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How cold does it really get in Hanoi?

With the temperature dropping notably over the last week and my friend calling me this morning to ask where she could buy a heater, I thought it was an appropriate time to comment on the frequently asked question: “How cold does it get in Hanoi?“. 

We arrived in Hanoi at the end of January 2010 and it was dull and grey: not the warmest welcome Hanoi could offer us. That said, it was a mild winter by all accounts — I invested in a jumper, after being jumper-free for seven months of travelling, and it was a bit chilly when sitting outside drinking bia hoi, but nothing to moan about.

Winter 2011 however was a different story. When people in the UK heard that it was 12 degress Celsius, maybe even 10 degrees, they scoffed at my complaints of the cold. But let me tell you, 10 degrees Celsius in Hanoi is really cold.

Why? Firstly, it’s damp cold: the sort of cold that feels like it’s seeping under your skin and into your bones. Secondly, there’s quite a wind factor, particularly if you travel by motorbike. Thirdly, there is nowhere to get warm: central heating does not exist and the buildings are not insulated.

I was cycling — yes, exerting effort in an attempt to keep warm — to work wearing a jacket and gloves, which I then kept on during class. And I don’t work in a hut. Our apartment had constant condensation on the windows and there was no point putting on the reverse cycle air-con as the heat would just seep out through the walls and under the door. And I didn’t live in a hut either.

So what does this mean for your winter-time visit to Hanoi? It doesn’t mean don’t come: I may have painted a somewhat miserable picture of the weather in the middle of winter but there’s little rain, skies are blue, and a few days here in winter can be just as pleasant as at any other time of year.

The definition of winter is not always clear-cut and, as elsewhere, the weather changes throughout the season. The weather forecast at the time of writing this (December 4) is 20 degrees, and it’s a beautiful day: it’s cool but certainly not cold, although I expect it to be chilly enough for a jumper this evening. February is likely to be the coldest month.

Do check the weather forecast before you come, but remember, it will feel colder than the temperatures suggest.

Finally, pack appropriately. While I can’t predict what this winter will be like, in late November/December a jumper or jacket and long trousers (if you get cold easily) should be sufficient, or if you’re coming January through to March bring a coat and some layers. It’s easy enough to buy scarves and gloves here so no need to bring them if you want to play it by ear, but it’s not so easy to buy warm clothes or shoes in Western sizes, so bring those with you.

If you’re planning on renting a motorbike then pack an extra layer and some gloves, and you might want to buy a face mask (as well as a helmet) when you get here — while the masks are not the best health protectors, they do a good job of keeping your face warm.

And don’t forget that north of Hanoi, particularly in the mountainous areas such as Sapa, will be a good deal colder.

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