Screw you, hot season: Tips for staying cool in Vietnam

By Benjamin D. Herman   April 16, 2017 | 12:00 am PT
The dry, impossibly hot season has returned to Saigon.

I’m a sweaty man, but every year it seems like this return to the broiler takes me by surprise. 

Like that experiment where you put a frog in a pot of water and boil it, the days just seem to get incrementally hotter until suddenly boom goes the dynamite. 

It’s 36 degrees, and the sun feels like it’s coming in for a landing somewhere close. You’re so dehydrated that a bottle of water feels like gel when you drink it. And it sucks. So. Hard.

This is an angry Sun God  so angry. My pasty white skin wasn’t built to withstand this non-stop cancerous assault! By 11 a.m., my hair is slick, my bandana is soaking and sunscreen is running into my eyes. Every effort to wipe away the stinging sweat is accompanied by strings of soft, hearty curses.

It’s like living in a sweaty oven where the air itself is a blanket. It’s the sensation that you get when you can actually feel your skin cooking like delicious strips of pork fat. I can feel my Scandinavian ancestors getting cancer.

The first year was the worst. I had, frankly, zero idea how to deal in such a hot, dry environment. Living in a place with two seasons can be disorienting. I spent most of my life in regions with four seasons where the weather becomes a sort of time-tracking mechanism for you. Here, the days seem to blend together for months on end, simply because each day is the same as last.

Fortunately, Vietnamese take this brutal heat in stride, and there're all sorts of great tricks built into southern life that can help you beat the heat.


Clockwise from top-right: sugarcane juice, winter melon tea, salted lemonade, herbal tea, and coconut. Photos by VnExpress

Coconut miracles

Once upon a time I scoffed at sports drinks  what a fool I was! Electrolytes are real, I’m happy to say, and my first couple of tips are just that.

First, if you’re feeling faint or dizzy, buy a coconut. They’re everywhere, and cheap!

My favorite coconuts are dua xiem, which can be smaller but much sweeter. A nice sized one costs about VND5,000-10,000 (about 25-45 cents), so beware in the touristy parts of town.

Coconuts are absolutely indispensable. Piece of advice: skip the convenience store coconut juice  it often tastes like the packaging. I hated that stuff, but now I've tried the real thing, I’m addicted!

And for good reason. Coconuts have a host of nutrients that separate it from simple water. It’s rich in potassium, has electrolytes and sodium, and has sugar which helps with low blood sugar. Sure, you can get more sodium from a bottle of Gatorade, but when a natural solution is so cheap and abundant (and tasty!), why not grab a cold coconut instead?

Wait, what? My lemonade is salty?

My response to chanh muoi (salty lemonade) was similar to my initial response to fish sauce. It was definitely not the sweet lemonade I thought I'd ordered  but I’m so glad I made that mistake!

In hot weather, it’s particularly important to replace your sodium levels as you sweat it out. The reason behind this is pretty simple: you can’t absorb water if you don’t have enough electrolytes to compensate. When this happens, you’ll feel like the water is going into your body and then directly out of your pores, it tastes thick and gel-like, and you’ll receive none of the normal benefits of drinking water… in fact, it can dehydrate you!

This is a very easy thing to overcome with an ordinary glass of water. Simply add some lemon and a bit of sea salt, and you’ve got a heat-beating glass of yum.

Ok, you don’t see any fresh options… Backups? This is common enough problem when traveling by motorbike, but don’t be hot; you can find several drinks in convenience stores or on the side of the road that can help you out in a pinch.

These drinks are mass produced so they tend to be a bit sugary, on top of the plastic garbage. Still, sometimes you have no choice.

Looking by the side of the road, look for vendors with a cooler and a sign that says "Sam Lanh" (Cold herbal drinks). They will usually have a variety of cool drinks ready to go for cheap.

My secret recipe: Cucumber lemonade

On lazy weekends I like to mix up a pitcher of this and camp out in my room in front of the fans. This is a magical liquid, my friends. This is a boss drink. This drink struts and sings. This drink says: "Yeah, I party, but I love treating my skin, too." 

This is the lemonade Beyoncé would sing about. In fact, this might actually be peak lemonade.

Why is that? Well, cucumbers are slightly acidic, which help you salivate more and this hydrates you better. This could also explain why cucumbers come with so many dishes here.

They’re also full of nutrients. And this is on top of the citrus from the lemon  a potent and cooling combination, indeed!



● 1 medium cucumber (peeled)

● 4 lemons, juiced

● ⅓ cup honey (or sugar)

● 3 cups cold water

● Ice, to serve


● Cut cucumber into chunks and blend them with 1 cup of water

● Strain the resulting juice and throw away the pulp.

● In the pitcher, add all juices, sugar and water.

● Stir and chill for an hour.

● Add more water or sugar if required. Serve over ice.

I hope these modest suggestions help you beat these upcoming months. The hot season is no longer so terrible for me, but, until it’s over, I promise these can help.

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