In a foolishness that will come to characterise our travels, neither Aristo nor I made any attempt at checking the weather before coming on this trip. We foolishly assumed that it would be similar weather everywhere in southeast Asia, and we also assumed that this “similar weather” was going to be hot, after many hot days in Ho Chi Minh. This assumption is quickly proven idiotic when we step off our plane from Nha Trang into what could fairly be classified as “winter weather” in Hanoi.
To this day, I puzzle over the meteorological phenomena at play in Vietnam that could possibly lead this small country to have simultaneous boiling and freezing weather mere centimetres apart (depending on the globe). It remains a mystery— due in large part to my lack of meteorological study, no doubt.
Nevertheless, it’s subartic and we haven’t packed anything warmer than a long-sleeve t-shirt. Before even finding a hotel, we power-walk through the market to find some winter jumpers.
All the details: Hanoi
Getting there: The easiest way to reach Vietnam’s capital is to fly into Noi Bai International Airport.
What to do: When in Hanoi, hire a motorbike to explore the Old Quarter; sample phở bò and bún chả all over the city in search of the best street food; visit the ancient embalmed tortoise in Hoàn Kiếm Lake’s Ngoc Son Temple; and try the local delicacy cà phê trúng (coffee mixed with egg white) at Giảng Cafe.
Top tips: Hire a motorbike (and helmet!) for as little as 80,000VND per day from any of a dozen shops along the main road. You’ll typically be asked to leave something valuable behind as collateral, such as your passport, so just make sure you know what time the shop is closing to avoid any travel fiascos.
For the next several days, we explore every street within walking distance, most of which are crowded with market stalls and food vendors. In the evenings, we hand a tuk tuk driver 60,000 Dong to drive us around the lake while we kick back like kings. (At the time of writing this, 20,000 Vietnamese Dong= $1, a delightful fact that makes even povo travellers like us feel like Bill Gates tossing out a milli here, a milli there…)
We hire a motorbike to explore farther, and venture to the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake. For lunch one day, we have what we determine to be, based on the faint but unmistakable aroma of pond water and the recognisable hepatic texture from the anatomy lab, duck liver soup. The rest of the day is spent lost in a maze of 1m wide residential streets, receiving many curious looks from locals.