Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City: How to choose

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Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are vibrant urban destinations with a combination of cool places and famous landmarks in Vietnam to see. 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.

For more things to do in Vietnam, read:

Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City – Local transport

Hanoi – Cyclo around the old quarter

ho chi minh city 4
Cyclo around Hanoi’s historic centre

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

ho chi minh city 2
Motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City

Once packed with pushbikes, 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.

Riding motorbikes is part of modern culture in Ho Chi Minh City and exploring the city by choosing one of the many Ho Chi Minh motorbike tours means you’ll get the chance to see the sights like a local.

I wouldn’t recommend riding a motorbike on your own, especially if you’re not used to it.

The traffic is rather chaotic and negotiating a sea of motorbikes.

An easier way to experience this is to sign up for a motorbike tour where you ride with a local guide who knows the ropes.

Ho Chi Minh City motorbike tours
Ho Chi Minh motorbike tours are an inexpensive and fun way to explore like a local.

Explore Ho Chi Minh City’s suburbs across the river by motorbike. 

Ho Chi Minh motorbike tour.
The Thu Thiem Ferry leads to local Ho Chi Minh attractions on the other side of the river on a Ho Chi Minh motorbike tour.

A motorbike is a good way to experience real life in Saigon.

Take the Thu Thiem ferry, which is packed so tightly with motorbikes you’re almost rubbing shoulders with the other riders and passengers.

woman on a bicycle in Saigon
A local woman on a bicycle on the other side of the river in Saigon is one of the local sights on a Ho Chi Minh motorbike tour.

At the other side of the river, ride around the back streets and discover life as it is today in the suburbs of Saigon.

There are rows of single-storey terrace homes with doors thrown wide open, children playing badminton on the streets and workers sipping coffee at open-air roadside stalls.

Stop along the main road to sample water-coconuts being sold out of the back of a wooden boat moored along the banks of one of the river tributaries.

Check out this list of motorbike tours in Ho Chi Minh City.


Here is a selection of Ho Chi Minh City motorbike tours. They are inexpensive and fun.


Looking for somewhere to stay in Ho Chi Minh City?

Compare prices of hotels here

Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City – The Food

vietnamese pho
Vietnamese food is fresh and delicious in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

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.

Ho Chi Minh City

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.

Pham Ngu Lao
A roadside escargot stall in Pham Ngu Lao is a local food attraction in Ho Chi Minh City.

Ride through the Pham Ngu Lao area, which is popular with backpackers for its cheap hotels and snail stalls.

I tried two kinds of snails from a roadside stall.

The first was a small scroll-shaped seaside specimen cooked in coconut milk and lemongrass sauce while the second was a round rice-field dweller that tasted like mussels.

Discover Ho Chi Minh City’s food by motorbike here.

Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City – French architecture

Hanoi Opera House
The Hanoi Opera House wins the prize of best 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.

French Colonial Architecture in Ho Chi Minh City 
Ho Chi Minh City attractions
The Majestic Hotel is one of the historic Ho Chi Minh attractions to explore by motorbike.

Ho Chi Minh City’s French heritage includes historic hotels, the Neo-Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral and the Gustave Eiffel-designed General Post Office.

Scoot past what was once Saigon’s premier luxury hotel, the Majestic, a 1925 French colonial building on the corner of what used to be Rue Catinat and the waterfront Quai de Belgique.

Pull up outside the Majestic for a peek. Inside, its marble-floors and pillared lobby evoke memories of colonial times.

The city’s oldest hotel, the Continental was made famous by Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American.

Opposite, dominating Lam Son Square, the stately architecture of the Saigon Opera House stands regally beside manicured lawns complete with French-style fountains.

There’s the city’s train station-like General Post Office which was designed by Gustave Eiffel, the architect of the eponymous tower, and the neo-romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral, the Reunification Palace, originally built as the home of the French Governor-General.

The palace played a symbolic role in the fall of Saigon in April 1975 when its gates were breached by North Vietnamese tanks and the victors’ flag flown from the balcony.

Check out these Ho Chi Minh City motorbike tours here.

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.

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Christina Pfeiffer Travel Writer
Christina Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia. She has lived in three continents and her career as a travel journalist has taken her to all seven continents. Since 2003, she has contributed travel stories and photographs to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. She has won many travel writing awards and is a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.