Last updated on February 23, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Vietnam

19-Point Showdown: Hanoi Vs Ho Chi Minh City, What is the Best city in Vietnam?

Hanoi Vs Ho Chi Minh City – two amazing cities with distinct vibes for travellers to visit in Vietnam. Hanoi is known for its ancient history and charming traditional ambience. Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) offers a more modern metropolis to explore in bustling South Vietnam.

I love both cities, however, if you need to make a choice, you should check out this extensive 19-point side-by-side comparison of everything that will definitely help you choose between Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City for your Vietnam vacation.

Let’s start with a quick summary table with the most important key points. But keep reading for the extended comparison descriptions.

Opera House on an early Sunday
Opera House in Hanoi on an early Sunday

Hanoi Vs Ho Chi Minh – Key Points

SubjectHanoiHo Chi Minh CityMy Opinion/Final Call
Accessibility by AirMore expensive flights, further from city centreCheaper flights, closer to city centreHo Chi Minh City is more accessible and budget-friendly for air travel.
Cost of LivingCheaper accommodations and street foodSlightly more expensive, especially for attractionsHanoi is more budget-friendly overall.
Family-FriendlyLimited child-specific activities, stressful trafficMore activities for kids, better parks and mallsHo Chi Minh City offers more for families with children.
Romantic for CouplesTraditional ambience, cultural experiencesVibrant city life, modern amenitiesHanoi for culture and charm, Ho Chi Minh City for urban excitement.
NightlifeQuieter, early closing timesLively, stays open lateHo Chi Minh City wins for those seeking a vibrant nightlife.
Safety and SecuritySafe with usual precautionsSimilar safety levels, watch for petty theftBoth cities are relatively safe with common-sense precautions.
Cultural and Historical SitesRich mix of Indochina and French architectureNoteworthy wartime sites, less cultural mixHanoi has a richer cultural and historical offering.
Ideal for a 3-day StayDiverse activities and cultural sitesDynamic city exploration, modern attractionsHanoi for a cultural dive, Ho Chi Minh City for a fast-paced visit.
Cuisine and FoodExcellent street food, traditional Northern cuisineDiverse food scene with more international optionsHanoi for traditional tastes, Ho Chi Minh City for variety.
Weather and Best Time to VisitDistinct warm and cold seasonsTropical climate, hot year-roundHanoi for seasonal experiences, Ho Chi Minh City for constant warmth.
Honeymoon DestinationPeaceful, cultural ambianceUrban escape with luxury amenitiesHanoi for understated romance, Ho Chi Minh City for indulgence.
Adventure and ActivitiesNearby trekking, cycling, and kayakingMore diverse activities but require transitHanoi for convenience, Ho Chi Minh City for variety.
Best Day TripsClose to Ninh Binh, Halong BayAccess to Mekong Delta, Vung Tau beachesHanoi for cultural trips, Ho Chi Minh City for diverse excursions.
AccommodationWide range, book ahead for peak periodsSimilar options, more boutique hotelsBoth offer good accommodation options; personal preference prevails.
Size and WalkabilitySmaller, more walkableLarger, requires transportHanoi for walkability, Ho Chi Minh City for exploring different districts.
Public TransportationCompact centre, easy to navigateMore traffic, larger distancesHanoi for ease of movement, Ho Chi Minh City for comprehensive coverage.
Shopping and SpasGood for souvenirs and crafts, limited high-end spasExtensive retail therapy, diverse spa optionsHo Chi Minh City for shopping and spas.
Internet ConnectivityGenerally fast, some slower spotsFast and reliable, better 4G signalHo Chi Minh City for better overall connectivity.
Digital NomadsLimited coworking spaces, good cafe cultureExtensive coworking options, better infrastructureHo Chi Minh City is more conducive for digital nomads.
Comparing Hanoi Vs Ho Chi Minh City
Ladies of Hanoi
Ladies playing in the streets of the city

Is it easier and less expensive to fly to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh

Hanoi

The Vietnamese capital is served by Noi Bai International Airport with flights arriving from destinations worldwide. Flag carrier Vietnam Airlines has extensive operations with competitive rates.

Many budget carriers also service Hanoi. Fares from North America and Europe start around $800-1200 roundtrip. From Australia, fares can go down to $200 one-way but generally expect to pay around $600-700 return.

From the airport to the city centre is around 30km and the trip takes around 45 minutes by taxi based on traffic conditions. Alternatively, catch the bus number 86 and you will be at the Train Station in the centre in around one hour.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport serves as Vietnam’s largest airport. It offers more flight options and routes than Hanoi on both full-service and budget airlines. Flights are marginally cheaper than to Hanoi, often by $50-100 roundtrip.

Tan Son Nhat Airport is only 10km from the city centre, however, the road is usually very busy during the day and the trip takes around 40 minutes. There are a few public buses that you can use for the ticket and the cost is less than a dollar.

Overall, if you are planning a trip to Vietnam and you have flights to both cities, I suggest flying to HCMC which has better flight accessibility and you are going to save some money. Ideally, on a 2-3 weeks trip, you can think of arriving in one city and leaving from the other.

The train truck between the apartment blocks of Hanoi
The train truck between the apartment blocks of Hanoi – Definitely unique

Is Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi cheaper

Hanoi

Hanoi offers good budget travel options. Simple hotel rooms start from $25 per night. Street food like pho noodle bowls and banh mi sandwiches can be found for just a few dollars.

Many attractions like temples and museums have small entrance fees. And public transit is very affordable.

Ho Chi Minh City

As Vietnam’s commercial centre, HCMC generally has higher costs than the capital Hanoi. Budget hotel rooms start around $30 per night on average. Street food starts at $1, but restaurant meals run higher than Hanoi.

Attractions like the War Remnants Museum, a great place to visit by the way, cost more.

HCMC offers value but Hanoi wins for budget travelers.

I am always fascinated by the street barbers
I am always fascinated by the street barbers – Definitely a cheap option for a cut

Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi for families

Hanoi

Hanoi has a few family-friendly attractions like the Water Puppet Theater, Ho Tay Lake, and Old Quarter exploration. However, its chaotic traffic, pollution, and cramped sidewalks make it stressful to navigate with kids. Activities catering specifically to children are limited.

In saying that, one of my best family experiences in Vietnam was actually in Hanoi on the weekends when they close the city centre with markets, street food and performances typical of the Vietnamese culture. A great fun with and for kids. You can check out here the map.

Ho Chi Minh City

HCMC has more to occupy kids, from water parks to amusement parks like Dam Sen. HCMC’s parks, malls and dining options work better for families travelling with children.

Overall it edges out Hanoi for traveling with kids. Still, make sure to have an open eye on your little ones because traffic is never-ending.

The family scooter in Hanoi
The family scooter

Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi for couples

Hanoi

In Hanoi, you will find a charming, traditional Vietnamese ambience for couples with its Old Quarter lane exploration, quaint cafes, and lakeside strolling. The atmospheric narrow streets full of culture create wonderful memories together.

Hanoi also has excellent fine dining options to enjoy. The French Quarter is the little Paris of the east and surely you will have fun discovering the hidden gems, like the train passing through the narrow buildings.

Ho Chi Minh City

HCMC provides vibrant city exploration for couples with its shopping malls, restaurants, and lively nightlife. Escaping to historic Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta provides nature. Couples massages are readily available.

HCMC is more of a South Asian capital with plenty of things going on, full of energy. It’s truly a vibrant city.

Both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are great cities. I personally love the coffee culture of Hanoi, spending time tasting the different variations like the “egg coffee” and finding the boutique bars for the lovely banh mi, a crispy sandwich in a short baguette.

Drinking eggs coffee and watching the life passing by
Drinking egg coffee and watching life passing by

Is Nightlife better in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh?

Hanoi

Hanoi’s nightlife scene centres around the Old Quarter and French Quarter. Bars offer drinks with live music or DJs that draw both locals and visitors.

While enjoyable, closing times are generally quite early in Hanoi with most nightspots closed by midnight. On my last trip, I was surprised by how dead was the city after 11-11:30pm, once the street bars tended to close down.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is known for its lively nightlife. Districts 1 and 3 contain stylish bars, pubs, nightclubs, hip lounges and microbreweries that stay open into the early morning. Once again Ho Chi Minh is more similar to other Asian cities like Bangkok.

Overall, Hanoi tends to be much quieter, especially after midnight.

Another beautiful restaurant and cafe of Hanoi Old District
A beautiful local cafe/bar in Hanoi Old District, nothing flashy but so cool.

Safety and Security

Hanoi

Hanoi is very safe with low violent crime rates. Pickpocketing and petty theft in crowded areas like markets may occur. Motorbike traffic poses the greatest hazard for pedestrians.

Hanoi is generally very walkable even late at night, but pay attention when crossing the streets, especially at the intersections where you will likely experience a ton of scooters.

Ho Chi Minh City

Like Hanoi, violent crime in HCMC is minimal. Petty theft is more common, especially around tourist hubs. Once again, traffic is probably the biggest danger and that’s common to most of Vietnam.

Districts like Pham Ngu Lao catering to tourists see occasional scams and trouble late at night. But HCMC is overall quite safe.

Chaotic traffic of the city
Chaotic traffic of Ho Chi Minh

Cultural and Historical Sites in HCMC vs Hanoi

Hanoi

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, famous for its great mix of Indochina and French architecture. You may think you are in Europe when visiting the Opera House or the Cathedral.

But then, next corner, you find the Imperial Citadel, Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex, One Pillar Pagoda, and Hoa Loa Prison.

The Old Quarter and the French Quarter are so different but they integrate so well together, creating a unique heritage.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh’s history has not experienced such a great mix of cultures. Moreover, unfortunately, I may add, several old Vietnamese houses have left space for new modern buildings

In saying that, HCMC has a few noteworthy cultural experiences mainly centring around its wartime past, from the First Indochina War to the Vietnam War, like the Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, and Cu Chi Tunnels.

You can find also here a few landmarks of the French colonial past of which the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office are probably the most popular places in the city.

Panning the iconic places of Hanoi
Panning the iconic places of Hanoi

3-day stay – Should you visit Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh

Hanoi

DayLocationActivitiesDining/Café Suggestions
1Old Quarter– Morning walk around Hoan Kiem Lake
– Visit Ngoc Son Temple
– Explore the streets and local markets
– Breakfast at Café Pho Co for coffee with a view
– Lunch at Banh Mi 25 for a quick bite
– Dinner at Ngon Villa for traditional Vietnamese cuisine
2Ba Dinh District– Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
– Explore the One Pillar Pagoda
– Afternoon at the Temple of Literature
– Breakfast at The Hanoi Social Club
– Lunch at KOTO Van Mieu training restaurant
– Coffee break at Cong Caphe <br> Dinner at Quan An Ngon
3Outskirts of Hanoi– Day trip to Perfume Pagoda or Bat Trang Ceramics Village– Dinner at Bun Bo Nam Bo
3 days in Hanoi

Ho Chi Minh City

DayLocationActivitiesDining/Café Suggestions
1District 1– Morning visit to the Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral.
– Afternoon at Reunification Palace.
– Breakfast at L’Usine,
– Lunch at Pho Quynh,
– Dinner at Secret Garden
2Districts 1 & 3– Start with the War Remnants Museum.
– Spend the afternoon shopping at Ben Thanh Market and exploring the surrounding area.
– Breakfast at The Coffee House,
– Lunch at Banh Mi Huynh Hoa,
– Dinner at Cuc Gach Quan
3Outskirts of HCMC– Half-day tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels.
– If staying in town, visit the Fine Arts Museum and explore Chinatown.
– Breakfast at Saigon Oi,
– Lunch at Bep Me In,
– Dinner and nightlife at Pham Ngu Lao Street
3 days in Ho Chi Minh City
Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square in the Old Quarter
Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square in the Old Quarter of Hanoi

Cuisine and Food in Hanoi and HCMC

Hanoi

I personally love the excellent street food and local restaurants of Hanoi where you can sample the typical cuisine from North Vietnam. Signature dishes include pho noodle soup, banh cuon rolled rice crepes, bun cha grilled pork, and egg coffee.

The Old Quarter has amazing food stalls, while upscale restaurants fuse global techniques. Overall prices are very affordable, especially in the local boutique eateries.

Ho Chi Minh City

HCMC provides outstanding food reflecting influences across Vietnam. Highlights include banh mi sandwiches, claypot catfish, and com tam broken rice plates.

The city’s diversity means cuisines like Vietnamese-Chinese, Indian, and even craft beer are available literally everywhere. Few cities in Southeast Asia compete with HCMC’s variety of food scene.

I have to say that both cities have a great choice of local breweries, however, prices are quite high compared with the local cafes, bars and restaurants.

Exploring the local markets in Ho Chi Minh
Exploring the food market in Ho Chi Minh

Weather – Best time to visit Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh

Hanoi

Hanoi has a subtropical climate with hot summers from June to September when temperatures can reach 40C/104F and humidity is oppressive. Winters are cooler and drier from October to March with average temps in the low 20s C.

My favourite season is spring (March-May), warm but not much humidity. The only drawback is that you can experience some rain, but usually in the late afternoon. September to November is another great time

Ho Chi Minh City

The south stays hot year-round in HCMC with average highs around 33C/91F. There is a brief “cool” season from December to February when temps may drop into the upper 20s C.

April and May can be really hot before monsoon rains from June to November provide some relief. Overnight lows stay near 25C/77F year-round.

HCMC is more of a tropical city, meanwhile, Hanoi has actual warm and cold seasons.

So many amazing valleys
So many amazing valleys in the Ha Giang region, reachable from Hanoi. March and April are usually dry and sunny

Should I plan part of my honeymoon in Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi?

Hanoi

Hanoi has a peaceful, cultural ambience that appeals to some honeymooners. You can definitely have a romantic time strolling lakeside, enjoying local cafes, and exploring the atmospheric Old Quarter.

Luxury hotels boast views of Hoan Kiem Lake and the city. But do not think anything flashy, it’s going to be a more understated honeymoon.

Ho Chi Minh City

For an indulgent urban honeymoon escape with pampering amenities, HCMC makes a better choice than Hanoi. Five-star hotels provide stunning views, infinity pools, spa treatments and butler service. Rooftop dining is also a must-experience.

Adventure & activities

Hanoi

Adventure options near Hanoi include trekking/cycling village homestays in Mai Chau, mountain biking, and kayaking/SUP in nearby Ninh Binh’s karst landscapes or in Ha Long Bay (overnight trip). Ba Vi National Park provides hiking under two hours from Hanoi. Rock climbing and bouldering are also available.

Ho Chi Minh City

HCMC adventure activities require more transit but include fantastic parkour courses through the treetops of Da Lat, sandboarding and ATV riding around coastal Mui Ne, kitesurfing off Vung Tau beaches, and multi-day treks in Cat Tien National Park beyond the city.

Hoi An, the city of lanterns
Hoi An, the city of lanterns, is right between the two cities and is a must-visit and stay in Vietnam

Best day trip from Hanoi and HCMC

Hanoi

Hanoi sits in northern Vietnam so it offers easy access to nearby attractions like the villages/landscapes around Ninh Binh (2 hours). Halong Bay (3-4 hours away) is also possible on a day trip, although I suggest spending at least a night on the boat for the real experience.

The mountain town Sapa is another good destination but you need more time for that. Plan 2-3 days. If you are after a little gem, plan a visit to the Ha Giang provide, where you can rent a motorbike for a full loop across multiple valleys. I had such a great time!

Ho Chi Minh City

The southern city of HCMC allows fast access to top regional destinations like the Mekong Delta day trips, the tunnels used during the Vietnam war and beach getaways in Vung Tau (2 hours)

With more time you can plan a trip to Dalat where you can spend 2-3 nights in a cooler environment.

Accommodation – hotel options, costs, booking tips

Hanoi

Hanoi offers extensive lodging from budget guesthouses at $20-30 per night to luxury hotels averaging $100-200+ per night.

Prime location hotels fill fast during peak periods like Christmas/New Year’s and, most importantly Chinese New Year (February). During these periods book well in advance. Usually, you can cancel free of charge anyway.

I have organised a guide on the best areas to stay in Hanoi with a few suggested hotels. Here below is a summary table.

AreaBest forAvg. CostSuggested
Hotel
Bars &
Restaurants
TransportationCharacterNightlife
Old
Quarter
First Time
Short stay
$-$$Impressive Hotel5345
French
Quarter
Boutique,
Romantic
$$-$$$$$Sofitel Legend
Metropole
4252
Truc BachSeclusion
Couples
$-$$$Hotel Genial3231
West LakeRelaxing,
Families
$$-$$$$$InterContinental
Westlake
3131
Ba DinhLocal
experience
$-$$$Lotte Hotel4533
Hai Ba
Trung
Visit but
do not stay
Comparative table of the best areas to stay in Hanoi – The scores go from the low 1 (poor) to the high 5 (excellent)
Best areas to stay in Hanoi
Best areas to stay in Hanoi – Download here the Full Res Map.

Ho Chi Minh City

Similar to Hanoi, HCMC has solid options ranging from budget digs under $30 to upscale city hotels at $150-300+ nightly. Peak demand also requires booking 1-2 months ahead.

HCMC has probably a wider choice of boutique hotels, blending modern style with Vietnamese aesthetics. But besides that, the two cities offer similar kinds of accommodations.

What place is bigger in size, Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi?

Hanoi

Hanoi city spans over 3,000 sq km with approximately 8 million residents in the metro population. The greater capital region covers nearly 4,000 sq km.

Hanoi’s compact Old Quarter and French Quarter are very walkable and explorable by foot.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City covers an area of 2,000 sq km with around 13 million inhabitants in the metropolitan area. Five urban districts make up the city centre.

HCMC sprawls significantly more than Hanoi, requiring transport between districts and neighbourhoods.

Tran Quoc Pagoda on West Lake
Tran Quoc Pagoda on West Lake, Hanoi

Local Public Transportation in Hanoi Vs Ho Chi Minh City

Hanoi

Hanoi transportation includes buses, electric buses, cyclos, ride shares, and taxis. Motorbikes rule the streets. Walking remains the best way to experience the Old Quarter.

Hanoi Centre is quite compact and whenever you do not feel like walking you can always download the Grab app and book a quick scooter ride, easy and cheap.

Ho Chi Minh City

The biggest difference with Hanoi is that the city has more traffic, so things move slower. Also, distances are bigger and overall you will need more time to move around. Walking is only practical in District 1 and parts of 3.

Navigating HCMC is more complex than Hanoi.

Shopping – Differences between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh

Hanoi

Shopping hotspots include the Old Quarter for souvenirs, silk and crafts, and the French Quarter for upscale boutiques.

Dong Xuan Market offers everything under one huge roof. High-end spas are limited but cheap massage parlors abound.

Ho Chi Minh City

HCMC shopping reigns from modern malls to markets. Best buys include lacquerware, art, and custom-tailored clothes. Local markets like Ben Thanh and Binh Tay have good prices but usually “cheap” products, basically, you pay for what you get.

There are plenty of high-end international spas and affordable neighbourhood massage options.

HCMC tops Hanoi for extensive retail therapy.

Lady selling flowers at the Hoi An Market
Lady selling flowers at the market

Internet – is Hanoi or HCMC the best city in Vietnam

Hanoi

Free WiFi is widely available at most hotels, cafes and restaurants. Speeds are generally fast enough for basic use but can be slower than other major Asian capitals.

Ho Chi Minh City

HCMC offers fast, reliable connectivity on par with leading SE Asian cities. Nearly all hotels and cafes offer free WiFi to customers.

HCMC edges Hanoi with generally faster, more stable connections. 4G signal tends to be better in Ho Chi Minh but, of course, it all depends on where you are.

Cyclo Taxi in Hanoi
The typical Cyclo Taxi that you can find in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi

Which city is the place to be for Digital nomads

Hanoi

Coworking spaces exist but are limited. Major cafes offer reliable internet for temporary work. The best areas for digital nomads are around Hoan Kiem Lake where wifi speeds are typically better for video calls and YouTube uploads.

Ho Chi Minh City

HCMC leads Vietnam for work-friendly infrastructure with tons of air-conditioned cafes, extensive coworking, local/foreigner collaborator spaces, and good work/life balance. Tech infrastructure keeps improving and connections remain stable for remote work.

HCMC is Vietnam’s top city for mixing travel and work.

Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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