Hanoi vs Saigon

Both are notable for the work opportunities they can offer, especially the abundance of schools, head offices, hospitality options and far more variety than can be found almost anywhere else in Vietnam. So which one is better? This will help you decide.

When it comes to opportunities, affordability and warm temperatures, many expats from around the world look at Vietnam as a prime area for relocation. Naturally, it often comes down to Hanoi vs Saigon. The two biggest cities in the country seemingly provide the most options for work, housing, cultural pursuits and more.

There are, of course, other centers like Da Nang, Can Tho, Haiphong and elsewhere that get some attention. But the main hubs in the North and the South garner the most interest.


Hanoi vs Saigon

Unfettered Internet access and an influx of money in the country is narrowing the gap in culture between the two cities, but overall Hanoi is still more conservative than Saigon.

A great example is the nightlife. Saigon has bars and clubs that close in the wee hours of the morning, while Hanoi establishments shut their doors around midnight.

Interpersonal relationships are also different.

With love, you’re more likely to see unmarried couples living together in the south than the north. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still rare in the south. But it’s almost unheard of in the north.

Friendship building varies as well.

Hanoians often keep their guards up as they get to know someone. The Saigonese are more open and friendly from the beginning. It’s almost like the difference between New York and California in America.


Hanoi vs Saigon

Something people ask me when I say I live in Vietnam: “Oh, is it safe there?”

Sometimes it seems there are some misconceptions about growth of Vietnam. A decade ago the country was still developing, but nowadays Vietnam has all the modern conveniences of home. Local markets have now given way to high-rise offices and the cities welcome foreigners with a wide variety of tourist attractions. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have become bustling metropolises.

Huge malls dot both cities, hipster cafes are on every corner and designer fashion boutiques line the streets. There is a growing list of attractions in the major cities. Cinemas and shopping centers. Golf ranges and swimming pools. Bars, clubs and restaurants. Plus for the people who choose to live here long-term, there are luxury apartment complexes, modern hospitals and cheap transport all around the city.

Both cities made the top 10 in a recent list for “momentum” among cities with the key focus being on economic growth. The report also notes that there is a commitment to improve overall transparency in land valuation and provide better access to land registries, as the two cities look to keep pace with regional neighbors like the Philippines and Thailand.

Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are becoming serious contenders in the ASEAN group, competing with Bangkok, Manila and Singapore for investment from abroad.


Hanoi vs Saigon

Traffic is a major concern in Vietnam. Expats from large Western cities who boast of gridlock in their hometowns go silent on their first commutes in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. And generally, large Western cities have subways, metros, LRTs or other options for public transit. Those options are largely nonexistent in Hanoi and Saigon. But help is on the way.

Metros are under construction in both cities, although the capital has slightly more infrastructure development, with its Metro system inching ahead of its Southern counterpart.

The Ho Chi Minh City metro line was expected to open before the Tet Lunar New Year holiday starting early February. Construction was originally scheduled for completion in 2013. But several hurdles, notably to do with financial management, have been stalling the project for years.

Saigon tried to compensate for these delays with the opening of the city’s water bus in late 2017. The popular service can’t meet the overwhelming demand at this point, and the route is limited to a particular group of commuters along one river corridor. That said, talks are underway to add more boats and more routes in the future.


Hanoi vs Saigon

Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City vary somewhat in terms of seasons and temperature.

Expats from Canada, for instance, won’t consider Hanoi’s winter to be remotely like what they experience at home, with no snow and temperatures in early January still well above 15 degrees. It’s actually quite pleasant.

However, summers in Hanoi are more humid than those in Saigon, thanks to the wet air that comes from Laos. Saigon gets drier air from Cambodia. But both places still get fairly hot, with smog making it worse.

Fun fact: Western countries in the Northern Hemisphere agree that the first day of spring is in late March; Vietnamese argue that the season begins around the Tet holidays. In some cases that’s in January! Other differences for Westerners can include the 6am sunrise to 6pm sunset schedule that persists every day, forever. It can be quite a shock for a Sydney or Boston resident to see the sun dip below the horizon so early. But it’s a factor of living in this part of the world.

Who’s next?

Danang earned a listing in a major Forbes feature as one of the top 10 “Cheapest Places to Live in 2018” feature. The central city has a lot going for it. While it’s a regional hub, it doesn’t deal with anything close to the crowding and traffic of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. Affordability is also a major bonus. And the chance to quickly make it to world-famous destinations nearby like Hoi An, a UNESCO World Historic site, and Hue, a former capital and royal city, are significant perks as well. So maybe someday, the debate of Hanoi vs Saigon will be obsolete.