Battle of the Cities: Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi?

June 2017 - Ho Chi Minh City Hall

I have always been asked which city would I recommend to first time travellers to Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) or Hanoi? These are the two most visited and popular cities of the country thus ending up always being compared. 

Hanoi is one of the places I have always wanted to see while HCMC has never really made it on my travel list until the occasion to go there finally came last June 2017.

Now that I was able to visit both cities, I can now lay down the scorecards. 

1. Things to Do/See

The Old Quarter in itself is already a great start to get a glimpse of Hanoi. You only need to walk it to experience the fullness of it which makes it a lot easier for first time travellers. I never actually needed a map to explore it. Curiosity has led me to see most of its well visited sites. 

Take a stroll at Hoan Kiem Lake

Watch the Water puppet show.
(The theater is located right across from Hoan Kiem Lake)

Visit St. Joseph's Cathedral

Ho Chi Minh on the other hand was like any other busy cities - full of skyscrapers which are a bit modern to my taste.

Saigon Notre-Dame Basillica

Ho Chi Minh City Hall at the backdrop.

Rooftop bars offering a view of Ho Chi Minh City 

Day Trips

Hanoi is well known for Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although a bit far from the city centre (about 4-5 hours drive), it is still possible to see it even for a day's tour and definitely not to be missed.

The beautiful Halong Bay

inside the Tien Cung Cave

Ho Chi Minh offers a lot of day trips too but we opted to spend one night at Mui Ne. It's about 4-5 hours train ride from HCMC giving tourists such a refreshing scenery from the hustle and bustle of the city.

It has vast sand dunes and stunningly beautiful beaches to explore, something I never thought Vietnam has.

Waiting for the sunset at the Red Sand Dunes.

But concentrating on the cities alone, I prefer the old vibe of Hanoi.


2. Food

As I have mentioned in my previous blogs, I am not really a foodie when traveling and would gladly settle for cup noodles if need be. But somehow, Vietnamese cuisine has piqued my appetite. 

Beef Pho Noddles & Beef Wraps at Cafe Notre Dame, Hanoi

I find Hanoi has a lot more places that offer local cuisines compared to Ho Chi Minh. Every little alley I walked into the Old Quarter has something delicious to sell. 


One of personal favourites - Banh Mi at Banh-Mee, Hanoi
Ho Chi Minh on the other hand has a lot more fusion of Western cuisines to offer to tourists who may not find the local cuisine that appealing. I even saw a Jollibee outlet (a popular Filipino fast food chain) in the heart of the city.

Beef Skewers and Rice at The View Rooftop Bar, HCMC 

Salami and Vegetable wraps with peanut sauce at The View Rooftop Bar, HCMC


3. Accommodation

Both cities have a great variety of accommodation type to choose from. I traveled solo to Hanoi and still managed to get a reasonable room for a reasonable price. Its location was very convenient and everything was within walking distance.

Tucked in one of the little alleys at the Old Quarter, Hanoi

I traveled to HCMC with two other friends and the room that we shared was nothing fancy but it was on a good location. It was walking distance to Ben Than Market and Street Food Market which was pretty convenient.

Located at District 1, HCMC.
(photo from Tripadvisor)


4. Accessibility

Both cities have international airports which make them easily accessible. Direct flights from Singapore to Hanoi are more expensive compared to Ho Chi Minh. Other travelers usually fly to Ho Chi Minh first then make their way to Hanoi (either by domestic flight, train or bus) to make the fare cost lower.

Ho Chi Minh City from above

Hanoi from above

In terms of going around, I didn't find the need to grab a cab to explore both cities. The key is to get an accommodation on a good location where you can just walk to explore the city. 


5. Shopping

I don't really splurge in shopping when traveling (except for souvenirs). Both  cities offer night markets selling clothes, shoes, paintings, food, coffee and a variety of other souvenirs. Although I find shopping in Hanoi cheaper than in HCMC, I have enjoyed checking out the night markets on both cities thus giving both a point on this category.


These are all based on my travel experience and preference and it may have varied from the date and timing that I have traveled as well. Overall, I was more impressed with Hanoi's sites and its simple quaintness- giving it a bit more character than HCMC.

If you prefer the big cities and modern sites - go to Ho Chi Minh City. But if you prefer a little peculiarity and a feel of some good, old vibe - visit Hanoi.

>>> Read more about Hanoi

An Impulsive Solo Trip to Hanoi

>>> Read more about Mui Ne

Exploring Mui Ne, Vietnam