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Climate and Weather

Vietnam - Climate and Weather

Vietnam’s territory is large; with 331,210 square kilometres, it is the 66th largest country in the world. The country has an unusual shape, as it sits under Cambodia but reaches up across the eastern borders of both Cambodia and Laos. The north of Vietnam stretches into an inverted triangle shape under China’s southern border.

Along the whole of the east and south borders of Vietnam lies the South China Sea, which Vietnamese people call the Eastern Sea. Although Vietnam’s beaches are perhaps not the very best Southeast Asia has to offer, the 3,444 km (2,140 miles) of coastline give plenty of choice and opportunity to get away from the crowds.

The capital city, Hanoi, is in the north of the country. Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is also known, is in the south. There are more than 700 miles between them; a substantial distance which justifies the cost of a cheap internal flight rather than many hours on a train.

In the north, the winter nights of December and January can get distinctly chilly in Vietnam. At this time of year, snow falls on the mountains. The most pleasant temperatures are enjoyed during the spring and autumn, especially the cooler and drier months of April and November, when temperatures will average 17-22°C. From May to October, the hot and humid climate is accompanied by high rainfall.

Dry, hot weather arrives in the centre of Vietnam as early as mid-January, and stays until late August. The further south you go, the longer the dry season lasts and the higher the temperatures reach. The small mountain range affects the daily weather conditions of the settlements nearby. October and November have the highest rainfall levels, although the rain continues throughout December too.

Ho Chi Minh City, in the south of the country, enjoys its driest months between December and April, although rain showers can be expected on occasion. January and February bring pleasant temperatures of around 25°C, but by the end of April, the weather gets very hot. The following months will bring uncomfortably high temperatures which can average as much as 35°C. May to October brings hot, humid days punctuated with heavy rainfall.

The severe weather conditions variously described as hurricanes, cyclones or typhoons normally hit Vietnam between May and November. However, they can strike at any time of the year, bringing a week of heavy rain and storms.

During monsoon season, movement can become difficult in both cities and the countryside. Planes may be delayed, buses are unable to drive along flooded roads, low lying rail tracks are impassable, pedestrians find their paths have turned to mud and floods cut off streets or entire villages.

Earthquakes in Vietnam happen fairly often, although these are usually at a low level. These are the result of the Red River fault line – a tear in the earth’s crust – in the north of the country, which causes seismic disturbance. However, Vietnam has not suffered the catastrophic earthquakes and associated tsunamis which have hit other countries in the region. The worst earthquakes in Vietnam’s history were in 1935 and 1983, both causing a lot of building damage in the Dien Bien province. In 2001, a person was killed after a plank fell from a construction site during a minor earthquake.

Should you experience a strong earthquake, stay away from outside walls, windows, glass and the kitchen. If there is a strong table nearby, shelter under it. If you are already outside, stay there and keep away from buildings, streetlights and utility wires, or anything else that may fall on you.

By the end of 2017, the population of Vietnam had reached almost 96 million people, making it the 14th highest national population in the world, and one of the most densely populated countries. More than a quarter of the population is under the age of 15, life expectancy has increased to an average age of 76 years, and economic growth is enticing people from all over the world to move there. As a result, the population has increased by just over a million people a year for the past few years. About a third of the population live in cities, and this percentage is expected to grow to more than 40 percent by 2030.

This high-density population living in a hot and humid climate means that many businesses and property developers have invested in air conditioning (AC) units. Many employers will provide them for their office staff, meaning that suit jackets are more bearable to wear. Given the energy costs of running AC units and the environmental damage they cause, some architects and engineers are redesigning the way homes and businesses are constructed, to enhance natural cooling and air circulation features, but it will take many years for these measures to have a significant impact.

About a fifth of Vietnam’s territory is covered in forest. Years of war, logging, agricultural expansion, firewood collection and population expansion means that almost half the forest area present in 1943 has disappeared. The government has initiated a number of programmes to stem this trend, as deforestation has dramatic and catastrophic environmental impact for wildlife, locals and the climate.

How you dress for work in Vietnam will very much depend on your employer. There had been a proposal in Ho Chi Minh City to ban public sector office employees from wearing jeans and T-shirts to work. Opinions on the ban were divided, but the proposal was dropped in the end as casual wear was so common. A few months earlier, the same ban had been successfully introduced in Vietnam’s fifth largest city, Can Tho. Public servants are governed by a code that requires them to be polite and respectful at work, in their neighbourhoods and in public places. A smart presentation was argued to be upholding this code.

As an expat brought in for a high level professional job, your dress code at work will probably require you to wear suits and other smart attire.

When outside work, men and women have freedom to dress how they wish, but the Vietnamese people prefer not to show too much flesh. Women are often wear jeans, trousers, a skirt or a dress, and tank tops. Men wear T-shirts and knee length shorts. However, do save the swimwear for the beach or swimming pool! A bikini top or male bare chest does not make a good impression in a cafe or shop outside of the tourist areas. If you are visiting a cultural or religious site, your shoulders, knees and midriff should all be covered by clothing.

With a large young population and increasing wealth, you will see plenty of well dressed, stylish people walking around Vietnam’s city streets.

Days can be very hot in Vietnam and it is important not to get sunburn or sunstroke. A high factor sunscreen, liberally and frequently applied, will protect your skin from harmful rays, and a good pair of sunglasses will do the same for your eyes. A hat with a large rim will give you more shade. Drink plenty of water, but buy sealed bottles of water from an official shopkeeper, as the tap water in Vietnam is not generally safe to drink.

Read more about this country

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