Vietnam may be often overlooked in favor of its better-known neighbors like Thailand, but this Southeast Asian country is speckled with hidden gems on just every corner! With epic backpacking routes, incredible eats, and lush beaches, Vietnam is home to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, two charming cities with wildly contrasting vibes!
In classic, modern-city style, Ho Chi Minh (affectionately called Saigon by the locals) offers a delightful assortment of international restaurants, sprawling shopping malls with high-end names, and glitzy rooftop bars. The city skyline is dominated by Landmark 81, Vietnam’s tallest skyscraper.
On the flip side, Hanoi lends itself well to travelers who’d like to experience authentic Vietnamese culture. In spite of its modern amenities, Hanoi has a more traditional cityscape, complete with ancient squares, narrow alleys, low buildings, and open-air markets.
If don’t have a lot of time to spare when visiting Vietnam, you’ll probably need to narrow it down to either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh. Deciding between these two cities can be tricky, so I’ve put together some comparisons to help you make the best choice!
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Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh certainly live up to their reputations as two of the best cities to visit in Vietnam. Let’s check out how these cities differ and what makes them so special in their own right!
- With a population of 7 million, Hanoi covers an area of 3,324 square kilometers.
- Home to the elegant Fine Arts Museum, Hanoi is famous for being the Art Capital of Vietnam.
- There are 4 airports in Hanoi, with the largest being Noi Bai International Airport.
- By far the most popular way of getting around is via motorcycle. Moto-taxis are available everywhere and Cyclos (3-wheeled bikes) are commonly used for sightseeing. Some streets can also be explored on foot.
- Hostels are really popular in Hanoi, with almost 150 properties to choose from. Hotels (local and international) and Airbnbs are also available.
Ho Chi Minh Summary
- Ho Chi Minh measures 2,090 square kilometers in size but it’s more populous than Hanoi with around 12 million inhabitants.
- Famous for its cosmopolitan atmosphere and skyscrapers.
- Ho Chi Minh’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport is the busiest in the country. Served by major airlines, the airport offers daily local and international flights. It is the most popular gateway to Vietnam.
- Motorcycles are very popular, but the dense traffic can be an issue. It can be easier to walk around. Uber and Grab are also available.
- Brand-name hotels, B&Bs, hostels, and Airbnbs are readily available in the city.
Is Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh Better?
Planning a romantic getaway, a weekend break, or a longer stay? Let’s pit Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh to see which city will best fit your budget and preferences!
For Things to Do
Here’s the good news: Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh have great attractions, so you’ll definitely be in for a treat regardless of which city you choose to visit!
There’s no denying that Hanoi will appeal more to travelers seeking a more authentic Vietnamese atmosphere. Colloquially known as the country’s cultural capital, Hanoi is definitely the place to be if you’d like to learn more about Vietnamese culture or visit historical sites.
Popular attractions include the Old Quarter, known for its maze of alleys, pagodas, traditional markets, and small, family-owned restaurants with seats spilling out on the sidewalks. In fact, Hanoi is the best option for foodies interested in local cuisine. Inexpensive street food abounds in Hanoi, compared to the more diverse dishes on offer in Ho Chi Minh.
Ho Chi Minh also has its share of historic sites like the Notre Dame Cathedral, the General Post Office, the War Remnants Museum, and other sites dedicated to the Vietnam War.
Famed for its striking French architecture and towering buildings like Landmark 81 and the Bitexco Financial Tower, this city is also a shopping hotspot. Malls like Vincom Center, Takashimaya Vietnam, and Diamond Plaza are conveniently located near popular attractions and hotels.
Remnants of Ho Chi Minh’s French colonial past can also be seen in the coffee culture that exists in the city. Unlike Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh is speckled with an abundance of quaint cafes where you can stop for a quick break or settle for an afternoon of remote working.
Looking for some great nightspots? There’s zero doubt that Ho Chi Minh is the perfect destination for you- mainly because Hanoi has an 11 p.m. curfew in its old quarter.
While Hanoi’s touristy areas like West Lake have plenty of spots that stay open until late, Ho Chi Minh’s nightlife is known for being glitzy and glamorous, with a wider offering of venues to choose from.
Winner: Ho Chi Minh
For Budget Travelers
Budget travelers, rejoice! Whether you want to visit Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam is one of the most affordable countries in the world to visit. Both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh use the Vietnamese Dong, which is significantly weaker than the Euro or USD.
The cost of living in Ho Chi Minh is at least 13% more expensive than in Hanoi.
- Both cities have properties peppered across the center, in the inner sectors, and in the suburban neighborhoods. A centrally located hostel can cost around $13 per night in Hanoi and $19 in Ho Chi Minh. Mid-range hotels cost around $79/night in Hanoi compared to $103 in Ho Chi Minh.
- Single bus tickets in both cities range from between $0.30 and $1, depending on the line. Moto-taxis cost $0.50-$0.70/km in Hanoi. The fare can go up to $6 in Ho Chi Minh, depending on the district that you’re visiting. If you want to rent your own bike, budget around $6/day for Hanoi and $10/day for Ho Chi Minh.
- A traditional Vietnamese meal in a cheap restaurant should cost around $1.70 in Hanoi and $2.10 in Ho Chi Minh.
- Domestic beer costs $0.75/ pint in Hanoi vs $0.85 in Ho Chi Minh.
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Where to Stay in Hanoi: Hanoi City Backpackers Hostel
Located in the Old Quarter, the Hanoi City Backpackers Hostel features dormitories as well as family and double rooms. With a 24-hour front desk, the hostel even offers free wine and beer during happy hour.
Anyone who’s been to Vietnam will tell you that the country is blessed with a truly magical landscape, complete with sandy beaches, UNESCO heritage sites, gleaming skyscrapers, and a network of canals and rivers.
Are you visiting Vietnam with your significant other? Then I’m sure you must be asking yourself is Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh better for couples?
While it all ultimately boils down to the type of activities that you’d like to indulge in, Ho Chi Minh certainly has a wider variety of things to do as a couple. From cozy cafes to refined, high-end restaurants, Ho Chi Minh’s certainly got plenty going on! Romantic things to do in the city include a Bonsai dinner cruise down the Saigon River, watching the sunset from a rooftop cocktail bar, or enjoying a stroll on the Starlight Bridge, which is known for its stunning display of colored lights reflecting on the waterfall.
Because the city has several luxury hotels with spas, it’s a great destination for couples who want to enjoy a pampering experience.
Now, Hanoi may not have quite as many activities on offer, but it definitely has a romantic landscape. I’m talking verdant, mountain-fringed lands overflowing with rice fields, rivers, and streams. Couples looking for outdoor adventures should feel right at home in Hanoi since it offers easy access to Lang Bian Mountain, Ba Be National Park, and Pu Luong Nature Reserve.
Winner: Ho Chi Minh
Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh: Vinpearl Landmark 81, Autograph Collection
Enjoy panoramic views of Ho Chi Minh sparkling at your feet from the Vinpearl Landmark 81, Autograph Collection. Featuring 5-star spa services, this hotel boasts refined rooms fitted with floor-to-ceiling windows.
For Getting Around
Both Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi are very walkable, with popular attractions located near the center.
Ho Chi Minh may have better and newer roads, but the city’s traffic is insane. Out of its 24 districts, 1 to 5 tend to be more congested since these have the highest concentration of shopping venues, nightclubs, bars, and attractions.
One of the easiest ways of getting around the city is via Cyclos or motorcycle taxis. Ho Chi Minh’s bus networks also serve over 100 routes. Free bus route maps are available at Ben Thanh Station. Bike and motorcycle rentals are available all over the city, but first-time visitors may not wish to brave the notorious traffic.
While Hanoi is also congested, the traffic is still more manageable than when visiting Ho Chi Minh. Hanoi has an excellent bus system with stops located near attractions like the Literature Temple, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, and the Old Quarter. While the exact ticket price depends on the destination, Hanoi’s buses are known for being even cheaper than motorbike taxis.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is mainly served by Cyclos but bear in mind that the seats are extremely narrow and can sometimes only accommodate one passenger at a time.
Unlike Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi also has a metro that covers 13 kilometers. A daily metro pass costs $1.30.
For a Weekend Trip
Wondering whether you should visit Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh for a quick weekend getaway? Well, while Ho Chi Minh is a sprawling metropolis, it’s physically smaller than Hanoi which means that you can easily take in the best sights in just two days.
There’s no denying that the red-bricked Notre Dame Cathedral and the Saigon Central Post Office are two of the most iconic buildings in Ho Chi Minh, but they can get super crowded in peak season. As such, I would recommend that you visit as early as possible so you won’t have to wait in line to take a quintessential picture of the post office’s vintage phone booths.
From there, you can walk over to the Saigon Opera House, a prime example of the city’s French colonial architecture. Depending on when you’re visiting, you can also catch a performing art show, including Vietnamese dances, concerts, and ballets.
Ho Chi Minh’s nightlife is second to none: venues like the Ben Thanh Night Market burst into life after sunset, with plenty of street food vendors and stalls offering handicrafts, local artwork, souvenirs, and more.
After-dark venues are plentiful, with spots like The Observatory, Chill Skybar, and Thi Bar Saigon open until the early hours of the morning. In District 3, you’ll also find the Acoustic Bar, a cabaret-style venue that’s super popular among ex-pats, tourists, and locals alike.
Winner: Ho Chi Minh
For a Week-Long Trip
If you’ve got an entire week to spare, you may wish to visit Hanoi instead of Ho Chi Minh. That’s mainly because Hanoi is an excellent jumping spot to some of the most scenic Vietnamese destinations.
Travelers looking for day trip opportunities from Hanoi can take a 2.30-hour drive to Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its jaw-dropping scenery, complete with azure waters, hidden coves, and limestone karsts.
When comparing Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, it quickly becomes apparent that Hanoi is the best choice for nature enthusiasts. In fact, south Hanoi is home to Cuc Phuong National Park, a massive stretch of protected land filled with picturesque hikes and wild monkeys.
If outdoor adventures aren’t your thing, rest assured that Hanoi does provide plenty of rainy-day activities as well. Ho Chi Minh may be known for its western-style cafes but Hanoi has plenty of traditional tea rooms and coffee shops. Very popular among the locals, the Note Café is known for its Egg Coffee, a specialty in Hanoi.
Travelers who’d like to take in the city’s legendary art scene can check out famous galleries like Manzi, DOCLAB, Nguyen, and the Green Palm Gallery.
Visiting Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh
Since both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh are such incredible cities, I would highly suggest that you try to explore both places during your trip to Vietnam.
The first thing to know is that Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh are located at either end of the country- but don’t let that deter you. Traveling between the two cities is surprisingly easy.
If you’re not pressed for time, you can consider taking a train that’ll take you from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh in 32 hours. Most trains are air-conditioned and feature a choice of hard beds, soft beds, or reclining seats- depending on your budget. Hanoi-Ho Chi Minh overnight trains usually cost around $45 per person for a single fare.
While overnight trains are perfect for admiring the gorgeous Vietnamese countryside, they’re not exactly fast. Flying between the two cities remains the more popular option since you’ll reach your destination in around 2 hours and 15 minutes.
VietJet Air, Vietnam Airlines, and Jetstar offer multiple flights per day. Expect to spend between $17 and $55 for a one-way economy ticket, depending on when you’re traveling.
For a cheaper option, you can also hop on a long-haul overnight bus. While buses take around the same time as trains, they’re significantly cheaper with one-way tickets priced at around $25.
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FAQs About Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh
With fun and hip venues, Ho Chi Minh offers a delightful blend of the old and the new. Boasting a diverse cuisine, countless nightspots, and eye-catching French architecture, this city caters to travelers who’d like to explore a newer, more modern side of Vietnam.
Despite its noisy markets and bustling streets, Hanoi has a calmer atmosphere, with an excellent art scene, numerous natural sites, and heaps of classic Vietnamese dishes on offer. Aptly located for day trips, Hanoi also has a more affordable lifestyle- perfect for backpackers and budget travelers!
Comparing Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh isn’t an easy task since each city is amazing in its own way- but hopefully, this guide made it easy for you to plan the perfect Vietnam itinerary!
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