Many people prefer Hanoi, and I totally understand that. Sure, the bustling capital has cooler architecture, fewer people, and feels more like the country’s cultural center. I have continuously praised relaxing, calm destinations, so why would I praise Ho Chi Minh City, the bigger, busier, more heavily populated city?
I can’t put my finger directly on the answer, but I can try. Even though Hanoi has fewer people, it feels more hectic. The streets are winding and overcrowded, and somehow seem smaller. The city is way too insular, and almost gives the impression that you are trapped inside it. Ho Chi Minh City, on the other hand, is a delight. It has bigger streets to match its bigger population, and therefore feels less crowded. Even though it has just as many touts as Hanoi, you tend to feel less suffocated by them. As Saigon is the business capital of the country, people seem busier, friendlier, and (slightly) more honest. To put it simply, Ho Chi Minh City has more leg room than Hanoi. It reminded me a lot of New York City (one of my favorite places in the world), which is probably why I’m biased toward it.
Some may also make an argument for Hoi An, the quiet city known for its many tailors. All I have to say is, Hoi An may have been great a few years ago, but I found it to be pretty average. Sections of the city feel like they were built entirely for tourists. While I did enjoy Hoi An, I found it to be more touristy than I had expected. From what I’ve read, it only recently became the tourist hot spot that it is now. I’d be willing to bet it used to be way more charming. In many ways, the city felt like a sort of second-rate version of Luang Prabang (Laos), another UNESCO World Heritage site.
Everyone has their own favorite(s); mine happened to be Ho Chi Minh City. For those of you who have been to Vietnam, I’d be interested to know what your favorite place(s) were.
Next up: Singapore!