A typical vacation in Southeast Asia is identical to a summer break on tropical beaches, a lot of sunbathing and cold beers in the heat. The case is a little different with Vietnam, which may come as a surprise to some, but certain regions in Vietnam – specifically in the northern area – go through the four seasons in a year: winter, spring, summer and fall. Those seeking some fresh air to escape the heat and humidity in Southeast Asia, head to Hanoi or Sapa for a chilled winter break. Winter in Vietnam starts in mid-December and lasts until late March. Here is a list of activities to try during your trip:
1. Eat pho from a street vendor
Vietnamese street food is considered one of the best in Southeast Asia. Pho, Vietnamese rice noodle soup usually with chicken or beef, is being sold everywhere, from high-end restaurants to street vendors. On your first night, savor some pho on the street. The noodle soup, with a thick beef or chicken broth and its distinct taste of fresh Thai basil with lime squeezed on top is perfect for a cold winter’s night.
2. Take a stroll in Hanoi’s Old Quarter
The Old Quarter in Hanoi is a beautiful gem in the city. French colonial buildings, colored in bright paint, with little cafes lining up on the street make this a picturesque spot for Instagram.
3. Drink Vietnamese coffee
Unless you’ve tried the famous Vietnamese coffee, you’re no coffee connoisseur. Drive around the city on your scooter and take a break for some reading or blogging with Vietnamese coffee in hand. This drink can be served hot or cold, the bitterness of black coffee mixed with the sweetness of the condensed milk makes a taste that can’t be beaten. Since not all cafes in Vietnam come with an English menu, grab your pen and write down this list for your next coffee stop:
Cà phê sữa đá: Iced coffee with condensed milk
Cà phê đen đá: Iced black coffee
Cà phê sữa nóng: Hot coffee with condensed milk
Cà phê đen nóng: Hot black coffee
4. Visit Hoan Kim Lake
Hoan Kim Lake in Hanoi’s Old Quarter is the center of attention. The lake, right in the middle of the Old Quarter, is a tranquil oasis among from the hustle and bustle of the city. The calm water and peaceful beauty create a wonderful contrast to Hanoi’s crowded and chaotic streets.
The tower in the middle of the lake is known as Turtle Tower, which was built in commemoration of Vietnamese warrior Le Loi, who led Vietnam’s independence movement in the 1400s.
Hoan Kim Lake is the most popular tourist spot in Hanoi, and the locals’ favorite for a slow jog and weekend picnic. On New Year’s Eve, people gather around the lake and set off fireworks.
5. Go on a day trip to Ha Long Bay
Everyone has heard of Ha Long Bay, which in Vietnamese means “descending dragon bay”. It is one of those places you have to see with your own eyes because photos don’t do justice. Thousands of limestone islands standing tall against the blue sky as far as the eye can see.
Ha Long is packed with tourists every day. You can reach the bay using a shared van in a few hours. Just ask your hotel and they will give you a tour that will take you through all the way to your cruise. You can pick your ride: a regular wooden boat or a luxury cruise ship. Ha Long in winter is more than beautiful, the misty fog over the water rising into the sky as your ship goes past is magical.
6. Jump on the sleeper train to Sapa
Sapa, in Vietnam’s beautiful countryside, can be reached from Hanoi using the sleeper train in about eight hours. There are many different options for trains to take to Sapa from Hanoi, costing from US$40 to $100, depending on your flexibility.
For this trip, make sure to pack some socks and ear plugs for a comfortable night’s sleep. However, don’t expect to sleep like on a business class flight because the journey can be bumpy at times.
Those are the few activities that can be done during winter in Vietnam. For a quick trip, it is best to spend at least three days in Hanoi. Flights to Hanoi from Jakarta via Singapore or Kuala Lumpur are available daily.