Vietnam Cities – Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam Cities – Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City

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Photos: Christina Pfeiffer

Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are vibrant urban destinations in Vietnam. Here’s our guide of what to do when visiting Vietnam cities.

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 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.

Traditional Vietnamese folk dancing

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Traditional Vietnamese dancing

Since the dawn of Vietnamese culture, traditional folk dances were a channel for emotional expression.

There are 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam and hundreds of different traditional folk dances.

Dances are usually performed at festivals and celebrations where skilful performers dazzle the crowds with graceful moves and extravagant costumes.

Cyclo around Hanoi’s old quarter

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Cyclo around Hanoi’s historic centre

A quintessential Hanoi experience is to ride through the Old Quarter in a three-wheeled bicycle-powered rickshaw, or cyclo. Many cyclos are pedalled by lean elderly riders.

Hanoi’s Old Quarter is a maze of ancient merchant shop-houses. It has a chaotic bazaar-like atmosphere created by merchants and shoppers.

There are cyclos everywhere in Vietnam. Here is a video of a fantastic cyclo tour in Hue.

Motorbike around Ho Chi Minh City

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Motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City

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.

Admire French architecture

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Hanoi’s Opera House

The French formed Indochina (what is known today as Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) in 1887, leaving a legacy of elegant French architecture.

Landmarks in Hanoi include the Opera House, the Presidential Palace and Ho Chi Minh’s house. Ho Chi Minh City’s French heritage includes historic hotels, the Neo-Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral and the Gustave Eiffel-designed General Post Office.

Watch a water puppet theatre show in Hanoi

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Water puppets, Hanoi, Vietnam

The ancient art of Vietnamese water puppetry has its origins in the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam.

The puppeteers stand in a pond, river or pool and operate hand-carved painted wooden puppets using rods and wires from behind a bamboo screen.

Vietnam’s top puppet troupes travel the world performing ancient Vietnamese legends.

Crawl around the Cu Chi tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City

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Cu Chi tunnels, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The Cu Chi tunnels once stretched over 250 kilometres 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.

Discover Vietnam

If you’re looking for more ideas, Mindful Travel in Vietnam is a guide to sustainable and responsible travel in Vietnam.

While in Vietnam, visit the charming city of Hue, which is a delightful destination to see temples and monks.

things to do in haoi and ho chi minh city

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Christina Pfeiffer
I'm a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia, when I'm not on the road. I've lived in three continents and my career as a travel journalist has take be to all seven continents. Since 2003, I have contributed travel stories 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. I have won many travel writing awards and I'm a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.


  1. Worth mention that Vietnam doesn’t just have a load of nice destinations like Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi but it is quite the culinary destination as well. Great regional foods and plenty of French influence that makes dishes here quite unique and different to what you find throughout the rest of SE Asia.

    Don’t pass up the opportunity to enjoy a few bowls of local Pho Bo during your visit.

    • This is a useful roundup of where to eat in HCMC. Is McDonalds expensive compared to a local noodle shop? Is it considered a luxury? Was just wondering if many locals eat McDonalds over there.

      • Good questions. I didn’t eat at the McD we saw in HCMC so can’t say for certain if locals like it or if its simply a comfort food hot spot for backpackers. As for prices, generally speaking Western fast-food places like McDonalds, Burger King and KFC are much cheaper in less developed countries compared to what you might find at their franchises back home. However, they are usually more expensive than eating at local eateries in cities like HCMC.


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