“Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes it rains.” — Tim Robbins as Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh in Bull Durham (1988)
I had Queen at full volume. Freddy Mercury was Under Pressure as he strutted across the Wembley Stadium stage in my YouTube video. But even his astonishing tenor voice couldn’t shatter the acoustic seal created by the rain that reverberated upon my home’s roof and skylight.
Rainy season has indeed arrived in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
It began with a glimmer of wet in mid-April, breaking a typical “dry season” drought of about three months. By mid-May, sunny mornings were more frequently yielding to rolling thunderstorms by midday. Gratefully, the true torrents held off until I was able to repair a bothersome leak in my roof. Now, a few days into June, the forecast for the weeks and months ahead is offering no mercy.
This is southern Vietnam in the summer. The daily deluge is a Sadie Thompson Rain, for those familiar with the W. Somerset Maugham story. By the time the wet season has ended, around about September or October, substantially more rain will have fallen than New Orleans or Miami see in a typical year, hurricanes included. Their annual average is about 62 inches.
In Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), it’s about 75 inches (190 centimeters). More than 80% of that falls between May and October—about 10 inches every month through Halloween.
The city that I now call home, Buon Ma Thuot, is a little cooler and a little drier than Saigon. But that doesn’t excuse us from inundation. Again, today, for at least the fifth time in the past two months, I watched my residential street turn into a rapidly flowing river on the heels of a sudden storm. Only a gentle slope keeps it from becoming a lake. If I were back in my beloved Pacific Northwest, I’d be ready to break out the kayak.
Locals take it all in stride. It is, after all, an annual occurrence. Those who drive motorbikes — which is most of us here — may seek shelter during peak precipitation, but once the weather has shifted to a steady drizzle, poncho-cloaked pilots proceed with business as usual.
Vietnam is a long, skinny country, more than 1,000 miles (1,650 km) south to north, nearly the distance from Miami to Washington, D.C., or from San Diego to Portland, Oregon. It comes as no surprise, then, that the climate differs significantly between Ho Chi Minh City, in the south, and the capital city of HaNoi, in the north. Indeed, the southern region recognizes only a dry season and a rainy season.
Vietnam’s central coastal region, focused on Da Nang and Nha Trang, typically get their heaviest rains between October and December. In recent years, typhoon flooding has become more commonplace. HaNoi and the north, inversely, acknowledge all four seasons. Heavy summer rains have largely ceased by September, making the autumn a popular time to visit. Winters, however, can get cold and damp, with frosty winds blowing from the high mountains along the border of China.
The best thing about the rain is — hey, it’s rain! If it weren’t for the seasonal showers, Vietnam would not produce the wealth of fruits and vegetables that make every trip to the market unforgettable. If it weren’t for the dependable precipitation, the coffee industry wouldn’t have such a lofty perch on the world stage. (Vietnam is the second leading coffee exporter on earth, after only Brazil.)
Indeed, if it weren’t for the rain, the province of Dak Lak (where I now reside) wouldn’t have the spectacular waterfalls nor the lush habitat for wild elephants that are two of the reasons I live here. And I’m willing to accept some wet weather for those residential bonuses.