November to March is peak season as this is when the weather is at its best for visitors. If you’re booking a flight to Hanoi to arrive during this time, try to avoid the Tet holiday (January/February), as this is when all of Vietnam, or so it seems, is on the move, visiting family and friends. If you are looking to avoid the crowds then book your flight to Hanoi for weeks following the Tet holiday – mid-February through March – as they are quieter. In addition, if you don’t mind the rain then travelling during the rainy season – between May and September – will allow you to see the city when it isn’t so packed and you’re also more likely to find cheap flights to Hanoi and discounted room rates.
Whatever time of year you’ve booked your flight to Hanoi, you won’t be disappointed. There are numerous festivals which take place, all giving a snippet of traditional customs and cultural aspects of this colourful city. The Co Loa Festival, which usually takes place in February (exact date depends on the lunar calendar), honours King An Duong Vuong. There is a procession, as well as a number of interesting and some unusual activities, including, human chess, wrestling, rope climbing and card playing. Hanoi is a great place to be during the Mid-Autumn Festival, as the streets and lakes are lined with glowing lanterns, the smell of incense wafts through the air and traditional dancing takes place. During this popular harvest festival, it is a tradition to eat sweet round delicacies known as ‘mooncakes’.
Vietnam’s capital is the beautiful and ancient city of Hanoi. Its stately presence has been influential in Southeast Asia for some few thousand years and the appealing city that stands today still reflects much of this grandeur. Hanoi’s architecture is a fascinating mix. French-colonial style villas stand alongside temples dating back to the 11th century. Indeed, it is the abundance of spiritual buildings – the city has more than 600 temples – along with a calm way of life that often appeals to tourists visiting Hanoi. Much less brash than Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi is centred around a lake and its Old Quarter, with narrow streets and large colonial buildings. However, the city is not just a museum. Though once it was the quiet outpost in Vietnam, today the pace of life is picking up. Businessmen proliferate and tourists are visiting in greater numbers to see the city’s attractions.
Many travellers take flights to Hanoi to explore the surrounding areas. The city is a great base from which to visit Ha Long Bay or as a starting point to make a journey south along the length of Vietnam.
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 runs from 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, although there is a constant drizzle. The typhoon season is July to November.
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.
Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) is situated 28 miles north of Hanoi.
Airport minibuses and metered taxis are available outside arrivals for transport to the city centre. Make sure the taxi driver is wearing an official name badge and that the meter is on.