When is the best time to visit Hanoi?
I think Hanoi is for a lot of walking, for wandering through parks and small alleys, so go when it’s a bit cold. Autumn (September to November) and spring (March-April) would be the best seasons. Winter would be too cold, and summer too hot!
I didn’t know that when I went. Luckily, I went at a great time!
The thing about traveling is that you have to be very prepared, but also not at all. That means you know the basic and general details about the place you are visiting, but you’re also ready to get lost and explore things not written in guidebooks.
I did specifically that on my trip to Hanoi, Vietnam. I checked the best food, the most accessible mode of transportation, the top sights. But there was one thing I totally forgot – check the weather.
I already knew this prior to my trip but I totally forgot that Vietnam’s geography makes for varying weather conditions. From 34 degrees to the southern Ho Chi Minh, temperatures in Hanoi can go as low as 15 degrees in mid-November. They have four seasons there, and it can get as cold as 5 degrees during winter.
Needless to say, I was not ready for it. Armed basically for an overnight cruise along Halong Bay, all I had were summer clothes and a single worn-out jacket – definitely not the best for OOTD!
But that didn’t stop me from having the best time in this chaotic city! Even almost freezing to death, Hanoi was irresistible. So I found myself a cheap woolen jacket from one of many boutique shops selling rejected branded items and set off to explore Vietnam’s capital.
WHAT TO DO, WHERE TO GO IN HANOI
Hanoi’s not the kind of city that boasts a lot of attractions or tourists spots, but I think that’s what makes it perfect for travelers. It’s a place you could enjoy without any destination in mind. There’s also a certain kind of peace and calm to it, which is amazing because its roads can be really chaotic!
At the heart of the city is Hoan Kiem Lake. I arrived late at night and I found this place while looking for a place to eat. I was mesmerized. I went in without thinking. It was 12 midnight but the park was well-lit and I really felt safe. The many benches make it suitable for couples on dates or people like me, who love their me time.
I was also amazed at the number of teens and young adults playing and hanging out around the park (the surrounding streets are closed on weekends). Who needs clubs when they can own the streets?
The park is just as beautiful in the day. It’s dotted with trees and flowers, you’ll forget you are at the center of the city. But once you remember, don’t forget to go out and explore the Old Quarter, which has been around since the imperial times. You can really see in the houses how ancient this area is. You’ll notice that the houses/guesthouses/stores go up instead of sidewards. I have no idea why haha!
If ever it gets too cold, the coffee shops around the lake will keep you warm, and we all know Vietnam has the best coffee in Southeast Asia, if not around the world.
If you’re into walking and shopping, you will be happy to know that Hanoi is a never-ending labyrinth of stores and cafes. From silk clothing to class A imitations, packed coffee souvenirs to traditional food stalls, you will never run out of reasons to walk just a little further, and further, until you realize you have no idea how to go back. How else would you survive that if not for the cold weather?
For Catholics, the Gothic-style St. Joseph Cathedral is a very beautiful place to hear a mass, both in French and in Vietnamese.
Don’t forget to drop by the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was once the country’s political center. Head there late afternoon and wait for ’til closing time. The magic here happens at dark.
We obviously had too much fun here!
On weekends (Friday to Sunday), the Old Quarter’s Hang Dao Street comes alive with cheap bargains at the night market. Prices may seem high at first but the key is to counter with 75% off the original price. Don’t be intimidated and haggle like a pro!
Other notable places to visit are the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Temple of Literature, One Pillar Pagoda, and Hoa Lo Prison – all of which we were not able to check out because we were so busy going around with no particular destination.
A note, shops and restaurants in Hanoi open really early and close around 10 to 11:00pm. If you’re a night owl like me, that’s okay. Just head to Hoan Kiem Lake if you don’t feel like heading home just yet.
I survived four days in Hanoi (and Halong Bay) with a Zara imitation jacket that I was able to buy for one-fourth of its original price. In those days, I filled my stomach to the brim with tasty pho ca, various flavors of banh mi, and cup after cup of Vietnamese coffee.
Before I knew it, it was time to go home. But I wasn’t sad, I knew I would be back. As my friend Queen said, “we’ll go back in a heartbeat, basta may seatsale!”