by Richard Henderson
For most expats in Ha Noi, experiencing the first winter can come as a shock to the system. How do the tropics get so frightfully cold?
Fighting breeze: A street vendor sits by a fire on an empty street. — File Photo
|Rugging up: Shops in Dinh Liet Street offers various kinds of winter accessories to customers during a cold spell. — VNA/VNS Photo Nhat Anh
The sweltering furnace that is a Hanoian summer gives way to a delicious few months before winter descends to empty evening streets and force all to don their warmest attire.
Recent arrivals, both visitors and expat residents alike, are often shocked at how low the mercury dips during the festive season, where the warm promise of the tropics turns on you like a xe om driver unwilling to haggle.
While the south of the country finds a nice balance of mild heat, up north we pass through varying stages of freezing, occasionally thawed by the sun, which visits between Ha Noi's trademark overcast days.
For those steeling themselves for winter in the capital, there are a few handy tricks to abide by in order to keep the bone-chilling breeze off you back.
One of the simple pleasures of this season, I was told by a local friend, is to visit an everyday street corner tea stall the morning and defrost with a hot glass of strong green tea.
You'll also be advised to follow local cafe drinkers as they swap their iced coffee ca phe sua da (iced coffee with milk) for a steaming sua nong (hot milk) version, to absorb all possible forms of heat.
The worst of this dire weather, you might already have noticed, will be found anywhere near large bodies of water, which unfortunately is a speciality of the city. The famous lakes become quasi air-conditioners, cooling the air even further as it whips across the icy surfaces and straight to your bones.
The casual motorbike cruise around town that was so refreshing during the hotter months has become an excursion of torture, where seemingly no garment can fully protect driver or passenger.
Be sure to purchase a thick winter coat to stave off any illnesses, which seem to be rampant at the beginning of the season. A padded jacket from one of the many clothes outlets around the city selling imitation hiking gear is a must, as is a decent pair of gloves.
Acquiring some sort of illness during winter is almost guaranteed, but rest assured the common cold, in any of its varying degrees of severity, can be fixed by over-the-counter antibiotics from local pharmacies – a proposition seemingly unheard of in the west.
If you do find yourself mired in the winter blues, there is one solution, apart from a quick sojourn down south, to lift one's spirits. Treat yourself to an evening – be it a casual drink or a three-course meal – at one of Ha Noi's famed hotels. A brief escape to one of these warm palaces of luxury is a sure bet to warm up and recapture the magic of the city. — VNS