Hi, I am new to the forum and looking for information about Vietnam. I am in the very beginning stages of volunteering abroad with the organization Volunteer HQ. I was given a choice between working in orphanages either in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. If any one can share their personal preference it would be greatly appreciated. I believe that Ho Chi Minh is very urban, and since I currently live right outside of New York City, I want to have as much of a culturally diverse experience as possible. I suspect I may be more satisfied with Hanoi, but would love other opinions. Thanks so much!
#1 karigirl has been a member since 18/8/2011. Posts: 1
I would be speaking from the view of a traveller rather than someone who has spent a length of time living in either city.
I spent 2-3 days in HCMC and another 4 days in Hanoi. HCMC to me was just another big city - it was vaguely interesting, but nothing really stood out for me. Hanoi, on the other hand, was fascinating, particularly around the Old Quarter area. There just seemed to be so much to see and do, and it had so much character. I loved it. The people in the south appeared to be a bit friendlier though, whereas the ones in the north were a tad more aggressive - this may become an important consideration if you are planing to spend a decent amount of time there. But then again... maybe once you get out of the touristy areas you'll be meeting people with a different, less-jaded nature anyhow.
Not sure if I've helped after that little ramble... Get hold of TravellingSarah on this forum who has spent a fair bit of time living in Vietnam and I'm sure she can give you some good insight.
Hello! Well of course I'm going to say Hanoi (as I live here)! We based our decision on where to live on what we thought of the two cities when travelling - we just fell in love with Hanoi and didn't feel much for HCMC. However, I should say that I've been back to HCMC since and liked it a lot more and, of course, I can't do a direct comparison as living and visiting somewhere are completely different things. Also, I know people who love HCMC and don't like Hanoi so horses for courses.
Anyway, to comment on a few specifics in terms of what Hanoi offers:
You mention that you want to avoid an urban environment - yes, Hanoi is less modernised than HCMC but construction is happening at an immense rate and it's pretty built up now in many areas. However, it has less of a 'city' feel to it.
Of course, both cities are going to be culturally diverse: with Hanoi it's a bit more in your face and, as busylizzy says, the Old Quarter is fascinating. But the whole city is just a mass of alleyways and life lived on the street. In terms of culturally diverse, I cannot think of a single thing that is similar between Hanoi and London.
Another thing I love about Hanoi is the open space. Loads of lakes and green bits.
Regarding friendliness, I've heard that it's friendlier in the south from many people and have no reason to disagree. However, once you're settled in Hanoi and start getting to know the locals they're generally very sweet. I was told the Hanoians are like coconuts - tough on the outside but once you get through that they're soft. Of course, there are some exceptions to the rule but this usually holds true.
I'm dashing off to catch a flight now but if you need more info I can write more when I'm back.
I vote for HCMC because I stayed there for 4 months (year in total over the years) and love the place. The others have all posted valid reasons for Hanoi and on first sight Hanoi has more charm with it's old quarter. But it didn't do much more for me after 4 days. However I never stayed there for any greater length of time.
HCMC is a city that you slowly discover. It has some great people, both locals and expats and some well hidden treasures that you only discover when staying longer. In general it has a more easygoing feeling. And I love the dynamics of HCMC. To say that it's "just another big city" isn't really fair. To me it's one of the most asian cities there is without many western fast food or coffee chains, it's motorbikes and lack of prominent old colonial buildings such as the old quarter.
I have heard that Saigon is more cosmopolitan than Hanoi, which for me would be a selling point. But there are people here on the list who have been to both places who could help you better. I would highlight some specifics, like what your personal interests are, as they may be found in one place and not the other.