Backpacking and Beyond · Vicariously in Vietnam · World Lust

Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City? That is The Question

Vietnam is a big country that will guarantee you more than just beautiful places and scrumptious meals. Together with its unique culture, Vietnam has all the legitimate bragging rights. But then again, sometimes, a girl just got enough days to spare.

There’s a very obvious rivalry between the north and the south– who has the better food, who has better people, who really won the war, etc. and the more research you do about the two cities, the more confusing it might even get. The first time I (impulsively) decided to make a trip to Vietnam, the first thing I needed to know was which city was more appropriate for my liking. I’m writing this short comparison between the two cities to make it easy for you, future Vietnam travelers, because I know how daunting it can be to commit to one city when all you really want is…to see them all.

Early disclaimer: This short summary is written by someone who only spent a mere 3-4 days in each city. That said, this piece is designed mostly for those who seek a quick Vietnam getaway. Also a little biased by my personal experiences, do consider that your encounters may very much differ from mine.

So let’s get started! Do you belong in Hanoi or Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)? Let’s find out.

Now one of my main concern when traveling is the FOOD! It plays such an important role for me in determining cities I want to prioritize. It could also make or break a trip for me. This is exactly why despite how much I loved Bali, I don’t consider it one of my top favorite places. Vietnam, on the other hand, is a place I would go back to over and over and over again just for the food itself. Okay, so let’s get straight to the point. The food experience in both cities are GREAT. Hands down. But we all have our own preferences. For instance, northern Pho could very much differ from the southerners’. Hanoi pho has less garnish and fixings compared to Saigon’s. It’s more simple, but the broth is so rich and savory that you don’t really need to add any more– all the flavor’s in there. Saigon’s broth on the other hand has a little sweeter taste to it. In the end, I prefer Hanoi style pho…and Hanoi food overall. But the good thing about Saigon is that you can find Hanoi style restaurants all over the city!

Hanoi pho vs Saigon pho


Moving on to the sites and culture, if you’re big on history, Hanoi is probably a safer bet for you. Although Saigon has some pretty cool historical stories and places to share, Hanoi is more known as the historical hub of Vietnam. Walking through the Old Quarters of Hanoi is like living through history already. A friend of mine who lives in Vietnam simply put it this way; Hanoi is to Washington DC, as Ho Chi Minh City is to New York. Hanoi’s history to me shows more about the history of Vietnam in general, while Saigon’s history focuses more on Vietnam war, which incidentally is also covered by Hanoi as well.

Imperial Citadel of Thang Long and Hao Lo Prison Museum in Hanoi

In terms of scams, I’m not really the one to say which is more notorious than the other. When it comes to taxis, I got scammed on both cities and I still continue to get ripped off by drivers there. I’d say they’re just as bad (you can click here for a guide to avoid taxi scams) But outside the world of transportation, I came across more cunning schemes in Saigon. For instance, my excitement for a true Vietnamese mani-pedi experience was shattered when they barely really cleaned my traveling nails and half-assed their nail polish job. On top of that, they charged me more than what was advertised! Feeling stupid, I was pretty much over Ho Chi Minh City by then.

When it comes to nightlife, everyone would recommend Saigon in a heartbeat. Sadly, when I made plans to experience the Ho Chi Minh nightlife, it fell on a Tet season (Vietnamese new year) which means most establishments were closed. So although I can’t speak for Saigon, I will say I’ve heard enough stories that I would actually just take others’ word for it. But then agaiiiiiiin…. I did experience Hanoi’s social scene in the Old Quarters and it happens to be one of my best night out abroad so far. First, you have to understand that my idea of a good night life NO LONGER includes night clubs and glitz and glamour. If that’s what you’re looking for, then yes, Saigon is definitely the one. Old Quarter night life is more in a touristy/backpacker setting, although we’re surrounded by locals as well. Picture a street filled with tiny chairs and tables with craft beer for as low as…less than a dollar. If you’re about that laid back setting but still prefer to be in Saigon, Pham Ngu Lao is the backpackers district there which pretty much offers a similar taste of Old Quarters’ nightlife.

Shopping in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are quite similar. It all just depends on your bargaining skills. You’ve got the night markets right in the middle of the Old Quarters in Hanoi, and you’ve got the Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh. They have pretty similar products for sale, although I can’t really distinguish which offers better prices. Like I said, it just really comes down to the universal shopping law in Southeast Asia– haggling.

Hanoi shopping

If you’re considering out of town trips, both cities are close to some amazing places. From Hanoi, you can reach the UNESCO Heritage Site of Halong Bay, or you may even take a train to reach the mountains and rice terraces of Sapa. From Saigon, you can experience the local life along the Mekong Delta. It’s basically a win-win situation.

Ha Long Bay of the north vs The Mekong Delta of the south

Finally, for the overall experience, which includes the people, I genuinely find Hanoi locals to be much nicer than the southerners. Yes, it’s possible that my negative experiences has impaired my vision, but everyone in Hanoi just felt so welcoming. Probably not the taxi drivers, but everyone just showed such kindness and warmth in Hanoi, as compared to the *hospitality* (or lack thereof) that I received in Saigon. From a hotel room upgrade to genuine locals teaching us how to properly experience Vietnamese food (without speaking a word of English), Hanoi instantly became a favorite. So after all is said and done, yes, I loved Hanoi, and I was not a fan of Ho Chi Minh City at all. In the end, Hanoi has won me over.

Entertainment in the streets of Saigon

Now to summarize this, this is basically what it comes down to:

HANOIhistory, more savory pho, less scams (taxi not included), near Halong Bay and Sapa, laid back night life, and nicer people.

SAIGONpoppin’ night life, more variety of food (since they offer Hanoi style), near Mekong Delta.

Hopefully, this short comparison guide makes it easier for you to choose which one fits your interest more. I apologize if I was a bit biased, but hey, I can only write with honesty from my own experience, right? Anyway, good luck, and whichever city you choose, it’s really just a matter of how you make the most of it 😉

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85 thoughts on “Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City? That is The Question

  1. Great timing on this post! I’m off to Hanoi and Ha Long Bay in November but have too little time to also do Saigon on my trip. I feel I prioritiesed the right part of Vietnam for me this time! Thanks

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  2. I have been to both several times (since in live in SG) and I actually think HCM is way better 🙂 but these things are always very personal and I find that we can’t generalize so here’s to a great trip for anyone going to either!

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  3. I’m still waiting to get to Vietnam. I’m making my way around Southeast Asia but it’s on my list. Living in Singapore gives me the chance to get there on the cheap so I have no excuse. Thanks for pointing out some great spots, I’ll definitely use your advice.

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  4. Really enjoyed reading this. I found Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh to be very different cities. I found Hanoi to be more European and westernised and I am not saying that in a bad way. We have friends who live in Hanoi so we got to see lots of local places and I loved it. However, I really did enjoy Ho Chi Minh, which I found to be more traditional. Loved the food everywhere.

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  5. I’m actually planning to go to Vietnam in 2016 or 2017 and this is a great guide! I think I am also more the Hanoi-girl, considering your article. You had me the latest at “a street filled with tiny chairs and tables with craft beer for as low as…less than a dollar”. Can I ask you where you stayed in both of the cities? Can you recommend a hostel/hotel?

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    1. You will absolutely love it. In Ho Chi Minh, I stayed at a capsule hostel at the Pham Ngu Lao district called Hong Kong Kaiteki. It was nice and clean and I liked the privacy of my capsule. In Hanoi, I stayed at Hanoi Legacy Hotel Hoan Kiem. There are more than one branch in Old Quarter, I actually ended up at the wrong one but they still accepted us and even upgraded us to a bigger room. They possibly have the best customer service I’ve had in southeast Asia!

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  6. It’s interesting to find out more about the cities from someone who stayed there for just a few days. An interesting perspective! In the end, we choose one place or another based on personal preferences, so research is in order!

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  7. I have never gone to places aside from our local tourist spots here. Reading your post, I have learned that when traveling the important things to always remember is food, taxi (means of transportation), and culture. I will take them note well. Who knows I would be travelling to a nearby Asian countries. – Gil camporazo

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  8. I’ve only been to Saigon or Ho Chi Minh and yet to visit Hanoi. I’d want to explore from North to South and hope to see more of the local culture as well, however varied they may be. -Claire Algarme

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  9. Been to both parts of the Country, but i didnt know i havent covered so many places yet after reading your post about it. Time to plan a trip back to Vietnam 😀

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  10. Love the article. Having been to both places I can see why it’s a difficult question to answer! While I loved both, I guess my preference would depend on my mood! In HCMC you definitely had to keep your hands in your pockets and watch your back a bit more ( getting ripped off as soon as I arrived at the airport quickly comes to mind ). However there is probably more variety and touristy stuff to do as well as a few more food options. Hanoi is more laid back and orderly. As far as the pho….I think I’d have to go with HCMC on that one!!!

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  11. My husband has been all around Southeast Asia; yet, Vietnam is a place he wouldn’t want to visit again. Thankfully, after reading him your post he seems to be a little more open to it. I think there was a lot going on for him at the time, he had a bad reaction to his malaria medication. :/ But! Here’s to hoping to won’t be to hard to drag him back. 😀 Hanoi looks more fitted to us but I am sure we’ve visit both. 🙂

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  12. Hanoi, I’ve only encountered it when I was still an avid KDrama watcher. Saw the film in a Korean movie once. Hope I get to visit it someday exclusively for a food trip. 🙂

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  13. Why not both! LOL

    HCMC is the business centre of vietnam and I love it’s vibrancy. Hanoi is the centre of governance and a pretty old with it’s old centre… and really Danang’s beaches are lovely, while Hoi Anne is pretty too. So many places, so little time!

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  14. I have been to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, personally I prefer Hanoi and Halong Bay compared to the busy city of Saigon. Saigon is for food and shopping at Ben Thanh Market. Perhaps you can try go to Hoi Ann at Danang.

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  15. Get ready vietnam! You’re on my priority list. This makes me think more of vietnam. However, I haven’t booked a flight for Vietnam this year yet. My calendar was filled with local and other international travels yet. But it’s on the top places for next year!

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  16. I had already been to HCM City before, so definitely it will be Hanoi the next time I visit Vietnam. Thank you for encouraging me about visiting Hanoi with your recommendations about it. – Fred

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  17. Yes yes yes! I LOVE Hanoi! People say Saigon’s nightlife is better but I’m TOTALLY with you – my nights out in Hanoi were some of the best nights of my entire 18 month trip. Nothing beats bia hoi! The side trips are better (Halong Bay, Sapa, Ninh Binh), the people are friendlier, the atmosphere has more character to it (Saigon feels like a city, Hanoi feels exotic and crazy), the history is more rounded, I just loved it!

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  18. Wow! This is definitely what I am looking for. You nailed it girl, haha. Just the affirmation I needed, I was really having a hard time which one to visit since I only have 7 days with a big luggage. I have to pick between north or south but now I am pretty sure I will go to Hanoi. Thank you! 🙂

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