Planning a visit to Vietnam and don’t know whether to visit Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City? You’re not alone! These two cities at opposite ends of this diverse country offer visitors such different things that many people struggle to choose which one to visit.
Ho Chi Minh City is a bustling cosmopolitan place characterized by tireless energy, an international population, and a thoroughly modern outlook. Hanoi, in comparison, holds firm to its history and offers a glimpse of a far more traditional way of life. Each city is uniquely wonderful and showcases a different side of this fascinating country.
If you’re unsure which appeals to you most, we’re here to help. We’ve broken down the highlights, cost, climate, cuisine, nightlife, and culture of these two cities to help you choose: Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.
Hanoi Or Ho Chi Minh: Vibe
Hanoi is the cultural capital of Vietnam as well as the actual capital. It’s a city steeped in history and staunchly resists the modernization that Ho Chi Minh City so embraces. It has a more old-fashioned charm, with narrow streets, traditional markets, historic quarters, and old Vietnamese houses. Yet it has not avoided all outside influences. The years of French colonial rule are apparent in the cafe culture, the excellent bakeries, the wide leafy avenues, and the gothic and colonial buildings that rub shoulders with the Vietnamese shopfronts. This blend of cultures, plus the rather European climate creates an exciting east-meets-west fusion that appeals to visitors.
Ho Chi Minh City, once known as Saigon, might not be the actual capital anymore but it remains its economic center and retains a sense of its own importance. Ho Chi Minh City has been heavily influenced by not just French but also American culture and has embraced modernity and westernization in a way that Hanoi has not. It’s home to sleek skyscrapers, cutting-edge shopping malls, international restaurants, fast food chains, edgy bars, and slick hotels. It has a youthful, innovative energy and attracts many international visitors each year, not just tourists but ex-pats and workers for its cutting edge business and technology sectors.
Conclusion: Which one you choose depends on whether you like your cities modern and manic, or laid back and historic.
Hanoi Or Ho Chi Minh: Highlights
In Ho Chi Minh City, it’s all about wandering the streets, absorbing the crazy pace and sights of life in the city. But you should also try to:
- Visit the War Remnants Museum for a sobering look at the war that still looms large in the country’s psyche. Then take a tip out of the city to the Cu Chi tunnels to see the innovative methods the soldiers used during the war.
- Take your life in your hands as you cross the city’s famously mad roads filled with weaving, dodging scooters. An experience most tourists never forget!
- Enjoy the blend of architecture as you see the gothic Notre Dame Cathedral, colonial Saigon City Hall, and Vietnamese Reunification Palace, sitting alongside the ultra-modern steel and glass skyscrapers.
- Take a scooter tour of the city, enjoy the (relatively) peaceful French Quarter, and pick up souvenirs from amongst the thousands of stalls at Ben Thanh Market.
- Get out of the city and take a boat tour on the Mekong Delta to see traditional villages and learn how vital the river system is to Vietnamese life.
In Hanoi, the cultural capital of Vietnam, you’ll not be short of sights. But be sure to:
- Visit the old quarter with its fascinating history and maze of streets filled with Vietnamese shop fronts, pagodas, and workshops.
- Enjoy the mix of authentic Vietnamese architecture pressed up against gothic masterpieces such as the Opera House and Saint Joseph’s Cathedral.
- Soak up the serenity of Hoan Kiem Lake, the focal point of the city. Visit Ngoc Son Temple on the island, then join the locals doing tai chi on the shore.
- Catch a show at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Hanoi is renowned for this 11th-century art form which originated in the paddy fields.
- Take day trips to visit the hill tribes and paddy fields of Mai Chau. Or visit one of the most beautiful spots in Vietnam, the otherworldly Halong Bay.
Conclusion: cultural and historic sights are abundant in both cities, so your choice might come down to which specific sights or day trips you would prefer.
Hanoi Or Ho Chi Minh: Food
We’re not capable of talking about Vietnam without mentioning the food. Hanoi has a reputation for being a foodie paradise. It’s known for its excellent traditional Vietnamese cuisine, budget-friendly street food, and for making the best and most authentic Pho, the country’s national dish.
Ho Chi Minh City is not short on Pho, street food, or traditional Vietnamese restaurants, but where it really excels is diversity. Thanks to the vast numbers of tourists and ex-pats living there, you’ll find more global cuisines in Ho Chi Minh City than in the rest of the country combined. Plus an interesting modern fusion scene.
Conclusion: Hanoi for the authenticity of traditional Vietnamese cuisine. Ho Chi Minh for more international and fusion choices.
Hanoi Or Ho Chi Minh: Nightlife
Ho Chi Minh City knows how to party! And thanks to its diverse visitor base – from backpackers to business travelers to honeymooners – it’s got something to suit all styles. You can find everything from cheap backpacker beers at the night markets to swanky rooftop cocktail lounges and exclusive nightclubs. Chilled evening drinks or all-night parties, you can find it all here in the best part city in Vietnam.
Whereas Hanoi’s nightlife is much more laid back, it starts early, ends early, and centers around the quintessentially Vietnamese tradition of Bia Hoi. Each evening the streets and squares, especially in the old quarter, fill up with people drinking glasses of cheap local beer on tiny plastic stools. Sip, chat, and people-watch while consuming small plates of noodles and fried pork. It’s a very cheap, sociable, enjoyable way to spend an evening, but it does tend to end around 11 pm. You can continue to one of the city’s few clubs, but the nightlife is definitely less active than down south.
Conclusion: for swanky clubs, late-night revelry, and plenty of options, head to Hoh Chi Minh. But for laid-back Bia Hoi on a budget, it has to be Hanoi.
Hanoi Or Ho Chi Minh: Shopping
Shopping is a major reason why people visit Vietnam. The country is renowned for its authentic silks, handmade crafts, and bespoke tailoring. But which of these cities offers you the best retail experience?
Well, Hanoi has superior traditional products. The old quarter is filled with markets and shops selling silks, textiles, embroidery, silverware, and carved wood and stone sculptures. The family-run tailors and colonial-era shops seem like relics from another era and provide an authentic, enjoyable shopping experience. Hanoi Night Market is a must for shoppers in the city.
Ho Chi Minh City still has some traditional shopping enclaves, such as Ben Thanh Market, where you’ll find all manner of authentic – and not so authentic – Vietnamese souvenirs and can practice haggling over them. But you’ll also find many modern shopping malls complete with air conditioning, western chain brands, and luxury designer goods.
Conclusion: Hanoi for traditional Vietnamese goods, Ho Chi Minh City for shopping malls, and a more modern shopping experience.
Hanoi Or Ho Chi Minh: Climate
Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi lie over 1000km apart and experience very different climates. Northern Hanoi has a subtropical climate that sees four seasons with hot, sometimes scorching summers and winters that can surprise visitors with how cold they are.
In summer, the heat can reach the high 30s and be quite humid and oppressive but spring, March through May, is the perfect time to visit Hanoi. The weather is warm enough to spend days outside but it’s not too hot, with temperatures in the mid to high 20s. Cool winds also bring pleasant autumns with rather European changing of the leaves. In winter, temperatures can drop as low as 5°C, although they are more often around 15°C.
Southern Ho Chi Minh has a tropical climate characterized by two seasons: wet and dry. The dry season from December to April is undoubtedly the best time to visit, and even in the coldest month of the year – December – you won’t find temperatures dropping much below 22°C.
It can be worth visiting during the wet season, May to November because temperatures remain in the mid 30’s, and you can benefit from prices dropping for the off-season. However, there is a risk of canceled flights and flooded roads due to excessive rainfall.
Conclusion: Ho Chi Minh’s dry season is a wonderful time to visit, but Hanoi has a better year-round climate.
Hanoi Or Ho Chi Minh: Budget and Accommodation
One of the main reasons for Vietnam’s popularity is its budget-friendliness. Cheap accommodation and affordable internal travel are widely available, and the cost of eating and drinking in Vietnam is as low as you wish to make it thanks to the prevalence of street food and beer stalls.
Ho Chi Minh’s airport is larger than Hanoi’s and runs more international routes, so you can sometimes find cheaper flights coming into Ho Chi Minh. Also, it’s worth knowing that Hanoi’s airport is further away from the city (30km) than Ho Chi Minh’s (7km), so transport to your accommodation on arrival will cost substantially more. but once you’re in the cities you’ll find the prices comparable unless you’re looking to go high-end.
Generally, Ho Chi Minh covers a broader spectrum of budgets with accommodation and restaurant choices from high-end to shoestring. In comparison, Hanoi has fewer up-market options but plenty of mid-range options and enough budget choices to keep backpackers happy.
Conclusion: Vietnam is an affordable destination, and both cities are great for budget travelers. But Hoh Chi Minh City is probably the better choice for travelers looking for upmarket accommodation and dining options.
Hanoi Or Ho Chi Minh: Conclusion
Both cities are wonderful places to visit with plenty to attract and impress visitors, but they have distinctly different characters. this should make it easy for you to pick the one that appeals to you. Ho Chi Minh will show you a modern side of the country, while historic Hanoi showcases a more traditional way of life. Neither is right or wrong, but one might suit your vacation style better.
For instance, would Ho Chi Minh’s international dining scene, late-night clubs, and modern shopping opportunities suit you best? Or would you prefer to explore Hanoi’s foodie reputation, Bia Hoi scene, and authentic markets?
If you still can’t decide, you can choose based on the climate and the time of year you are traveling. For example, in January, it will be the tropical dry season in Ho Chi Minh City and the cold mid-winter in Hanoi. However, in September, you’d catch the end of summer in Hanoi but monsoon season in Ho Chi Minh City.
But, since they are so different and show such opposite views of this fascinating country, we recommend visiting both if possible. And the rest of Vietnam too!