For those travelers headed to Vietnam for a countrywide tour or a lengthy stay, the decision to see Hanoi vs. Ho Chi Minh might not be an issue. However these two cosmopolitan areas are virtually at opposite ends of the country and each offers its own set of attractions. So for visitors on shorter trips with only one city to favor, the question is often asked: Which should I see? We won’t propose to claim one over another here, we will simply lay out the characteristics and attractions each has to offer and let the reader decide which might be of more interest for a personal trip.
Rather than simply listing a series of platitudes underneath the names of each respective city, we will list some travel and tourism topics and see how each city measures up.
Both cities are subject to tropical rainy seasons and humid temperatures. Basically Ho Chi Minh City has two: dry season runs from December to April and rainy season May to November. The natural environment of the Mekong Delta gives a lot of natural freshness to the environment. Hanoi has four seasons more typical of the Northerly latitudes, with fall being considered the best, that is September to end of November.
Overall Ho Chi Minh City has a more spread out, modern urban appeal. The streets are generally newer and the infrastructure feels more developed. That being said, some visitors find the city to be lacking the historic charms of Hanoi. Hanoi gives off a more ancient vibe, with lots of preserved structures and even the run down streets, old markets and various seasons seem to give it more character. Transit and Transportation are functional in both towns, but Ho Chi Minh city has a more approachable system with better quality of vehicles and less inner city traffic congestion.
Attractions and Museums:
Hanoi’s attractions are focused around temples, museums and French colonialism. The Temple of Literature is a major draw. The Old French quarter. The mystic West Lake and Tran Quoc Pagoda as well as the entire Ho Chi Minh complex with a Masoleum and government buildings. Ho Chi Minh is a more modern city that supports the active lifestyle. There are amusement parks, theaters, basketball courts, trails, ice skating rinks. People are considered outgoing and friendly and in a more long term context they may invite you to join them for outings.
Food, Hotels and Shopping:
Hanoi is considered the city of street vendors and three major Vietnamese cuisine types are offered around the city in this way. Typical foods like Pho (a meaty noodle soup) are found in both cities, but Hanoi is considered the winner, especially its Pho Gia Truyen restaurant. Ho Chi Minh is thought to have a better international sampling of foods as well as a higher concentration of award winning restaurants. Hotel options in both cities are good. There are arrays of classical structures that have withstood the test of time, especially ones surviving the fall of Saigon and Hanoi is celebrating the JW Marriott, a featured property of modern appeal. As far as shopping goes, Hanoi has a crowded and time-honored classic old market in which vendors are squeezed into small spaces selling everything imaginable. In Ho Chi Minh City the shopping market is not as antiquated. It consists more of retail centers, botiques that cater to tourists and two major areas are Nguyen Trai street and Saigon Square.