Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City: How Do They Differ?

19 Feb, 2024 | Featured Stories

Discover the key differences between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in terms of culture as well as several other aspects.

Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City may be located in the same country, but they couldn’t be more different from each other. 

If you’ve been drawn to Vietnam lately, these two top destinations are probably no strangers. Hanoi is the capital while Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is the economic powerhouse of the country. 

Setting aside the bustling streets, impeccable food, and rich histories that they share, we’re sure whoever has visited both, has been able to pick their favorite. Scroll down for the key differences between the two cities. 

1. Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City: Climate 

The geographical distance of 1132.4 kilometers (703.6 miles) results in distinct climate patterns between the two cities.

Hanoi is the only capital in Southeast Asia with a subtropical climate, comprising four seasons, while HCMC has a year-round tropical climate with two seasons: the Rainy and the Dry. Both are equally hot during Summer, with temperatures sometimes reaching as high as 40 °C (104 °F). Summer in the capital can even feel more intense due to higher humidity. While the temperature in HCMC barely changes throughout the year, Hanoi gets to enjoy a few chillier months, with Winter occasionally dropping below 10 °C (50 °F). 

Best times to visit:

  • Hanoi: Autumn from late September to November or Spring from February to April, when the weather is comfortably warm with little rain. 
  • Ho Chi Minh City: From December to April, when the Dry season takes place. 

2. Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City: Vibe

This largely has to do with how each city positions itself. Hanoi lives by the spirit of an ancient capital; while Ho Chi Minh City prefers a more metropolitan, youthful appearance. You can’t tell which is which from an average street, but the contrast unfolds once you get to the city center. The capital places a strong emphasis on the preservation of old buildings and temples and the original townscape as a whole within the Old Quarter. Its southern counterpart, on the other hand, has redeveloped District 1 into a center business district (CBD), filled with skyscrapers and contemporary infrastructure. 

Thanks to its long-standing establishment, Hanoi has an advantage regarding historical sites, including the Temple of Literature and the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long dating back to the 11th century. 

Most historical sites in Ho Chi Minh City have their roots in the colonial and South Vietnam periods, such as the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Independence Palace, except for some ancient Chinese temples in Cholon

Strolling around the narrow streets of the Old Quarter, you’ll be frequently met with small shops and traditional markets selling handicrafts, textiles, artworks, and antiques; which are rare in District 1. 

An antique fan shop in Hanoi’s Old Quarter

However, when it comes to trendy and international shopping experiences, Ho Chi Minh City takes the lead. It offers many more upscale malls within District 1 as well as brands and product varieties. 

3. Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City: Culture and People

To somehow explain the cultural differences between the two, let’s take a brief look back in time. 

Besides the French colonial period, they didn't share similar situations for the remaining history. Hanoi first became the capital of Vietnam in 1010 AD and was only substituted by Hue during the two last dynasties. It is safe to say Hanoi is the representative of traditional Vietnamese heritage, along with some Chinese influence due to periods of Chinese rule. 

HCMC, on the other hand, is a melting pot of various cultures. Before being founded by the Vietnamese in 1698, it was for a long time occupied mainly by Khmer people. Later, it became an international trading hub for its strategic location; receiving people from all over the place; notably Indian, Malay, and Chinese.

Such a difference is evident in architecture. Village gates are a unique feature of the capital while Hindu temples can only be found in its southern sibling. 

Just like the way the city looks, Hanoians stick more to traditional values and thus, in general, are more conservative and reserved. Saigonese, in contrast, are very open-minded and direct. They are often referred to as being more ‘Americanized’, which is understandable since HCMC was the base of the U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War. The American presence also brought elements of Western pop culture to the city; influencing entertainment, music, and fashion. 

The nightlife scenes are vibrant in both, with bars and clubs opening until early morning, but there is a reason why HCMC earns the title ‘the city that never sleeps’. 

The party street of Bui Vien in HCMC

Another interesting point, Hanoians are known for being very careful with their money. They prioritize saving, even for their children; while the Saigonese just spend as much as they make. 

4. Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City: Food Scene

Vietnam is renowned worldwide for ‘pho’, but do you know that each city has its own version of this dish? 

The broth in Hanoian pho typically has a clearer and more delicate flavor. It may be seasoned with fewer spices, allowing the natural flavors of the ingredients to come through. In HCMC, the broth tends to have a bolder and more robust flavor. It could be richer and darker, with a stronger emphasis on spices. The rice noodles in Hanoi are flat and wider, while their Saigonese counterparts are thinner and rounder. Traditional accompaniments in the capital include garlic vinegar and deep-fried dough sticks (quẩy), sometimes poached egg and a cup of iced tea; while Saigon-style pho comes with a wide array of herbs such as basils, bean sprouts, and Hoisin sauce. 

Hanoians are proud of their Pho as it's considered the original and authentic one. However, for Saigonese, it is not Pho but Hu Tieu that is their favorite. 

As for tastes, Hanoians often comment that Saigonese food is too sweet, while Saigonese may find Hanoian food not flavorful enough. 

Overall; some of the prominent dishes in Hanoi include pho, bun cha, and bun rieu; while there are hu tieu, banh canh, and com tam in HCMC. Culinary variations also apply to other regions in Vietnam, so never worry you’ll run out of new food to try when coming here. 

5. Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City: Dialect and Accent

It’s like American English versus British English. Speakers from either city can easily understand and communicate with each other, but there are regional variations in accent, intonation, and vocabulary.

Hanoian accent typically has more distinctive tonal patterns, and speakers may pronounce certain words with more pronounced rising or falling tones. The Saigonese one is known for its flatter intonation and fewer tonal distinctions. Tones in HCMC may also be less pronounced compared to Hanoi. 

You’ll also notice plenty of different words used. For example, the word ‘bowl’ is ‘bát’ in Hanoi and ‘chén’ in HCMC, and ‘expensive’ is ‘đắt’ and ‘mắc’, respectively. 

Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, for numerous factors, have developed unique characters that would take endless pages of comparison if we dived into the smallest details. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that each is captivating and complicated in its own way. To go beyond sightseeing and surround yourself with Vietnam’s fascinating stories, design your trip with Exotic Voyages. 

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