Surprise! Hanoi has winter
Winter in Hanoi is a time of great change, when grey clouds fill the sky and rain coats are replaced with layers of warm clothing in the markets.
It’s true the Hanoi winter brings a certain chill and most first-time visitors seem rather surprised with the clouded or misty appearance of this vibrant city in northern Vietnam.
At the same time, there is little to no rain during the winter months and plenty of reasons to ignore the cold, while the cozy cafes and sizzling street food can seem even more enticing than any other time of year. With this in mind, let’s take a look at what to expect and how to prepare for the Hanoi winter:
What to expect during the Hanoi winter
In case you might be asking yourself, the Hanoi winter takes place between the end of December and late March. For this reason, many visitors choose to arrive before or after this particular period.
However, temperatures start to drop at the end of November and begin rising again by mid-February. Although these temperatures rarely drop below 10-12C, the high humidity can also make the Hanoi winter seem a lot colder than you might expect. At the same time, there are still warm spells in both December and January, and it’s not uncommon for temperatures to reach 30C.
Personally, I experienced all of the above. Moreover, once Hanoi winter weather decided to surprise me with even more extreme albeit a brief and rare foray into subzero night temperatures.
Winter in Hanoi is a welcome change of seasons
On the other hand, most people are happy to escape the sticky summer heat in Southeast Asia. Additionally, there is literally no rain during the Hanoi winter. For this reason, winter is still a great time to visit Hanoi and the advantages or benefits most definitely outweigh whatever concerns you might have about the weather.
Why air pollution is such a problem in Hanoi
As you may know, the Hanoi winter is accompanied by some especially dull and miserable looking skies. For this reason, the atmosphere can feel quite heavy and depression is increasingly common when the mood is so gloomy and unforgiving.
Believe it or not, while many visitors assume this mist-like appearance as being the result of winter itself, air pollution is the actual cause of this “grayness”.
According to recent studies by a non-profit in Vietnam, mass construction and heavy industries such as cement and coal are largely to blame for polluting the air. What’s more, agriculture burning and the increased number of vehicles on the road have only added to growing concerns.
But why is pollution so bad in Hanoi compared to other cities in Vietnam?
Environmental challenges of Hanoi
Hanoi is known for having poor air quality and some of the worst environmental problems in Vietnam. Now, that’s not to say you should avoid the city but rather to give you full transparency and a better idea of what to expect during the Hanoi winter.
You see, China sits right on the shoulder of North Vietnam and along with the largest population, this country is home to the worst pollution on the planet. In fact, the smog over China is visible from space and studies show that a percentage of this atmospheric pollution even ends up in the United States. It’s no wonder Hanoi can seem forever clouded in plumes of smoke and mist!
From sweating to freezing in one day
How the winter months can impact life in Hanoi
At the same time, I should also point out that Hanoi winter challenges are even more relevant or inconvenient for locals and those who might choose to live here for an extended period.
In other words, a tourist might not be too bothered by Hanoi’s pollution during a weekend or week-long stay but this greyness can become quite relentless and even frustrating over time.
It’s true, now and then a sunny day interrupts the Hanoi winter and locals take to exercising and picnicking in the parks. However, these days are very rare, so even expats, volunteers and visitors can find this gloomy weather quite taxing on the mind and body.
The difference a few months made
Good point, Emily. In my experience, Moldy March should be renamed into perennial Moldiness. Maybe I got unlucky, but this stubborn icky furry growth was lurking around regardless of season.
What to wear for the Hanoi winter
If you plan on sticking around Hanoi during winter, you will need more than just the right clothing.
Namely, investing in an air purifier and a high-quality face mask will make things a lot easier on your respiratory system. In reality, the standard cloth masks you see on locals in Hanoi offer little to no protection and a respirator-like face mask Is much more effective. Look around for 3M mask.
On the other hand, if you experience any kind of respiratory problems, the Hanoi winter is something to avoid.
That being said, wearing the right clothing is essential for the Hanoi winter and taking layers is a must. Long pants and long sleeve tops are also necessary, while a warm sweater will always come in handy.
Most locals also wear hats and gloves but depending on your preference, a decent jacket and scarf is often enough to stay warm in especially cold snaps.
Needless to say, you should also have t-shirt and shorts at the ready and a layer system is certainly the best way to regulate temperatures.
Overcoming winter in Hanoi with layers
As for where you should buy these items, it’s best to pick them up before traveling to Vietnam.
Just so you know, western-sized clothing is rather difficult to find in Hanoi so even though the old quarter might stock replica clothing for North Face or Patagonia, buying on location is not a reliable option.
Similarly, online clothing is subject to steep taxes and fines, while the local websites in Vietnam are without English or any means of translation.
Winter is a great time to visit Hanoi and the absence of rain is most certainly a bonus.
While air pollution is clearly a problem, the conditions are still comfortable and you can at least avoid the hot and sticky weather down south.
Most importantly, Hanoi is just as interesting to explore during winter and the cold snap can bring a new or different perspective to the experience.
After all, “different” is good and eating a delicious bowl of pho is like a warm hug on a cold day!