It's that time of year again: when every venture outdoors is followed by a shower. Or at least the desire for one. Where we feel as if we are liquid forms of ourselves, slipping on our own sweat and potentially melting into the sidewalk. If somewhere doesn't have aircon, we don't even consider going. The freezing and dismal winter is a distant memory, despite the fact that we were complaining about the cold a mere six weeks ago.
Summer comes on strong in Hanoi, we don't get much warning apart from two weeks of perfect weather, followed by two weeks of torrential downpour, and then it hits in full force. This week the weather ranged between 35 to 39C/95-102F. Kind of a big leap. Personally, I'm not complaining, I'm a warm weather kind of person. I prefer bright colors and heat coming from the sun rather than a remote control. Sure, there are drawbacks to intense heat, but for me, the world is a better place when the temperature is higher. Not only is the sky brighter, the colors more vivid, but people tend to smile more. The frenzy slows down and we start to unwind.
I grew up in Florida, so I'm pretty accustomed to hot climates, however, this kind of heat is more extreme than even the most blazing month in Palm Beach. For those who are new to this type of weather it can be a little overwhelming, but there are tricks to dealing with it:
1. Hydrate. This is pretty obvious but during Hanoi summers you need to go on hydration overdrive. Always carry a water bottle with you. Luckily, there are no shortages of beverages in Hanoi, both sit down and to go. Sugarcane juice (Mia da) is one of the most summertime juices. Stands can be found pretty much all over the city, look for stalks of sugarcane next to a big metal machine. Stands are especially prevalent on Doi Can. Tra Chanh is also a perfect summertime drink. It translates to ice lemon tea but the taste is different than you'd expect. the perfect blend of sweet, tangy, and refreshing. The most popular spot for this is on Ly Quoc Su/Nha Tho. Coconut juice also on the side of the road you can buy coconuts which can easily be turned into a beverage with a quick machete chop and a straw. Fresh fruit juice a lot of restaurants and street stalls offer fresh fruit juice. As in you point to the fruit you want and they blend it right then and there. No additives, no preservatives, and they taste amazing. The one I frequent is on Hang Bong, almost at Dien Bien Phu. I think it's like 138 Hang Bong. Also The Cart (Tho Xuong, Au Co) does amazing fruit juices and Hanoi Social Club (6 Hoi Vu) is famous for its slushies. Also, Red River Tea Room (25 Xuân Diệu) is a lovely place for drinks. Finally, crazy as it sounds, hot beverages actually facilitate cooling processes in our bodies. It might seem like the last thing you want in sweltering temperatures, but it actually works. If you don't believe me then read this.
2. Eat. If you're like me, the hotter the weather, the less hungry you are. It's very easy for me to go the entire day without eating on a boiling hot day, simply because the idea of food makes me feel heavier and sick. But not eating is dangerous, for many reasons, but especially in high temperatures, as you can pass out.
3. Get a good tailor. Once it gets to a certain temperature I spend a lot of time figuring out how I can wear as little as possible and still look professional. I am often jealous of men because it is so easy for them to be effortlessly yet appropriately dressed for events: dress pants, button down, decent shoes and they're done. They can even recycle daily and no one would notice. Women, on the other hand, we have to change it up, people notice. However, my jealousy ceases in the summer, because there is no part of me that wants to be in a suit. I pity my poor guy friends working in the city. I'm digressing a bit: It's actually really easy to dress appropriately and minimally if you're a woman. Shift dresses are my best friend. I have countless. Pick a style, go to your tailor, ask her to copy it in a lightweight cotton material and you're good to go. Men, you can probably get lighter weight shirts and dress pants made if you wanted...
4. Invest in good sunglasses. I love going to Luong Van Can and adding to my sunglasses collection for $5, but as stylish and versatile as a shopping spree there can make you, most of the glasses there are not polarized, which is very dangerous for your eyes. Get a decent pair for the peak sun hours.
5. Stock your apartment with candles, flashlights, and battery operated fans. I daresay anyone makes it through the summer without at least one power cut. We never know when they're coming and they're also never convenient. There is nothing like waking up in the middle of the night in drenched sheets, or losing power at 9pm and fumbling around a dark apartment. That's why having the items listed above can really help. Battery operated fans can offer some relief and the candles/flashlights make sure we can find our essential items.
6. Wear sunblock. I'm not just talking about when you're at the beach or pool, sunblock should be worn all the time when out and about in Hanoi. Coming from someone who spends a significant amount of time driving around outside I can safely say it's possible to get burned (or hideous tan lines) in just a 15 minute drive.
7. Find a cool sanctuary. Pools are hot spots in the summer, filled with people wanting to get tan as well as get relief from the sun beating down on them. However you can't spend every moment at the pool or your apartment, so see if you can find another spot that you can escape to. I'd tell you mine, but I'd prefer to keep it a secret. :)
8. Carry an umbrella and raincoat. Hanoi's weather is as unpredictable as the traffic. One second you can be wiping the sweat from your brow and then next minute there is a torrential downpour. Unless you enjoy showing up soaking wet, keep an umbrella and slicker handy.
9. Clean out your air con. This may be a job for your landlord, but your air conditioner filter needs to be cleaned regularly. If not, it can distribute dirt, particles, etc and you're more likely to get sick. our bodies are already adjusting enough from extreme hot-to-colds, that adding in dirty air is just asking for a mid summer sinus infection.
10. Enjoy all the city has to offer. Hanoi is always buzzing, but the city has a certain energy when the temperatures turn tropical. It's the season for: black tie events, national days. barbecues, concerts, rooftop bars, picnics, boat cruises, piknic electronica, road trips. Hanoi is at its finest and should be experienced to the fullest. (Good rooftop bars include: Don's, Marilynn, Bar Betta, Bank, 13 Hai Ba Trung, Commune, Summit Lounge, Rooftop, and Sunset Bar-which isn't a rooftop but still beautiful in the summer) Not to mention all of the amazing outdoor cafes situated all over the city. Another huge perk in the summer is that a lot of high end restaurants offer really great specials. A gourmet meal for $6 is never a bad thing.
11. Escape the city. Flights are cheap. Motorbikes are even cheaper. Hop on your bike and go to Mai Chau, Hai Giang, Tam Do, or Ninh Binh. Get on a plane and go to Hoi An, Dalat, or Con Dao. The break will revitalize you and it's a good way to explore other places in this beautiful country. Or travel internationally. Summertime means beaches: so hop over to Thailand, Malaysia, or my personal favorite, Bali, for some fun in the sun.
12. Remember that you wished for this. I received an endless slew of messages in December and January lamenting about the weather. "It's so cold, it's miserable. When will this be over? I hate it!" We begged for summer to show its face, yet once it arrives we forget so quickly just how dismal the winter months are in Hanoi.
13. Keep a supply of babywipes. I love baby wipes, they can be used for so many things. Winter or summer, I always have them in my purse, but in the summer they especially come in handy. It's no secret that we feel gross and grimy almost seconds after we step outside, and babywipes are a good way to alleviate that, and help us freshen up in between showers.
14. Disregard your vanity. Tis the season to embrace your natural beauty. Or accept that you don't have any (kidding) It's almost impossible to look sexy when you're profusely sweating. You can lie to yourself and say you're "glistening" but that's just denial. Now this is more difficult for women, since we're more likely to be wearing makeup/styling our hair, and in the summer the make up melts and our hair misbehaves. Try as we may, getting glammed up is a difficult, but not a complete impossibility. Women: the high bun is a perfect solution for hair issues. It's elegant, it's easy to do, and it keeps your neck cool. If you want to wear your hair down, may I suggest beach waves: shower, towel dry, scrunch hair with mouse or salt water, let air dry, light hairspray. For make up: tinted moisturizer, no concealer foundation, liquid blush (like benetint by Benefit), waterproof mascara, and the ultimate summer makeup item is bright colored lipstick. Wearing a bright pink or red gives the illusion that you're more dressed up than you actually are, and they're fun. Pedicure are also a summer must-do.
15. Throw a party. Hanoi is a great place to have a party. If you don't want to have something at home, most bars will let you use their spaces for free, but you can also make use of the green areas near Tay Ho, or the "beach" along the Red River just under the bridge to have a fun, laid back gathering. Grab a cooler, some beverages, pack some snacks, throw on a bathing suit, create a playlist and gather. This is a unique and cool experience, one that you can look forward to while planning and reminisce about fondly when it's over.
These tips aren't foolproof and won't ensure that summer will be painless. I, just like everyone else, will lament and grumble, but for the most part, they should help. No matter how much we complain, we love it here, even when the wind is blowing like a hairdryer in our face. Happy Summer!
*thanks everyone for being overly excited or pessimistic about the summer, our conversations helped contribute to the post. Thanks especially to BT for reminding me certain fantastic things about the summer