Saigon Ho Chi Minh City skyline

Ho Chi Minh City vs. Hanoi

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Vietnam street vendor

Since the 20th century, Vietnam has gone through radical changes and suffered enormous hardships, perhaps more than any country in the world. When Vietnam gained independence from colonial France after World War II, post-war political momentum split the country in two, establishing North Vietnam and South Vietnam. For more than twenty years, Vietnam remained divided, as the two halves fought each other during the American–Vietnam war. Hanoi served as the capital of the north, while Ho Chi Minh City (known as Saigon), served as the capital of the south. Eventually, the north won and Vietnam was reunified. However, the division of the country from the war left a permanent effect on both halves, with alterations of the culture and the infrastructure. On top of that, the two cities lie on differing ends of the country’s borders, creating a difference in climate. Both Hanoi and Saigon are rapidly developing cities with unique individuality. 



Hanoi street

One of the most obvious differences between Hanoi and Saigon is the differing landscape of an urban environment. Saigon is a more modern and glitzy city, with several skyscrapers and swanky restaurants that populate the skyline. Saigon is Vietnam’s economic center, the financial hub of the country. Many young people move to Saigon to improve their professional careers, because the burgeoning economic growth has created many job opportunities.

During the Vietnam War, the United States occupied and commanded the military out of Saigon, which led to an influx of Western culture. International cuisine is readily available, and multinational corporations are prevalent in the economy. 

Hanoi is a much more traditional, historical city. The city is constructed from unpolished, bustling streets that host market stalls, food stands, and traditional houses. The skyline is created from little temples and cultural buildings rather than tall buildings and skyscrapers. European inspired architecture is found throughout the city, a nod to the country’s colonial past. Hanoi hosts the seat of Vietnam’s government, so most bureaucratic decisions come from the north. Hanoi is ideal for those looking to experience a traditional lifestyle. The city is ripe with cultural activities and generally calms down late at night.



vietnam tea Because of the historical geopolitical difference between the two ends of the country, a variance in Vietnamese culture exists between the two cities. Similar to many countries, the speaking accent and regional dialects can make communication problematic for some Vietnamese. While most people will understand each other whether they’re Saigonese or Hanoian, they will often use different words to describe the same thing. Southerners are very direct, and tell you exactly what they want. Northerners tend to make their message very ambiguous and confusing, where yes can mean no.

Food and drink, another staple of any culture, is slightly different depending if you’re in Saigon or Hanoi. Life in Saigon revolves around iced coffees. People always carry an iced coffee with them, wherever they go. Due to the hot climate, a refreshing ice coffee serves as an antidote to the relentless summer heat. A popular selection, “café da”, is a combination of a medium or dark roast coffee mixed with sugar or condensed milk, before being dumped into a cup of ice. In contrast, Hanoi’s slightly milder climate is less demanding on the body. Hanoians prefer a hot cup of tea, an affinity shared from their Chinese neighbors. Green tea is the most common choice for those who regularly enjoy a cup.

Most of the cuisine is standardized throughout Vietnam, but preferences slightly change between people from the two cities. Northerners typically prefer noodles, and many of the famous Vietnamese dishes with noodles, namely pho, originated up north. Of course, southerners also enjoy noodle dishes, but they will usually make a switch to rice with meat or fish for evening meals.



Vietnamese climate is normally associated with heat. Hanoi and Saigon both experience extreme heat, especially in the summer months of June – September. Extremely high temperatures plague Saigon year-round. The city does not experience the traditional four seasons; the year rotates between a wet season and the dry season. The wet season regularly falls between May – October, with sporadic daily showers. The dry season lasts from November – April. 

Hanoi’s climate is much milder than Saigon, with cool winters and warm summers. People will still dress with a winter jacket in the morning during the spring and fall months, as temperatures can drop into single digits. Mirroring the mild temperature, the rainy season is also milder than Saigon’s. Hanoi has the same June – September wet season, but showers are usually a persistent light drizzle throughout the day.



Hanoi citadel The American war changed everything in Vietnam. Much of the fighting took place in southern portion of the country, which wrecked many cities and villages, including Saigon. Many wartime relics and locations lie in and around Saigon. The Cu Chi Tunnels are an extensive network of tunnels that were used by the Viet Cong (South Vietnam rebels who fought against the South Vietnam government) to infiltrate Saigon, and lie a short distance from the city. Additionally, Saigon is home to many war remembrance sites, namely the War Remnants Museum. To note, the US occupation of Saigon and the French colonial history left a lasting western influence on the city’s infrastructure. Living in Saigon grants you opportunities to visit cathedrals and European style squares. 

If you’re looking for a more traditional and cultural experience, Hanoi is probably more suitable for you. Because the far north of Vietnam was spared from the destruction of bombs, many ancient Vietnamese temples and structures remain around Hanoi. The city’s Old Quarter is famous for its clumped array of restaurants and artisan galleries. The capital city is home to the Hanoi Citadel, a compound that served as the political center of Vietnam for thirteen centuries. Similar themed historical locations can be found throughout the area. 


Start Your Internship!

Completing an internship in Vietnam will surely be a life-changing experience. No matter if you decide to live in the cosmopolitan Saigon or the traditional Hanoi, both cities have plenty of internship opportunities in various fields. Let AIP find your next internship and begin planning your trip to Vietnam!

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