Discover the Amazing Vietnamese Cities of Hanoi, Hue, and Saigon
One of the joys of traveling in Vietnam is exploring its amazing cities, each with its own personality: the ancient capital of Hanoi; elegant, tranquil Hue; and cosmopolitan Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).
Anchoring the North, Central, and Southern regions of Vietnam respectively, there’s a case to be made for visiting each Vietnamese city, and preferably all of them!
Even though Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are located in municipalities, their significance when it comes to the country’s politics, economy, and culture, mean that these two main cities are under direct supervision of the Vietnamese government. This translates into better infrastructure (metro systems are under construction in both cities), and more funds devoted to museums and attractions.
Hue, on the other hand, is the provincial capital of Thua Thien-Hue and is regulated by the provincial government. While this is an important point of difference for residents, for the average visitor, however, there’s likely no visible difference.
Located in the north, Hanoi gets a much broader range of temperatures throughout the year. Hot and humid from April to November with some rainfall, this is the best time to visit Hanoi as well as Halong Bay. From December to March, temperatures fall to a cool 15-17°C, meaning you’ll likely need a light jacket, especially in the evenings or on the water.
Hue is hot and dry from January to September with sporadic bouts of rain. Between May and August, temperatures can soar to more than 33°C. Happily, the local government has opened the Imperial Citadel for night visits to take advantage of cooler temperatures. Hue gets a lot of rain between October to December, at times heavy and for hours. It’s not unusual for there to be major flooding in some years.
Out of all three cities, Ho Chi Minh Cityhas the most stable temperatures year-round. There are a few cool months around Lunar New Year (December to February), but overall, it’s only rainy season (May to October) or dry season (November to April). Even in the rainy season, downpours are short and unlikely to affect plans. The dry season is the perfect time to check out beach destinations, including Phan Thiet, the nicest beach within easy driving distance (four hours).
For more information on when to visit these cities based on the weather, check out our blog on Best Time to Visit Vietnam.
Things to Do:
Hanoi (then known as Thang Long) was made the capital of Vietnam more than a thousand years ago, and as such, enjoys an incredible history. The Old Quarter with its streets named after craft guilds, sprang up from artisans who served the palace. Today, its narrow streets with their many shop houses, are still a wonderful place to stroll. There are a number of historical sites to visit in Hanoi including the Citadel with its pretty ochre-colored buildings as well as the Temple of Literature which served as Vietnam’s first national university. Significant sites revealing Vietnam’s more recent history include Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, a tribute to Vietnam’s revolutionary leader who liberated the country from French rule, and his stilt house set in a well-tended garden.
Special event: If you’re visiting in April 2020, consider joining Vietnam’s First Formula 1 Grand Prix, hosted in Hanoi. We’ve also partnered up with them and created three exclusive F1 Tour Packages – check them out!
Hue, once the imperial capital of Vietnam, is known for its beautiful temples and tombs. While most visitors only spend a day here, there’s much to see. After visiting a handful of the tombs dedicated to the emperors, some of which are over-the-top ornate, some understated and surrounded by nature, visit the Imperial Citadel, sharing some similarities with Beijing’s Forbidden City, although on a much smaller scale. The colorful doors and gates are a photographer’s dream. There are also garden houses where court officials lived a hundred years ago, some of them converted into quaint restaurants and cafes.
With over 9 million residents, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city, a wonderful mix of old and new. Sip a coffee in a trendy café repurposed from a colonial-era heritage building, or visit the many other examples of French-era buildings like the Central Post Office (still in operating condition), the gorgeous Notre Dame Cathedral, or the iconic Ben Thanh Market, in continuous operation since 1914.
What makes Vietnamese cuisine so wonderful is its incredible diversity, thanks to very different growing conditions in each of the three regions, as well as outside influences.
Hanoian cuisine in the north is influenced by neighboring China. There is less use of fresh herbs and vegetables compared to the south. In the colder climate, you’ll find quite a few grilled dishes like “bun cha”, grilled slices of pork belly and pork patties served atop rice noodles. There’s also “cha ca”, grilled chunks of fish flavored with turmeric and eaten with vermicelli noodles.
Hue cuisine is fit for a king, with many of Vietnam’s dishes originating here as a way to appease the emperors with new and unusual flavors. People in Central Vietnam typically eat spicier foods than in other parts, leading to Hue’s most famous export – “Bun Bo Hue” – a spicy noodle soup given heat through sate, ginger, lemongrass, and chili, topped with slices of beef.
Saigon is possibly Vietnam’s greatest food city. Not only does it reflect the unique flavor profile of the Mekong Delta with its emphasis on seafood and fresh vegetables, but it also reflects flavors from neighboring Cambodia as well as all the regional specialties which have come along with Vietnamese who have settled down in Saigon from all parts of the country. Its influx of international visitors and a large expatriate community also assure you can find almost any world cuisine you have a craving for, from Australian to Indian to Mexican.
If you enjoyed our guide, check out these Vietnam tours by Victoria Voyages featuring Hanoi, Saigon and Hue: