Hanoi or Saigon?

Many people coming to Vietnam on holiday, ask me the same question, “I want to see a big city as well as some of the countryside, which is better Hanoi or Saigon?” It is an almost impossible question to answer, but I will at least attempt to give you some information on which to base your choice.

First, a bit of background information. Hanoi is the capital of the country and is based in the north. It was already the capital of North Vietnam and when the country was reunified in 1975, it got the nod ahead of its southern rival. Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City, as it is now officially called, is 720 miles south of Hanoi. The former capital of South Vietnam it is by far the largest city in the country, and one of the largest in Asia. It is home to about 12 million people and a staggering 3.4 million motorbikes.

streets in ho chi minh city

One of many broad tree-lined boulevards in Saigon

Choosing a holiday destination is about, of course, more than just what is available inside the city. The surrounding areas and local hot destinations have to be taken into consideration. In the north you have Sapa and Halong Bay. These are the two biggest attractions in the country, with Halong Bay considered one of the finest destinations anywhere in the world. However, in the south you will find the Mekong Delta and no Vietnam trip can really miss out on seeing one of the world’s truly great rivers.

Saigon, as it is still known by most people, is quite simply one of the greatest cities anywhere. It is a huge sprawling city with a mixture of architectural styles that is very easy on the eye. Ancient Asian structures, fabulous French Colonial buildings and ultra modern glass towers, all rub shoulders here, in a riot of design. That it all works is something of a miracle, but work it does. The broad sweeping, tree-lined boulevards and the many parks, bring space and give the city its lungs.

Hanoi on the other hand, is smaller, quieter and not so dramatic. Of course the same three types of architecture are present, but the buildings are not quite so imposing and iconic. St. Joseph’s Cathedral is all very fine and much loved, but compared to the Notre Dame Basilica in Saigon, there really is no contest. Whilst the two highest glass towers in the country, The Landmark 72 and the soon to be completed Lotte Centre are found in Hanoi, the boldest and most iconic one, the Bitexco Financial Tower, is in Saigon.

tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City

The iconic Bitexco Financial Tower in Saigon

For culture and entertainment, most people head, in Saigon, to District One. There are many bars, restaurants, stores and cinemas. Everything you would want for a great night out. But Hanoi does it with more style. The Old Quarter is a fabulous maze of small streets with incredible restaurants and bars lending an almost Mediterranean feel to an evening out. However, if it’s shopping you want, then head to Saigon, the fashion stores here rival Paris or Milan.


A view of the old district in Hanoi.

So what is it to be, Hanoi or Saigon? There really is only one solution. Take a longer break and do both!

Keith Hancock is a singer/songwriter and writer based in Saigon, Vietnam. He has lived in Asia for more than 5 years and travels throughout the continent researching and writing. He owns and writes for Saigon Districts, an informative website about life in Vietnam’s largest city, aimed at the expat community. Keith is one of only two DIAMOND STATUS rated writers on Ezine articles in the whole of Indochina He has had work published in magazines and websites in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia and Asia. His great loves are music and travel, but he writes on a whole range of subjects.