Posted By : Threeland Travel / Vietnam Travel Guide
Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City (also Saigon) – which one is better to visit for the first time in Vietnam? I was asked about this question hundreds of times by most of my friends abroad. For a local who has lived in both cities like me, I can still not score them when it comes to comparison. I guess the best way to answer the question is to make a list of facets of each city, then you can make a judgment by yourself.
With a population under 8 million and also the largest city in the northern, Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam – the center of politics. The beauty of the capital is a result of history, mixed between the glorious past and modern present.
Ho Chi Minh
More than 1000 kilometers far from the capital, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) is the financial center of the country, it is also known as “Pearl of the Far East”. Day by day, the city is growing larger and wealthier with the population can reach 11-12 million. Dynamic life all day and advanced infrastructure is the charm of the city
Although located in the same country each city has its featured climate. The truth is the geography of Vietnam spread out that make the weather changes in each region.
Hanoi located in the north of the country, it has 2 main seasons: the rainy season from January to September, and dry season from October to April. But thank to transition months, you still can experience four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter in the capital of country.
Ho Chi Minh
On the contrary, situated in the south, Ho Chi Minh City has only 2 defined seasons: wet and dry. The dry season starts from December and lasts until April and this is the best time to visit the city. If you visit Ho Chi Minh City in the rest of the year, remember to bring along raincoat or umbrella, it might rain all day in the city.
Both cities have a unique culinary culture. If Hanoi is home to traditional dishes, Ho Chi Minh City is the cradle of many domestic and foreign cultural regions.
Hanoi people are famous for elegance and grave, this is reflected in every dish in their meal. For them, cooking and tasting food is an art that needs to be trained and practice through time. Besides, the way you cook the food presents the people you are. Because of that, regular dish in life of Hanoi people can become a masterpiece of art. Usually, it is sophisticated but frugal dish what makes it easy to eat.
Some famous dish you have to try on your journey in Hanoi are pho, bun cha, bun thang, banh cuon (steamed rice cake), etc. You can find all these foods in every corner of the capital, each place will bring you a different taste of Hanoi. Remember to try special drinks of the city: traditional tea such as lotus tea to clear your mind, in hot days, have cups of local draft beer bia hoi.
Ho Chi Minh
On the other hand, foods in Ho Chi Minh City offers a wider range of food from the tradition to international food. Although mixed by the diverse culture, it still has its own specialty in culinary culture affected by aquatic culture.
Have some taste of com tam (broken rice), banh xeo (sizzling cake), etc to see the difference between the north and the south of Vietnam. Besides, it has a strong coffee culture thanks to the French influence from the past. This special drink takes place in every street of the city, the most famous maybe is coffee with milk. Because of the strong flavor in the south, the foods here will be sweeter and saltierthan Hanoi.
4. Sightseeing and Things to do
If you like history and ancient destinations, you can’t miss a chance to explore Hanoi where each road has an antique building and a story of the past to tell you. The most famous place is the Old Quarter, with each street is reminiscent of time and the old houses built years ago. You can easily find a long-term restaurant with a unique taste.
Some other place you can visit such as Temple of Literature – the first national university of Vietnam or Ho Chi Minh Museum where keeps proofs of the nation’s modern history. Or easier, go around the capital, you might find ancient temples or pagodas situated everywhere.
Ho Chi Minh
For famous destinations in Ho Chi Minh City, you can visit Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater to watch a show presented in the water by authentic Vietnamese puppets – a unique culture of the nation, come to see a symbol of the city - Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral or Saigon center Post Office, etc.
Due to the characteristic of the city, there will be more entertainment destinations in the city than the culture site. Fill your mind with creative through an adventure to Artinus 3D Museum in district 7, lost in the green in the middle of the city with Vinhomes Central Park on the weekend or have some fun time in amusement park Snow Town Saigon.
See more: Things to do in a Hanoi day tour
5. Day trips
From both cities, you can easily get to other famous destination and some near day trips might make your journey becoming more interesting and entertaining.
From Hanoi, Halong Bay is one of favorite spots of tourists. It is listed in 7 Modern Wonders of the World with the stunning seascape of limestone rocks emerging of calm blue water. You can have a day trip to Halong from Hanoi, but it is better to have 2 – 3 days to explore all of it.
Sapa is another popular destination for you to try. It takes around 4 hours driving, but you can have a look at breathtaking mountain scenery. Due to its location, the temperature here is always around 15 – 18 degrees, a great spot to run away hot heat in Hanoi and explore the nature as well as cultural diversity.
Ho Chi Minh
Catching a bus and heading to Cu Chi Tunnels is one of the top choices to visit from Ho Chi Minh City. This incredible work was used by the Viet Cong Army during the Vietnam War. You will be amazed by the creative, smart, and brave of Vietnamese.
Furthermore, the Mekong Delta is also a good choice to visit on your journey. You can have unique experiences by visiting floating markets and learning about aquatic lifestyles of the locals. Moreover, see the diverse culture mixed by three nations: Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam here.
To discover nightlife in Hanoi, you must go to the Old Quarter – the most favorite place in the capital of tourists. Every shop and small local restaurant open very late at night, especially on the weekend when Walking Street open. Take your time and have a chit-chat with your friend on Ta Hien street (beer street) or enjoy a cup of tra chanh (lemon tea) on Nha Tho street.
Ho Chi Minh
If nightlife in Hanoi truly takes place at the weekend, every night in a week is wild in Ho Chi Minh City. Many bars and coffee shop in the city have live music for customers to enjoy with different themes every day. Bui Vien street is one of the most famous places for the locals and foreigners to entertain after a long day.
See more: Get lost in Hanoi night market
After all, I love both Hanoi capital and Saigon megacity. I bet you have your decision so far. If not, don’t fret because you can experience both if you have enough time. There are daily direct domestic flights Hanoi – Saigon and the reverse at a very reasonable fare and it just takes only 1.5 hours. Anyway, no matter what your choice is, Vietnam is worth to be the ideal destination for your next vacation.