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October 24, 2021

Autumn in Hanoi: The Best Time to See Vietnam’s Intoxicating City

Autumn in Hanoi brings some cool relief from the hot and sticky sweat of summer. The leaves burn bright orange and it's easier than ever to explore. Here's why autumn is the best time to visit Hanoi.

Vietnam - Autumn in Hanoi - Old Quarter Fall Leaves and Woman in Window

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Autumn in Hanoi

Autumn in Hanoi rolls in with a gust of silver-orange leaves around the edge of Hoan Kiem park. There's a sense, from the Old Quarter to the new, that change has arrived once more. 

The sky is less sticky. The heat less intense. Autumn in Hanoi is a beautiful time to see the city and here's why. 

Sofitel la boutique luxury hotel

Vietnam Travel Guide & Tips

It's Milk Flower Season

Towering over West Lake promenade and along Quan Thanh, Quang Trung and Phan Dinh Phung in particular, milk flowers sway like confetti in the trees. 

Known in Hanoi as hoa sua, they may look delicate but they fill the the streets with their strong scent, from the Old Quarter to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum.

Vietnam - Autumn in Hanoi - hoan-kiem-lake-

It's Poetic in autumn in Hanoi

It's not just me that thinks so. There's this song that plays during autumn in Hanoi:

The scent of milk flowers in the wind

Green rice scent in your little hands

Leave a fragrance in your footsteps.

Trinh Cong Son’s song, Nho Mua Thu Ha Noi (Missing Hanoi’s Autumn)

Vietnam - Autumn in Hanoi Orange Leaves

Hanoi looks beautiful in red and gold

It just does. New England may be more famous for leaf-peeping, but Hanoi looks lovely too.

Autumn in Hanoi brings lots of great Fruit

Autumn in Hanoi means harvest time for some of the city's favourite snacks.

Dracontomelon

Take dracontomelon, a small round fruit with spikes and tough green skin. 

In summer, dracontomelon provides syrup for cocktails and mocktails but by autumn, the fruit has ripened and is ready to eat. You'll find it peeled and either sugared or salted as a popular snack. 

Vietnam - Hanoi - Persimmon Harvest

Persimmon

The ruddy, tomato imposter persimmon ripens around autumn in Hanoi as well and street vendors pile them high in baskets around the Old Quarter. Try one and enjoy the crispy sweet pulp.

Thi

But don't mix them up with thi, which have a similar shape but remain a golden delicious yellow. These don't taste great but people buy them to use as air fresheners and to bring a scent of autumn into their home.

And then there's beaten green rice or ragworm, another popular dish found in autumn in Hanoi.

Vietnam - Hanoi - Snail dish for autumn in Hanoi

And some other great tastes

Snails

Now, hang on a moment. If snails aren't already on your hit list then perhaps trying them in autumn in Hanoi might change your mind. 

They're freshest at this time of year and come, steamed or boiled, with a chilli and garlic dipping sauce as an appetiser. 

Vietnam - Hanoi - Bun Oc

Bun Oc

The next step up is to combine them with vermicelli noodles in a bun oc tomato-based soup. If you're not quite sure, then you may find it reassuring to know that bun oc also consists of simmered pork or chicken, combined with prawns, fish cakes, beef, fried tofu and coriander. The snails are only the sideshow.

  • Locals recommend the oldest bun oc shop in Hanoi on Hang Chai Street.

Traditional Hanoi bun oc is a heartwarming dish but if the lazy summer days spill in to autumn in Hanoi, you may prefer the bun oc nguoi instead. It's served chilled , mixing snails, vinegar and fried onion. The inside info suggests Tay Son Street.


Ragworm Pie

Ah, how tame the snails now seem! Yes, ragworms look like larvae. When alive, they've been described as "half a baby's finger" with "soft fuzz" trying to "forlornly escape."

Long, however, a specialty of autumn in Hanoi, ragworm pies have now picked up something of an international reputation as well. 

The ragworm harvest is short, a mere two weeks or so and it coincides with the tangerine season so the two ingredients are often paired together.

Ragworm pie itself, or cha ruoi, throws in more than just that, though. It's also a mix of dill, green onion, minced pork, duck eggs, fish sauce and pepper, fried until golden brown. 

Top spots for this pricy gourmet dish include Hang Chieu Street in the Old Quarter and Lo Duc Street.

COM (GREEN RICE FLAKES)

One of the most striking features of autumn in Hanoi is when the green rice flakes stride into town. Made from immature rice kernels, roasted and pounded into flakes, you'll find it packed into lotus leaves to enhance the sweet and nutty flavour. 

From here, you'll find green rice flakes in every situation imaginable. Com cake with a mung bean filling? Yes! Com sweet soup? Alrighty! Com ice cream?! Sure, why not. Green sticky rice. The sign of autumn in Hanoi.

Autumn in Hanoi - Vietnam - Hanoi Old Quarter Traffic View

It's easier to travel around

Let's face it, autumn in Hanoi is just perfect for sightseeing. Not just in the city itself, following this 3 day in Hanoi itinerary, but also further afield to Vung Vieng Fishing Village in Halong Bay.

When is autumn in Hanoi?

Autumn runs from September through October and November to December. Temperatures run between 18 and 25 degrees centigrade. This makes it perfect to linger outside and walk around without a jacket but not so stifling you start to wilt.

Hanoi Weather

Summer, from May to August results in sweltering conditions, where you're likely to be seeking shade. And winters can be wet and too cool to enjoy the street scene. Spring sees more favourable temperatures again. But with so much greenery in Hanoi, it's gorgeous to see it make its way through gold to chocolate brown.

Autumn in Vietnam varies. The north, including Hanoi, features cooler climates and red and yellow leaves. Southern Vietnam and Cambodia are more tropical and shift to days of drizzling rain. 

Vietnam - Hanoi - Lotus seed pod

Sweet Deserts in Autumn in Hanoi

Rainy days and a drop in temperature, call for a warming dessert (even if it would still qualify as summer in the UK.)

Sweet Rice Soup

Banh troi tau or sweet rice soup mixes sticky rice and mung beans with sugar, coconut milk, grated ginger and toasted sesame. 

Lotus Seed Soup

Lotus seeds are prized for their medicinal qualities, but cooked with syrup they also make for a lovely autumnal dessert. 

Autumn in Hanoi - Vietnam - stone statue

Where to stay in Autumn in Hanoi

The Sofitel Hanoi on Ngo Quyen Street is not a beautiful hotel. At least, that’s not all it is.

Inside, it’s a living museum of literary and music history. Not mention something of a time capsule of a bygone age.

Related: Where to Eat in Hanoi

The entrance provides all the colonial-era architecture you might expect: crisp white walls, leafy green plants and deep, dark, polished wood. There’s immaculate service. Wine. Cocktails. Quiet attention. Cool air. Whirring fans.

Sofitel Legend Room

The rooms, too, soothe and inspire all but the most jaded of travellers. Some (ahem) may even be visited by a storm of literary inspiration! I’m not sure whether it was the varnished desk (plus the creative boost of TV and wifi access,) the slatted shutters, or the cream envelopes that did it. Or the soft, sumptuous bed (hey, you can’t write if you’re tired, can you? Can you?!)

Most of all, I think, it was the knowledge that Graham Greene wrote his classic novel on the American – Vietnam conflict from within this very building. He called it The Quiet American.

I’ve wondered before quite why it should matter what historic events took place in a destination, why it isn’t enough to simply know that something took place at a point in time without needing to revisit the point in space. When I come up with a beautiful and brilliant answer I’ll let you know.

Graham Greene wrote The Quiet American here...

In the meantime, I find that they do. From standing on the square where Hitler addressed a crowd to seeing the body of a pharaoh 4000 years after he lived, from standing in the dusty Paris office of Nobel prize winner Marie Curie to the birthplace of the International Red Cross, there’s a subtle, silver thread of connection that links people to the past through what we can see of the present.

And in that regard, the Sofitel Legend Metropole oozes in woven silver.

There’s more than just Graham Greene’s pursuits here, though. There’s a gallery of visitors, both distinguished and otherwise, ranging from Charlie Chaplin on his third honeymoon, to a beaming Bill Clinton, an athletic Jane Fonda and even James Bond himself in the form of Sir Roger Moore.

And then there’s the staircase.

Bomb Shelter Sofitel

Then there's the staircase...

The dark, damp one that extends into the earth from behind a locked door.

The hotel’s bomb shelter from the shadows of Vietnam war.*

It’s cramped and decidedly unpleasant. But it was here that guests would gather during the bombing raids that saw the city scramble for safety. Perhaps surprisingly, many of these guests were from the US.

Related: The Hanoi Water Puppets Show

One, a folk singer called Joan Baez, recorded the sound as the bombs rained down and used it as the background to her single Where are you my son? released later the same year.

After the end of the war, and a period of deliberate forgetfulness, some enterprising soul began using it as a wine cellar. And following a night of particularly intense embassy negotiations, an Australian diplomat ended up locked in here and decided to pass away the hours by sampling the produce and carving his name into the wall.

You can trace your fingers across the grooves in the stone today.

Joan Baez portrait in the lobby

Graham Greene Martinis

Back up in the lobby, it’s all bright light and tiled floors. The thatched Bamboo Bar serves Graham Greene martinis and a portrait hangs in the lobby from Joan Baez, who returned some years later to see Hanoi thriving in happier times.

Sweet pink macarons line the shelves of the French bakery where packets of tea sit in tins of black and gold. Meanwhile, Hanoi’s chilli and lime flavours clamour past in the thick humidity outside. Steve Job’s technicolour image broods one street corner while stacks of counterfeit books tell tales on the other.

Hanoi is pulsing its way through the 21st century and the Sofitel Legend Metropole hasn’t fallen behind. What it has done, though, is to take an ugly piece of time, preserve it and then gift wrap those silver threads of history for all to see but none to touch.

And so it’s so, so, so much more than just another beautiful hotel.


WHERE TO STAY: THE SOFITEL HANOI

You can check for the latest prices for the Sofitel Hanoi here. If you book or buy through this link, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Cheers!

What I loved

  • The pool – a chance to cool down after a sticky Hanoi evening.
  • The architecture
  • The historical artefacts – both literary and military
  • The French patisserie
  • The Bamboo Bar around the pool
  • The guide around the bunker
  • The location – just around the corner from central Hoan Kiem Lake.

What to know

  • Restaurants get booked up quick. Even if you’re staying at the hotel, you can’t always get a table so you’ll need to book well in advance.
  • The hotel has two parts – a newer wing and the older, historic part. Both are beautiful but if your main reason for visiting involves the history then make sure you’re in the right place.
  • Bunker tours are currently only available for hotel guests. Non residents can enjoy a cocktail in the bar, though, and visit the historical displays in the lobby.

Specs

  • 22 suites, 364 rooms
  • Wifi throughout
  • Ramps & wheelchair access
  • Business facilities & Parking
  • Concierge, delicatessen, money exchange & babysitters
  • Outdoor heated pool
  • Italian, French & Vietnamese restaurants
  • Prices start from $200 USD/night

Disclosure – I paid a reduced rate to stay here for review purposes. All literary musings and indulgences remain my own, as does everything I write here on Inside the Travel Lab.

* In Vietnam, it’s known as the American war.


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  • SAM WASSERMAN says:

    Excellent review of the hotel. Would consider staying there when in Hanoi.

    If you are still in Vietnam or environs,
    in the unlikely event that you have not yet visited or contemplated it
    (I am a new subscriber to your blog)you may wish to consider a side trip to :

    Hang Son Doong Mountain River Cave

    located in Nha-Ke Bang National Park

    near the border with Laos.

    I have not been there personally but
    It is on my bucket list of future travel
    locations.

    Happy travels,

    Sam

    • Thank you for your suggestions. I hope to get back to Vietnam one day – I’ve seen the south and a little of the north but there is, of course, plenty more to see. Cheers!

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