh city is easy to visit and explore any time of the year, while we would recommend fairer weather to fully enjoy the beaches in Con Dao and Phu Quoc, for example. Of course, rainy weather brings its own kind of charm when you’re in a resort, with the added benefit of much less people!

And those festivities?  

Vietnam has two main festivities each year: Tet (lunar new year) and Mid-Autumn Festival. Tet is usually at the start of the year between January and February, and Mid-Autumn festival is usually around September. Both dates change each year depending on the lunar calendar.

Is Tet a good time to visit Vietnam?  

Much as it is a special time of the year, we usually advise people to avoid Tet in order to get the most out of the trip; guides don’t work during this period, hotels and airports can be jam-packed with domestic travellers, and domestic flights are often overbooked. If you’re completely determined to travel during Tet, we recommend staying at a resort during the period and avoiding domestic travel altogether! 

Mid-Autumn festival, on the other hand, is a festival of colours, life and light: beautiful lamps and decorations, passionate lion dancing fill the streets and seasonal sweets line the tables in cafes and bakeries. The preparations for this festivity start well in advance, and they are a sight in and of themselves; the lanterns are so popular that Hoi An famously carries out a lantern festival each full moon during the year. Expect lively crowds during this time of the year, but they are well worth it.  

Laos

This landlocked country is arguably one of southeast Asia’s best-kept secrets, and a true gem we can’t talk enough about. There is only one main festivity that is celebrated in the whole country, while smaller cities can have local festivals throughout the year. But don’t worry – Laos by itself sees less tourism than its neighbours, so even counting locals you’re unlikely to find huge crowds all year round.  

Kuang Si falls, near Luang Prabang

Weather: when is best to travel? 

With no coastline, Laos has a much simpler climate than Vietnam. There are just two distinct seasons which are experienced at roughly the same time throughout the country: wet (May to September) and dry (October to April).  

  • Temperatures tend to be at their hottest from March to May, when the mercury soars over 35°C 
  • December sees the coolest temperatures with average highs of no less that 25°C.  
  • At all times of year, highland areas are noticeably cooler than lowland – and you will need something warm to wear in the evenings and early morning.

Festivities

Boun Pi Mai, Laos’ New Years. It’s a Buddhist celebration carried out between the 13/14th and 15/16th of April, and it also takes place in countries like Thailand, Cambodia, in some parts of Malaysia and even Sri Lanka. 

What’s special about it? It’s a date with significant religious meaning and a time to spend with the family, but what stands out the most for tourists is the widespread water splashing. All over the country, people haul buckets and containers of all sorts to throw water at one another, in what is meant to be a ritual of cleansing and good luck! 

Do stores close during Boun Pi Mai? Some of them, but to a much lesser extent than its neighbouring countries of Vietnam and Cambodia during their respective new years celebrations. Do keep in mind that domestic travel can get busy during Boun Pi Mai, so if you’re not a big fan of traffic we’d suggest minimising transport during those dates or avoiding the celebrations altogether.  

Boun Pi Mai is certainly an experience we would recommend to most travellers, especially families and people wanting to get to know more of the genuine Lao spirit.

Everyone gets a good water cleansing during Buon Pi Mai

Cambodia

Steeped in deep history, rich in culture and boasting over 400km of coastline, Cambodia is best-known for being home to the ruins of Angkor Wat, though that is only one of the many reasons we recommend visiting this country.  

Weather – when is best to travel?  

Cambodia has one of the simplest weather systems in Southeast Asia, with just two seasons and very little altitudinal variation from region to region.  

  • The dry season extends from October to late April, while the wet season is from May to late September.  
  • The hottest months of the year are usually from February until June, with average highs from around 32-35°C. 
  • October to December are the coolest months – with average highs of a very balmy 28°C. 

Festivities  

Cambodia is similar to its neighbour Laos when it comes to celebrations: the most prominent holiday is Khmer New Year, celebrated between the 13/14th and 15/16th of April.  

While these dates traditionally celebrate the end to the harvest season, similarly to Laos it shares the water-dousing component. There’s a general party atmosphere, and at the same time a lot of businesses and public monuments are closed during the 3-day period. However, most restaurants are open to catch the holiday trade.  

Another date to keep in mind is the water festival, Bon Om Touk. It’s celebrated in late October or November depending on the year (since it follows the lunar calendar), and it commemorates the end of rainy season and the prosperous coming of the dry season.  

With the main event being dragon boat racing, there’s a hopeful and festive atmosphere, and there’s plenty of water-dousing too! The festival is celebrated all over the country, but the biggest crowds will be in Phnom Penh, along the river next to the Royal Palace.  

Water festival in central Pnom Penh. Credit: Exo Travel

During these dates, domestic travel can get very busy and a lot of shops and sights will be closed, which is something to bear in mind if there are specific museums or landmarks you want to visit (Angkor Wat usually remains open during these dates). If you want to see a spectacle of floating candles, head to Siem Reap for a beautiful show! 

Want to find out more about when’s the best time to go to this or other regions in Southeast Asia? Get in touch with our team today!