Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are vibrant urban destinations in Vietnam. If you have the time, you’ll want to visit both but if you’re on a flying trip to Vietnam Here are some tips on whether to choose to spend time in Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City.
Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City – The Vibe
Vietnam’s intriguing history is coloured by thousands of years of Chinese rule, colonisation by the French and communism when the country became the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Although Vietnam spent a large part of the 20th century at war, younger generations of Vietnamese today are optimistic about the future. The vibe in both cities is one of optimism and there are plenty of things to do in Hanoi and a heap more things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.
The capital, Hanoi, lies on the banks of the Red River and is a city of lakes and green parks. As the former French administrative centre, its boulevards are lined with old French colonial buildings. Hanoi is also the cultural centre of Vietnam with mysterious pagodas, temples and museums.
Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon, once the capital of South Vietnam) is a chaotic economic centre with bustling markets and motorbike-packed streets.
Grand colonial buildings and wide boulevards are reminiscent of the days when it was known as the Paris of the Orient.
Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City – Local transport
Hanoi – Cyclo around the old quarter
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is a charming part of the city. A quintessential Hanoi experience is to ride through the Old Quarter in a three-wheeled bicycle-powered rickshaw, or cyclo.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is a maze of ancient merchant shop-houses with a chaotic bazaar-like atmosphere created by merchants and shoppers.
Ho Chi Minh City – Get on a Motorbike
Once packed with push bikes, the streets of Ho Chi Minh City now swirl with 100cc motorbikes which are the main form of transportation for the city’s population of over six million people.
For the visitor, a motorbike ride is a daunting but rather thrilling way of experiencing the city’s vibrant atmosphere.
Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City – The Food
Wherever you go in Vietnam, whether it’s Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City or the countryside, you’ll be rewarded with fresh, delicious and flavoursome dishes. Vietnamese cuisine is accented with lemongrass, turmeric and mint.
Pho, which is a Vietnamese noodle soup with green vegetables and meat, is the national dish and Hanoi is the place to try Pho. The good news is you can taste the best Pho in the world for around $1.
The French left a legacy that peppered Vietnam’s cuisine. You can experience this by ordering a plate of escargot at a roadside stall in Ho Chi Minh City. Saigon also as a good selection of international restaurants and a vibrant cafe culture.
Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City – French architecture
The French formed Indochina (what is known today as Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) in 1887, leaving a legacy of elegant French architecture.
Both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City were left a legacy of French-style buildings.
Landmarks in Hanoi include the Opera House, the Presidential Palace and Ho Chi Minh’s house. Hanoi’s Opera House is particularly charming and worth a closer look.
Ho Chi Minh City’s French heritage includes historic hotels, the Neo-Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral and the Gustave Eiffel-designed General Post Office.
Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City – the weather
Hanoi is in the north. Located on the Red River Delta, Hanoi has humid and we summers while winter is cooler and dry. The best time to visit Hanoi is from September to November and March to May.
Ho Chi Minh City is in the south. The climate here is tropical and the best time to go is during the dry season, between December and April.
Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City – War history
Ho Chi Minh City: Cu Chi tunnels
The Cu Chi tunnels once stretched over 250 km, underground, from the Cambodian border to the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City.
The North Vietnamese Viet Cong army used these tunnels to mount surprise attacks which won them victory over the South Vietnamese.
The tunnels, which began in 1948, were dug entirely with hand tools.
Hanoi: Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Hanoi was where Ho Chi Minh (the Vietnamese guerilla leader and first president of North Vietnam) was based and fought for Vietnam’s independence from the French. Ho Chi Minh died in 1969 before Saigon fell.
In Hanoi, soak up history at Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House behind his final resting place and visit Ho Chi Minh who is embalmed on public display at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
If you’re looking for more ideas, Mindful Travel in Vietnam is a guide to sustainable and responsible travel in Vietnam.