Hanoi Or Ho Chi Minh City: Which To Visit?


Situated at the northern và southern extremes of this long, thin country, Vietnam’s two main cities lie more than one thousand kilometres apart.

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Southern Ho đưa ra Minh thành phố (HCMC), formerly Saigon, was the US base during the Vietnam War & since the country’s unification has transformed into a thoroughly modern, thriving metropolis. The somewhat less modern capital, Hanoi, runs at a noisier pace, with its lively Old Quarter full of winding lanes.

Yet both cities can at times seem hyperactive, & you’ll need your wits about you lớn navigate their astonishingly hectic traffic. Can’t choose which one to lớn visit? Here’s our lowdown on how they differ.

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Which is best for culture?

Neither thành phố is short of museums, temples, pagodas và impressive colonial architecture. Both have a cathedral too – relics of the French occupation – and highly entertaining traditional water-puppet shows.

HCMC has several more theme parks than Hanoi, so if rollercoasters are your thing, head south. If you’re more at home in a gallery than doing loop-the-loops, Hanoi will be a better bet, as it pips the post for both fine và contemporary art.

People from Hanoi are known for sometimes being more standoffish than their southern counterparts, with more traditional values & formal manners.

HCMC, more influenced by foreign cultures than Hanoi – particularly American và French – has a more spontaneous and open feel to lớn it. Innovation is king và young trendsetters lead the way, alongside thriving tech-minded entrepreneurs và booming businesses.


Where should I go to relax?

Hanoi has developed rapidly in recent years, with new skyscrapers hastily transforming the city’s skyline outside of the Old Quarter. Both cities have populations of around eight million, but people are more crammed into the smaller HCMC. That said, the pedestrianized streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter can get so packed with people that during peak hours it can be difficult khổng lồ move at all, và the city’s ceaseless noise can be too much for some.

Traffic in both cities is continuously hectic, with countless hooting scooters zipping about in a seemingly insane manner. The newer, wider streets of HCMC at least allow for more movement, but everything is relative ­– don’t expect a walk through town to lớn be a peaceful meander.

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In Hanoi you can at least cool down, with average temperatures dropping lớn 17°C in January, while temperatures in HCMC never fall below the high twenties. Mix that with high humidity & you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a sweat on whenever you go.

To escape the southern heat, the green, tree-shaded lawns of HCMC’s Cong Vien Van Hoa Park, once a colonial sporting complex, is a popular downtime spot, as is the city’s Botanical Garden.

Though small, Hoan Kiem Lake is the heart of Hanoi for its residents, và a charming place to take a moment away from the chaotic đô thị streets and watch elderly locals quietly enjoying games of chess and mahjong.

Which is best base for day-trips?

Ha Long Bay, a dreamy seascape of jagged limestone rocks jutting out over calm waters, is Vietnam’s number one tourist attraction & can be visited in a day-trip from Hanoi. Be warned though, it’s a hefty journey, at around four hours each way.

Under two hour’s drive from HCMC, the Cu bỏ ra Tunnels are also a top option for a day-trip. The tunnels were used by the Viet Cong army during the Vietnam War, & visitors can see the wince-inducing booby traps set for the American soldiers, as well as take a smothering look for themselves inside the tunnels. Tours are best booked with a travel agency around Pham dở người Lao (roughly 180,000 VND).

So which one should I go to?

Naturally, this depends what you’re looking for. Hanoi errs on the more historical, less glitzy side, allowing visitors a glimpse of traditional Vietnamese culture as well as giving ample opportunities to lớn see the best of the country’s artistic & creative offerings while appreciating the low-key street life.

HCMC, as the commercial centre of the country, inevitably has more investment, fancier hotels, smarter restaurants & an exclusive nightlife scene.

However, both these metropolises have excellent museums và cultural sights, plenty of tranquil places khổng lồ unwind, superb food and day-trips to some of Vietnam’s most interesting locations. Take your pick...

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Planning a trip? Find the perfect base with our pick of the best homestays in Vietnam. Explore more of Vietnam with The Rough Guide khổng lồ Vietnam. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget lớn purchase travel insurance before you go.