When the motorbikes all pull over, the raincoats come out and vendors turn in, you know it’s raining in Hanoi.
Famous for its organized chaos, the 1000-year-old city shows a different side during a downpour; roads and sidewalks empty half their contents, Hoan Kiem and West Lake lie dappled in droplets, and ancient walls and waterstains become saturated in colour.
Hanoi’s character is inseparable from its weather, but for travellers spending only a few days in the city, the rain can put a literal damper on well-laid plans. Which is why we’ve condensed the best rainy day ideas from the Metropole and friends into the recommendations below. Any one of these should tide you over well until the sun comes out:
• Make your way to a Museum — Most likely, you were planning to visit one of these anyway. An unexpected rain shower is an opportunity to learn more about Vietnam’s colourful culture and history. For a few enlightening hours indoors, we suggest the History Museum
• Call up the Spa — If there’s a sound more deeply soothing than that of falling rain, we’ve yet to hear it. Take advantage of the relaxing weather with a massage at Le Spa du Metropole. Take a long soak in your en-suite Jacuzzi, and then curl up with a cup of tea in the Bamboo Bar.
• Gather round a Hot Pot — Vietnamese Cau Lau, or hotpot, is a highly sociable way to enjoy a meal. Diners act as cooks, plunging fresh vegetables, meat, seafood and tofu into a pot of gently boiling broth set over an open flame in the middle of the table. The flavourful warm soup and leisurely preparation are even more enjoyable in rainy weather. Head to Phu Yen Street for your pick of Lau restaurants.
• Check out the Art Scene — The art world has high hopes for contemporary Vietnamese art to appreciate over the next few years. Visitors can browse works by some of the country’s best painters and up-and-coming artists in galleries on Hang Bong St. Keep an eye out for Apricot Gallery, Salon Natasha and Mai Gallery, all featured in write ups by the New York Times. Don’t worry about baggage restrictions; if you find something you like, they will ship it home for you.
• Sign up for a Class — The Hanoi Cooking School is a popular choice for foodies to get their first introduction into a Vietnamese kitchen, but there are plenty of options around the capital for beginners and improvers alike. For the artsy traveller, traditional arts lessons in skills such as lacquer ware painting and woodcarving are regularly on offer at specialized shops and studios, just be sure to call in advance.
Aside from these suggestions, there are countless ways to pass the time pleasantly indoors in Hanoi. Vietnam boasts a robust coffee culture, and if you’re the type to settle in with a good book for hours, check out Avalon cafe overlooking Hoan Kiem, or the bohemian-ish Hanoi Social Club. For stylish, locally made souvenirs, embroidery and fashion, visit Tan My Design’s fabulous three-storey outlet on Hang Gai. Top international designer labels can be found just across the street from the Metropole at LUALA and in Vincom Tower, which also houses an English movie theatre.
If you still feel the urge to explore, you can take to the streets like a local. A flimsy plastic poncho in a shade of your choosing will only set you back a few US cents. Don these carefully to avoid tearing, and you’re on your way.