The best time to visit the city is during the cooler dry season, roughly between November and April. Don’t discount a visit during rainy season, which runs from about May through October, as most days dawn clear and blue and the afternoon rain showers can be waited out in a café or a museum. During the Christmas season, downtown is lit up with the most astounding Christmas lights and odd decorations, including nativity-themed “caves.” The center of town becomes a traffic gridlock at night as people drive in to look at the lights.
If you’re traveling through Vietnam during Tet, the lunar or Chinese New Year (the date changes each year according to the phases of the moon), you are better off being in Ho Chi Minh City rather than a rural area, where everything will be shut. In the city, most tourist hotels and some eating places operate over this public holiday, during which 99% of the population travels home to spend time with their family. The lead-up to the celebration is also an interesting time to be in town to see the Flower Street display and the pop-up flower markets in the city’s parks selling pots of bright yellow and red blooms and topiary trees. As Tet approaches, the city is gripped with excitement, with residents furiously cleaning, renovating, and shopping ahead of the holiday. The weeks leading up to Tet are also, unfortunately, when snatch and grab and petty theft become much more widespread, with impoverished city-dwellers feeling immense social pressure to amass some big-city wealth to display when they go home for the annual family gathering. Police are also out in force at this time.