January in Hanoi

I’ll be writing a few posts about the realities of Hanoi during the year, aimed at people looking to move here or those coming on holiday who want to know more than you get just looking at the climate graphs on weather websites and figuring it out! I hope they’re helpful! Let me know in the comments below if they’ve helped you, and feel free to ask any questions too!

*This post was written a few days ago. Now (31st Jan), Vietnam is experiencing its third wave of covid with an outbreak being announced on Thursday 28th Jan.*

I’m currently sitting in a cafe wearing a mask. I just took my bus wearing a mask, after a day at work, much of which was spent wearing one too. This is probably similar to many of you worldwide given the current climate. But in Vietnam, we’ve fortunately had months with no community transmission of covid. So why am I wearing a mask? Well, unfortunately, this is the reality of January in Hanoi.

I’ve written before about pollution in Hanoi. In fact, it’s my most-read article on here! In a nutshell, pollution in Hanoi is way worse than I expected before moving here, and it can be far worse than the majority of the world. This isn’t the case all year round, but there are times of the year where it really peaks and January is one of them.

So let’s chat about the pollution, as well as weather and traffic, that we see in Hanoi in January.

Pollution

As mentioned above, the pollution here in January is pretty grim. This is in part due to spiritual burning, bad traffic and the burning of rubbish, though of course there will be several other factors too.

January in Hanoi sees pollution above 150 AQI most days. That’s considered ‘unhealthy’. Recommendations at this level are to avoid exercising outside, keep windows closed, wear masks and use air purifiers. 

This month, there have been some times it’s been hitting 300+, considered ‘hazardous’. They’re not common, but it does seem to be getting more frequent that we edge closer to this level.

After those days, walking around in 160 actually feels like ‘fresh’ air. Being able to see the pollution from my window is common. But there have been many times this month where I can smell the pollution, and even taste it. It ain’t pretty (or tasty), I assure you. 

To compare: London is currently at 53, Paris 72, LA 46, Beijing 169 and Hanoi 174. 

(All statistics are from the IQAir AirVisual app.)

Weather

First, let’s look at what you’ll see online if you google ‘Hanoi weather in January’.

Source

It doesn’t look too bad, right? Let’s break it down.

This month, we’ve actually had lows of 9 degrees C and highs in the low twenties. Most day times have been within the teens, which back home in the UK would be lovely, wouldn’t it? We’d be in a tee and jeans, chatting about how mild it is.

It’s weird here, but 9-12 degrees feels SO cold. Coat weather for sure, ideally with a scarf or gloves. A warm blanket is on our bed and sofa, and we’ve had the heating on at work and home. 

If you’re just coming here for a trip from somewhere colder (as my parents have done this time of year), then you’ll be warm enough. You’ll mock the people here who are layered up in this heat! But for Hanoians (and temporary Hanoians like me!) it feels cold. It’s a stark difference to the mid-high twenties we experience in October & November. Plus, the humid air which makes us oh so hot & sticky in the summer actually makes it colder in the winter. Humidity messes with everything.

However, it’s pretty dry. I’m certain we’ve had far fewer than 14 days of rain this Jan. Rain is rare in January, so it’s safe to head out without a raincoat. Plus, when the rain does come, it’s welcome. It helps to shake up the air and minimise the pollution for a little while. However, I think I can count on one hand the days we’ve had rain this month, which is partly why the air quality has been so bad. 

For weather updates, I follow Hanoi’s Weatherdude on Facebook. Might sound weird, but he gives a pretty accurate weather forecast with added humour + opinion on the side.

Preparing for Tet

So what good is there in January in Hanoi? Well, the Lunar New Year, or Tet as it’s known here, takes place in January or early February every year. This year it’s being celebrated the 10th-16th Feb.

In the run up, we get to see some of my favourite sights. Cherry blossom and kumquat trees are – to Tet – as fir trees are to Christmas. Therefore, large areas at the sides of roads are reserved for selling kumquat trees, their orange fruits brightening up the grey haze. The trees are strapped to motorbikes and trundle off, bobbing along through the traffic. Every time I see one, I imagine a family celebrating around it.

The traffic is worth mentioning though. The closer we get to Tet, the more traffic. This is because locals travel to pagodas and temples to pay their respects. Some days it can double your travel time. There are certain dates – dependent on when the Lunar celebrations are that will be extremely busy, so it’s worth checking with a Vietnamese person for more info on that one!

I think January here is my least favourite month, so I promise these posts won’t all be as grey and gloomy as this month’s weather! Soon, the sun should start peeping through, and blue skies will become the norm. Fingers crossed!

Feel free to ask any questions about Hanoi on here or via my instagram DMs. 

Niobe xx

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