Both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi can feel overwhelmingly busy, but the former definitely has the upper hand; it’s the largest city in the country and a thriving hub of commerce. On top of that, it has a population of 8.4 million and an estimated 7.4 million motorbikes. Making Saigon your priority visit may be a baptism of fire, but it’s also a thrilling, exhilarating experience, with an atmosphere like nowhere else in Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City has a number of fantastic markets. A favourite with tourists, Bến Thành Market is not only filled with 3,000-plus stalls, but it’s also one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city. Saigon’s markets are one of the best places to see beautiful, local handicrafts, as well as vibrant Vietnamese culture.
Speaking of markets, bargaining and shopping go hand in hand in Vietnam. Residents of both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City like to barter for goods, but the Saigonese are arguably a little more flexible. Often, the Hanoians won’t budge from their initial price to ‘save face’, while the locals of Ho Chi Minh City can be more easy-going with their buying and selling. Bargaining is a big part of the Southern culture and you’ll usually be welcomed to join in the fun with open arms.
A few hours outside of Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta can be found snaking through luscious countryside. A world away from the busy streets of Saigon or Hanoi, this sight will give you an entirely different perspective of Vietnam altogether. Surrounded by rice paddies, swampland and green foliage, the Mekong Delta should be at the top of your list of things to see in the country.
Like with many countries, there’s an ongoing argument about which end of the country has better food. Although we can’t tell you which cuisine you’ll like more, we can say that Ho Chi Minh City offers an amazing choice of both traditional food and new, innovative concepts, whereas Hanoi favours conventional dishes. So, if you like both traditional phở and intriguing fusion cuisine, you’re sure to find it in the streets of Saigon.
Although Hanoi is the more traditional of the two cities, Saigon arguably boasts more historically important locations. Home to the War Remnants Museum and the Củ Chi tunnels, along with a number of other iconic landmarks, Saigon is perfect for both history buffs and those who need a beginner’s lesson on Vietnam’s rich past.
Where Hanoi might be home to charming, traditional narrow houses, Ho Chi Minh City boasts some of the most impressive architecture in the country. Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Saigon Central Post Office are just two of the most well-known structures in the city, but Saigon is covered in awe-inspiring French colonial landmarks.
For all you budding linguists, Ho Chi Minh City is the best place in Vietnam to start practising. The Vietnamese accent varies massively throughout the country, sometimes to the point that residents from different regions don’t even understand each other! However, the accent of Ho Chi Minh City seems to share more similarities with the surrounding Southern area and some of Central Vietnam, too. Whereas, the Hanoian accent is almost a language of its own. So, if you learn a few phrases in Saigon, you’ll likely be able to put them to use in other parts of the country.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter has a strict curfew, which often pushes nightlife to awkward areas outside of the city centre. Ho Chi Minh City, on the other hand, has no such thing: the city often comes alive in the evenings, with everywhere from cafés and bars to lakes and bridges filled with night owls.