There has been a strong research focus on optical properties in temperate estuaries but very much less in tropical estuaries. These properties comprise light and beam attenuation dominated by suspended particulate matter, Chl a, and CDOM. Spatially and temporally distributed data on optical properties in a tropical wet and dry estuary are compared and discussed in relation to those of temperate estuaries. Sampling in the Nha Phu estuary, Vietnam, consisted of five stations on a transect from head to mouth that was sampled four times during dry conditions and three times during wet conditions between May 2006 and April 2008. Methods comprised CTD, optical measurements, and water sampling for suspended matter, Chl a, and CDOM. Results showed high light attenuation—K d(PAR)—in wet conditions and low in dry. K d(PAR) was highest at the estuary head and lower in the outer part. Spatial and temporal variations in K d(PAR) were in general dominated by variations in suspended particulate matter concentrations in both wet and dry conditions. Chl a concentrations were low and showed no strong variations between wet and dry conditions. CDOM absorption coefficients were higher in wet conditions with high values at the head and lower in the central part of the estuary. The depth of the photic zone was reduced by up to 50% during wet conditions. A residence time in the estuary of 5–6 days was derived from the rate of change of K d(PAR) after a period of heavy rain and discharge of freshwater into the estuary. This complied with a residence time of four and a half days derived from a basic physical relation. Optical properties were in general comparable to temperate estuaries in dry conditions although Chl a concentrations were lower in Nha Phu. A second distinctive point, as compared to temperate estuaries, was the episodic character with days of strong rainfall followed by longer periods of dry weather. All sampling, both wet and dry, was carried out in the dry season which implies a less definitive perception of wet and dry seasons.