Updated April 16, 2019

Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City

How do Vietnam’s biggest cities; Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, compare to cities in the West.

When it comes to opportunities, affordability and warm temperatures, many expats from around the world are looking at Vietnam as a prime area for relocation. Naturally, they tend to focus on Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, with the two biggest cities in the country seemingly providing 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.

Both are notable for the work opportunities they can offer, notably with the abundance of schools, head offices, hospitality options, and far more variety than can be found almost anywhere else in Vietnam. After these two cities, populations shrink to 20 percent the size of Hanoi (or less) and in turn, the number of employers dwindles as well.


Something people ask me when I tell them I live in Vietnam is ”Oh is it safe there”?

Sometimes it seems there are some misconceptions about the development of Vietnam. While a decade ago the country was still developing, nowadays Vietnam has all the modern conveniences of home.  Local markets have now given way to highrise offices and the cities welcome foreigners with a wide variety of tourist attractions. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi especially 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 from; cinemas, golf ranges, escape rooms, swimming pools, street food markets, 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.

Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City: Shopping Mall in Vietnam

Transport – Hanoi Vs Ho Chi Minh

Traffic is a major concern in Vietnam, with expats from large Western cities boasting of gridlock in their hometowns going 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, areas that Vietnamese cities tend to get poor reviews on overall, despite some improvements over the last decade. 

Between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, the capital has slightly more infrastructure development, with the Metro system in Hanoi inching ahead of its Southern counterpart. Ho Chi Minh City in particular is known for its gridlock in certain areas at rush hour.

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 has also made some progress in this regard, with the opening of the city’s water bus service got underway in late 2017. The popular service sadly 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.

Work and Commerce

Both cities made the top 10 in a recent list for “momentum” among cities with the key focus being on economic growth. As well, the report notes that steps are being taken to improve overall transparency in land valuation, better access to land registries and other areas 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.

You can learn more about work opportunities in Vietnam here.

Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City: Streets of Hanoi

The Difference in Weather

For those who consider climate a consideration, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City vary somewhat in terms of seasons and temperature. That said, 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 +15C, often reaching the low 20s and actually being quite pleasant. Summers can be scorching in both cities, magnified by smog and humidity. In the South, your options are “wet” or “dry” seasons, while in the North there’s the claim that all four seasons are present.

Interestingly, while Western countries in the Northern Hemisphere agree that the first day of spring is in late March, Vietnamese will argue that the season begins around the Tet holidays, which in some cases can be January. Other differences for Westerners can include the 6am sunrise – 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.

Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City: Da Nang Dragon Bridge at Sunset

Honorable mention – Da Nang

Listed 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, and manages to be one of the better-managed and cleaner cities in the country. Affordability is also a major bonus.  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.

By Harry Hodge