Hanoi has a humid topical climate. Summer is May through September, and it is hot and sticky with lots of rain. June is the hottest month with temperatures in the 30s (Celsius). September through November is sunny weather in the 20s. Winter is November through February and is typically cool and drier. January is the coolest month with temperatures in the low teens and a cold northeasterly wind. March and April temperatures rise to the 20s with a constant drizzle. The typhoon season is July to November.
When to fly to Hanoi
Reservations for Tet, the lunar New Year, must be made far in advance. Most businesses close for the holiday, including museums and shops. The holiday lasts for a week and falls between January 19 and February 20.
The tourist season peaks again from late June through August and October through Tet. The most pleasant time to visit is September to December when it is less humid.
There are fewer tourists January (except for Tet) through March when it is wet and chilly. April through May are drizzly but not yet too hot.
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Getting around Hanoi
Save yourself the hassle of dealing with Hanoi’s traffic and crowds and take a taxi. Cab companies are very competitive, so service is prompt. All the taxis are metered and it’s easy to call a cab or hail one from a taxi stand. If you’re feeling adventurous, try a motorbike taxi. If you want to take it easy, have a tour operator, travel agency or local tourist café hire you a car or driver. You can also rent bicycles from any hotel or café in the centre of town. Make sure the bike has a lock and bring a helmet. If you’re really brave, it’s easy to rent a motorcycle as well. Be careful on Hanoi’s busy streets. Motorcycle accidents are the leading cause of death and injury to foreigners in Vietnam.
Walking can also be hazardous, so be aware of traffic and follow locals whenever possible. Try to keep a steady pace and don’t panic when crossing the street. You can flag down a cyclo (pedicab), but you’ll need to determine a fare before boarding. Avoid taking a cyclo at night though. It’s always a good idea to know where you’re going, and bring a map so you can point out your destination. Many cyclo drivers don’t speak English, and this will help both of you get where you’re going. Avoid the public buses altogether. They may be cheap, but they’re also slow, crowded and poorly labelled.
Hanoi insider information
- Food in Hanoi is rather different to the Vietnamese food you get in the West. Specialities include grubs, scorpions, whole roasted pigeons, dumplings, noodles and fried chicken legs. Don’t be put off by appearances (or descriptions) and give some of the more unusual offerings a taste. The food stalls on the streets of the Old Quarter smell delicious and serve almost everything you can imagine.
- The Thang Long water puppet theatre is situated on the Hoan Kiem Lake. The performances tell Vietnamese folk stories with hand puppets – all of the action taking place above a pool of water behind which the puppeteers hide. It’s a wonderful way to learn a bit about the Vietnamese culture. If you purchase a first class ticket, you’ll get a front row seat and be given a free CD of the music played.
- One of the biggest festivals in Vietnam is Tet, the celebration of a lunar new year. Falling between January and February, celebrations go on for a week and nowhere are they bigger and better than in Hanoi. Houses are decorated with kumquat trees and the streets are lined with flower blossoms. It’s a wonderful event to see, but if you are going to be in the city during the time of the festival be aware that many services, including transport, will be closed. Book your hotel in advance and don’t try and catch a train – they almost certainly won’t be running.
- One of the foods associated with Tet is called banh chung. It is a sticky square rice cake stuffed with bean paste and wrapped in a banana leaf, which represents the earth. Thoroughly delicious.
- The Museum of Ethnology was created to research and teach about the diverse ethnic groups that make up the population of Vietnam. The museum was opened in 1990 and has since proved very popular with visitors. Vietnam has 54 different ethnic groups and the museum teaches about their individual cultures. With exhibits, reconstructions and a year-long programme of events, there is plenty to see for half a day.