So, you chose the winter season to visit Hanoi? Maybe you didn’t read the weather forecast, or maybe you’re just a sadist. Whichever it is, you’ll find below my tips for visiting Hanoi in winter. For a detailed weekend Itinerary, click here.
Despite my disdain for grey weather, it does allow you to move about the city comfortably without feeling like you need air conditioning on you constantly. At its coldest the city gets to 11′ degrees, so in hind sight, I shouldn’t be complaining when comparing that to the average winter temperature in Western Europe.
Hanoi is a bustling and fun city no matter the weather, there will always be plenty to do and see. The only time I’d advise not to come is during the Lunar New year (Tet holiday). New year is fun but Hanoi is a much quieter city than Saigon and lots of restaurants and shops will close during this time so Vietnamese people can spend time with their families. Imagine Christmas day, but for 5 or more days. Myself and friends came back a day early from Tet last year and finding food was a struggle, I settled for an overpriced average pizza…
What to wear?
Coming to Hanoi during winter for the first time a year ago. I’d envisioned spring type weather and therefore had only packed one thin jumper and a jacket. BIG MISTAKE. I was freezing, for the first 2 months I lived in the same outfit of jeans and layered tops, I was far from the sunny South East Asia Pinterest had promised me. This year I learned my lesson. Now I have a capsule winter wardrobe with 3 jumpers to get me through the few colder months that are usually from December to February. Below I have laid out my ‘packing checklist’. I’ve assumed this list on the basis that you’ll be visiting Hanoi for no longer than a week, therefore quantities can be adjusted to suit your trip.
Hanoi Suitcase – 1 Week
- 1 Jumper, medium thickness.
Jeans or trousers, dark coloured. I’d really recommend darker coloured trousers just because it’s a very smoggy, rainy city and it’s easy for marks to appear. It’s also good to have jeans or trousers for the out of Hanoi trips you do, such as, Sa Pa or Halong Bay which can get a little muddy at times.
- Tights. Tights are great to add to dresses and skirts for extra warmth.
- Durable bag, leather/pleather material. Preferably a side bag, pick pocketing is rife within the Hoan Kiem area.
- Water proof jacket, and I mean ‘water proof’ not shower proof. Forest Gump’s depiction of Vietnamese rain is very accurate. Alternatively, you can buy a poncho for a few dollars on any street corner.
- Boots or trainers – or both. I’ve found a simple pair of black boots can pull any outfit together to look smart, whilst being practical. I also love wearing trainers but I’ll be honest, I’m always too afraid to wear my Arkyns so always end up wearing my scruffy grey Air Max’s. Hanoi is not a place for nice trainers, especially ‘running’ type trainers like the Arkyns, so bring an old sturdier pair like Converse or Air Max. (again, in a dark colour)
Super conditioning hair products. The PH of Hanoi water is known to dry out hair quite rapidly if you don’t pay attention to it. If you think you can waltz into Hanoi off the plane and pick up your favourite hair products, think again. You’ll spend twice as much and Hanoi’s duty-free sucks. My big travel tip is to bring some cheap coconut oil, it multi tasks a moisture boost for your hair as well as an amazing make up remover.
- SPF – It’s not very mainstream in western culture to use SPF during winter as much as it’s prescribed in Asian culture as an essential part of the skin care routine. The sun is much stronger in Asia, when mixed with the heavy air pollution it’s only a recipe for skin damage. It’s good practise to use SPF daily, to avoid skin damage that can lead to future health concerns.
Where to go?
- Soak up the cafe culture
Winter is the best time to get cosy in one of the many stylish cafe’s and try all the different types of Vietnamese coffee. I’ve listed a few places to visit in my post Autumn Hotspots, soon to be updated to Winter hotspots, so stay tuned. Another website to check out is Hanoi Hideaway, a blog dedicated to Hanoi’s coffee houses.
- Immerse yourself in street food
I’ve been very lucky to have my local friends show me an array of Vietnamese dishes over the past year. As you will have a limited amount of time, the best option is attending one of the Hanoi walking food tours. One of the best according to Tripadvisor is Hanoi Street Food Tours. Walking keeps us warm, and walking also gets us hungry, so this is the perfect combination of convenience and culture!
- Treat yourself to a massage
After you’ve exhausted all the coffee and street food tasting, a bit of TLC is in order. There are many spa’s and clinics to visit in Hanoi but my favourite so far has been the Yukushi clinic located in Tay Ho.
- Museum hopping
I talked about the most worthy museums to visit in my Weekend Itinerary post, but a few more to add to the list to escape the grey weather would be The Fine Art museum, The War museum and the Temple of literature, all very close to Hoan Kiem.
Extra’s to consider
- Air pollution. Hanoi is unfortunately one of the most polluted cities in the world and reached record levels of air pollution in 2018. It’s not a big deal for tourists, however, if you do suffer from asthma, it’s recommended you use a mask, especially during winter which will boast the highest levels of air pollution.
- Although the visibility in Sa Pa isn’t great in winter, if you love photography it’s still a pretty amazing place to go. The thick mist makes for a ghostly setting, however prepare for muddy walks and cold nights. My best tip is to avoid Fansipan’s extortionate prices and instead opt for an early morning hike through the villages and mountains.
- If you have time to kill up North, I would still recommend Ninh Binh but only for a day to see the view from Lying Dragon Mountain. It will be more worth it to spend travel time on exploring the south more such as Quy Nhon or Mui Ne.
Hanoi will be a wonderful and amazing travel experience no matter what the weather and this is by no means a definitive list of tips, merely a winter guide of what to expect in Northern Vietnam during winter. The landscape of Hanoi changes by the month and as always I will continue to highlight new places and travel tips on my blog. Hopefully, even if you’re a sun worshipper like myself and prefer the hotter weather of Saigon down south, Hanoi will be on your hit list for Vietnam and South East Asia. If you would like to know anything more specific about visiting in winter, please comment below!
Thank you for stopping by x