Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Turning on the Faucet: Vietnam’s Rainy Season

17 Comments 03 May 2009

Here is comes....

Here is comes....

It has arrived in Vietnam with a vengeance; the rainy season. I am reminded of the movie Forest Gump; his description of Vietnam.

“It was as if they turned on a faucet. One day it started raining, and it didn’t quit for four months. We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain… and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath.”

Years ago as I watched the movie, I really had no idea I would actually be here one day experiencing it. In fact, last June I was looking up some information about Vietnam so I could figure out what I needed to pack and I came across the rainfall totals for Vietnam; 14 inches a month during the height of rainy season. When I saw this I really panicked and thought, what the hell am I doing going to a place like this, am I f’ing crazy?

As I type right now I have my computer unplugged because there is massive lightening, thunder, and rain out my window and I don’t have a lot faith in my computers ability to withstand a power surge. It’s so strange, to simply have no rain for months, and then massive rain every day. However the strangest thing about the rainy season here is that the Vietnamese aren’t even fazed by it.

Rain - what rain?  Traffic moves like normal.

Rain - what rain? Traffic moves like normal.

I have been observing Vietnamese people and culture now for a while and I’ve always come to the same conclusion; these people are resilient beyond belief. Granted, we learned this during the war. However, many of us (including myself) have little knowledge of the Vietnam War beyond movies like Forest Gump. Therefore actually being here observing the Vietnamese and how they carry on their day to day lives is absolutely fascinating. Quite honestly they make every other culture I’ve been in look like complete wimps…especially Americans. Sorry, but I’m just being honest.

This is how you ride in the rain - it requires good balance!

This is how you ride in the rain - it requires good balance!

When I lived in Minnesota I used to think that Minnesotans were tough because they had to deal with such a long, cold winter. Then when I moved to NYC I realized the tougher people were New Yorkers. Unlike Minnesotans, New Yorkers didn’t have cars, so we were forced to be exposed to the elements every day on our walk to the subway or to simply get groceries. Minnesotans could stay in their cars and have some protection, but New Yorkers had to walk in the rain/snow/sleet to get to their destination. In addition, they typically had to carry heavy bags for blocks as we didn’t have a trunk to put our things in. In fact, I’m not ashamed to admit there was at least two times I simply gave up trying to get to work amidst a HUGE downpour in Manhattan. The subways were flooded and I was left dripping wet; I was completely befuddled. I actually called in sick instead of going to work as a drown rat – the rain had won and I went home virtually in tears (ok, maybe the tears were a combination of the rain, pms, and me not liking my job…but the rain was definitely a factor!)

Everyone heads to work like usual

Everyone heads to work like usual

Now I observe the Vietnamese. When it starts to rain, they pull over on their motorbike, put on their poncho, and get back on and keep going. No one complains, no tears, no one stops what they are doing and changes their plans; they just keep going. They have no reaction to the discomfort. Ninety-five percent of the Vietnamese don’t have a car, so there is no protection from the rain. The rain doesn’t simply happen occasionally, it happens every day…multiple times some days. There’s no escaping it, no calling in sick, and no working from home. They often commute in some of the worst traffic I’ve seen, for 45 min to an hour to get to their work, yet no one complains. Ok – maybe I just don’t hear them complain because they are speaking Vietnamese! However the business people who I know that speak English have never complained about their long commute or the rain or the conditions of the roads. It’s just not in their culture to complain about such silly things they can do nothing about.

Flooded Road - oh well, just drive on the sidewalk

Flooded Road - oh well, just drive on the sidewalk

Regarding the condition of the roads…that’s another whole topic. Sure, they may say “the road’s bad”, but they don’t really say it with meaning. They don’t say, “It’s f’ing bad and I’m not going to put up with it anymore, I’m going to write my congressman and have him fix the damn road because it’s completely unsafe and someone is going to get killed!” Instead they say “It’s bad” but with the same conviction that they would say “the sky is blue”.

The Vietnamese live so much of their life outside as the houses are small and most of them are open air. All over you see little tables and chairs set up outside homes, restaurants, and businesses where people congregate to eat, talk, play games, and sing. When it starts to rain, they simply move it inside for a while and then come right back out.

As I came home this week after a big rain storm I was greeted by one person who was happy the rainy season has begun. At my front door was a huge frog the size of a garden gnome. He seemed at peace with the wet conditions – so much so he didn’t want to move. It startled me as I’ve never really seen a frog that big. I had to try to ‘shoo’ him away with my motorbike ramp hoping that he didn’t hop into my apartment. I’m sure my neighbors were watching me wondering what on earth the crazy western girl was doing. They were probably wondering why I didn’t capture it, and fry it up for dinner. After 7 months here I have learned that “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get (on your doorstep).”

Motorbike fell over in the water...oh well...life keeps going...

Motorbike fell over in the water...oh well...life keeps going...

Your Comments

17 Comments so far

  1. It sounds like Costa Rica. we get a ton of rain, not like in Vietnam, but the roads are f’ing bad. And they say it the same, actually, they go as far as saying oh it’s charming!
    When all you do is hit one hole after another!!!!

    Then you take it to the mechanic at least once a week, and the moron is like, ‘did you hit a hole?’ :)

  2. admin says:

    Yeah! The worst is when the road is flooded – and you know it’s full of potholes and you have to drive your motorbike through the unknown…it’s like trying to avoid landmines…you just go and hope for the best!

  3. Peter Mcilrath says:

    I am thinking of travelling to Vietnam from roughly mid August to mid September. I realsie that this falls into the rainy season but would like to know whether or not it is still possible to travel through the country? does the rain last all day or is it simply heavy downpours in an otherwise clear day? any enlightenment on this issue would be much appreciated.

    many thanks.

  4. admin says:

    @Peter – Aug to mid September is fine. Sure, it will rain each day for a bit (an hour or so downpour), but it rarely rains all day unless there is a typhon nearby. I actually recommend people to travel to VN during rainy season (or at least not shy away due to rainy season); after all, you will get to see the real unique culture of VN in rainy season. I am constantly amazed at how people deal with the discomfort of the rainy season on a daily basis fascinating – especially when you see all the motorbikes! Your plans sound great – just bring a poncho and be like the locals!

    • zee says:

      hi, I was hoping to check out Pho Quoc Island in August for a beach holiday. Should I be looking elsewhere for August?

      • Sherry says:

        My experience with rainy season in Vietnam is to embrace it. Plus – know that generally it does rain daily – but only for an hour in the afternoon. It seldom rains ALL day or is gray all day. In fact – even though it is rainy season – I was always amazed how sunny the country was. It’s sunny and warm in the mornings and then it would let loose and downpour in the mid afternoon and then clear up again and it would be nice as it would cool everything off! So honestly – I didn’t find it to be much of a factor. If you go – just make sure you have a poncho and a good attitude and you’ll be fine!

  5. Peter Mcilrath says:

    Good to hear. Many thanks.

  6. Vietnam travel says:

    Vietnamese people always have to face with strict weather.

  7. Rick says:

    I have lived in Viet Nam now for 5 years, I hate the rainy season. I to can not understand how the people here just go about their lives like it wasn’t even raining. One time i was looking out my window watching people out there in the rain across the street was a small place to eat, a motor bike stopped and it was covered with a poncho, the driver pulled it off and there was 6 people under there, your right the people over here just take it day by day and keep smiling. when i’m feeling low and sad i just think about my life as compared to their’s and it makes feel like what am i crying about. This is a wonderfully strange country i think everyone should get to know.


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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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