Map from Google - Vietnam

In Vietnam the climate is tropical in the north, and subtropical in the south-central, and is influenced by the monsoons: the south-west monsoon from May to October, and the northeast monsoon from November to April. The former brings heavy rains in exposed areas, therefore the north and the south, while along the central strip, protected by the mountains, it brings relatively little rains and leaves often space to the sun. The north-east monsoon is generally drier, but it brings heavy rains in the early months (October-December) in the center-south, and light but frequent rains in the north.
In inland areas, there are the hills and mountains that make the climate milder in the summer months, but even cold in winter in the north.
The rainfall amount is normally between 60 and 80 inches per year, while there's a relatively small arid zone in the Phan Thiet area (north-east of Ho Chi Minh City), where it's slightly above 40 in.

The north

North Vietnam, climate
In the north of Vietnam, during winter the climate is unusually cool for the latitude: we are just south of the Tropic of Cancer, yet the average temperature in January is below 68 °F: in Hanoi the average is 61.5 °F, in Vinh it's 64.5 °F, and around 55/57 °F in the northernmost areas of Tonkin, where at night the temperature can approach freezing between December and February.
Here are the average temperatures in the capital Hanoi.
Average temperatures - Hanoi
HanoiJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
HanoiJFMAMJJASOND
Min (°F)575964707579797977726659
Max (°F)666873819091919088847772

In the northernmost part of the coast, near Hanoi, the sea is a bit cool from January to March, while it is very warm in the summer months. Anyway, in winter the cool and cloudy weather does not invite you to bathe.
Sea temperature - Haiphong
HaiphongJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
HaiphongJFMAMJJASOND
Sea (°F)727072758184868684827973

In the mountainous areas, the winter is quite cold at 5,000 feet of altitude: the average January temperature is around 46.5 °F. The highest peak is Fansipan (or Phan Xi Pang), 10,312 feet high, which is covered with snow in winter.
Although the winter monsoon is originally dry because it comes from the Asian continent, the clash with the mild and moist air of the Gulf of Tonkin generates a compact cloudiness, and light but frequent rains. Therefore, during winter there is little sunshine in Hanoi, and although the temperature in itself would be spring-like, a stay is not so pleasant.
In spring, in northern Vietnam the temperature gradually rises, and the sun comes out every so often in April, but from May to October the rainy season arrives, and the weather becomes hot and humid, with downpours in the afternoon or evening. In Hanoi, the wettest months are July and August, with about 12 in of rain per month. The maximum temperatures are around 90 °F, but the humidity makes the heat annoying, and sometimes it can even reach 100 °F, with peaks of 105 °F in May and June.
In October and November, when the monsoon withdraws, there is another period which is quite pleasant, before the return of the cool and dull winter in December.
Here is the average precipitation in Hanoi.
Average precipitation - Hanoi
HanoiJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
HanoiJFMAMJJASONDY
Prec. (in)0.811.83.57.59.411.412.610.45.11.8165.9
Days81115131415161714976145

So the best time to visit North Vietnam and the capital Hanoi is spring, and in particular the month of April, along with autumn, between October and November, which however still presents the risk of typhoons (see below).

The center

Central Vietnam, climate
Along the coast of central Vietnam, the weather gets warmer during winter: the average January temperature ranges from 68 °F in Hue, to 75 °F in Nha Trang.
Here are the average temperatures in Da Nang.
Average temperatures - Da Nang
Da NangJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Da NangJFMAMJJASOND
Min (°F)666872737779777975737266
Max (°F)777984889193939390868177

Besides, in the central part the summer monsoon has little effects, so that less than 4 in of rain per month fall until August, and the amount of sunshine remains acceptable. Here the rainy season is late, and runs from September to December, but also in January in the northern part (from Ha Tinh to Da Nang), with a maximum in October and November.
Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Da Nang
Da NangJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Da NangJFMAMJJASONDY
Prec. (in)3.71.40.812.63.33.34.113.824.214.47.980.5
Days147569891115212119144

In the central part of Vietnam, the sea is warm enough for swimming all year round, although it drops to 73 °F in February at Hue, and to 75 °F from January to March at Da Nang, while it never drops below 79 °F at Nha Trang.
Sea temperature - Da Nang
Da NangJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Da NangJFMAMJJASOND
Sea (°F)757575798284868684828177

The best time to visit this area of Vietnam, runs from February to March in the northern part, and from January to March in the southern part. April is still a dry month, but it begins to be hot. From May to August, the air is hot and humid, but if it weren't for the risk of typhoons, the climate would be quite acceptable, because it's much less rainy than the rest of Vietnam.

Inland areas

Vietnam, climate of inland areas
In the interior of central Vietnam, the presence of mountains makes the climate milder, actually there are many cities between 1,300 and 3,300 feet above sea level, which have nice and sunny winters, while summers are a little less sultry than in the plains.
Here are the average temperatures of Pleiku, located at 2,500 feet above sea level.
Average temperatures - Pleiku
PleikuJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
PleikuJFMAMJJASOND
Min (°F)596366687068706868666461
Max (°F)757781848484828482817775

Here the monsoon rains occur in the canonical period, from May to November, with a maximum between August and October. Winter is dry, therefore you can visit this area from December to March, or even April at higher altitudes where the heat is less intense.
Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Pleiku
PleikuJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
PleikuJFMAMJJASONDY
Prec. (in)1.411.42.65.77.17.99.311.4139.43.573.6
Days444716202124211796153

The south

Climate of south Vietnam
In the southern part of the country, the climate is hot all year round. Between November and mid-February, the maximum temperatures are around 86/90 °F, then by mid-February the temperatures starts to rise, so that between March and May they reach the highest level of the year: 91/95 °F on average, but with peaks of 105 °F, before the arrival of the monsoon. During the period of the summer monsoon, the heat is quite muggy.
Here are the average temperatures of Ho Chi Minh City, near the Mekong Delta.
Average temperatures - Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi MinhJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Ho Chi MinhJFMAMJJASOND
Min (°F)707375797777757575757370
Max (°F)909193959390909088888888

In Ho Chi Minh the rains are abundant from May to mid-November, with a maximum in September, and throughout the year, about 80 in of rain fall.
Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi MinhJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Ho Chi MinhJFMAMJJASONDY
Prec. (in)0.60.20.428.712.211.610.612.810.44.5276
Days2125181923222321127156

In southern Vietnam, the sea is warm all year round.
Sea temperature - Vinh Loi
Vinh LoiJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Vinh LoiJFMAMJJASOND
Sea (°F)818282868686848484848282

In southern Vietnam, the best time is from December to mid-February; March and April are still dry months, but they are uncomfortably hot.

Ha long Bay

Vietnam is located in the path of typhoons and tropical storms, which affect the country from the east between May and November, but especially between mid-July and November. Vietnam is one of the most affected countries of Southeast Asia, because cyclones hit directly the coast from the sea, when they are at their maximum strength. Sometimes they may hit the country later, in the first half of December, as happened with Hagupit which passed around 10 December 2014, although in this period they usually arrive a bit weakened.

When to go

The best time to visit Vietnam as a whole is the first half of February, because it's the only one which is neither very rainy nor very hot throughout the country, even though the north is cloudy and sometimes very cool. Even March and April are not bad, because in the north they are acceptable although not very sunny, while they are dry and sunny in the center-south, but they are also hot in the south. December and January are dry and sunny in the south-central, but not in the north.
For each particular area, please refer to the details above.

What to pack

In winter: in the north (Hanoi), spring/autumn clothes, a jacket and a sweater, raincoat for the drizzle, hat and gloves for colder nights. In the mountain peaks, warm clothes, down jacket, gloves, hat, hiking shoes.
In the center (Hue, Nha Trang), light clothes for the day, sweatshirt and scarf for the breeze, jacket and sweater for cooler evenings, raincoat or umbrella until January inclusive.
For the inland south-central areas, light clothes for the day, a jacket and a sweater for the evening.
For the south (Ho Chi Minh), light clothing, a scarf for the breeze, a light sweatshirt for the evening, possibly a light jacket or sweater for cooler evenings.
In summer: across the country, at low altitude, tropics-friendly, lightweight clothing of natural fiber, light raincoat or umbrella, a light sweatshirt for the evening; for hill towns, you can add a sweatshirt and a light jacket; for the highest peaks, warm clothes, fleece, jacket, raincoat, hiking boots.
For the reef, equipment for snorkeling, water shoes or rubber soled shoes.
To enter pagodas, it is customary to take off shoes, dress neatly and cover a little.