Hanoi Old Quarter Versus Ho Chi Minh First Impressions

We liked both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, but we found that Ho Chi Minh had more of a party vibe, and Hanoi was more chill and relaxed. We also found that there was a lot more variety of things going on in Hanoi on the weekends for local and tourist entertainment.

The General Atmosphere

Streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter and around Hoan Kiem Lake were closed down every weekend and performers would set up, as well as kids playing games and skipping in the streets.

Two people skipping in the streets of Hanoi
Skipping in the streets of Hanoi

There were various big events on a few weekends that we were there as well.

Video of our highlights from Hanoi

Overall, we found Hanoi to have more variety of entertainment going on. Each weekend was a little adventure for us because we never knew what we’d find out there.

However, if it’s a party and touristy scene you’re going for, then Ho Chi Minh might be more for you.

The Drinking Streets

Ho Chi Minh – Bui Vein Street

Bui Vein Street in Ho Chi Minh

Bui Vein Street in Ho Chi Minh is extremely loud and quite big. There’s a lot of space to walk, although it does get extremely crowded at night. The clubs and bars are large and they’re all pumping their beats crazy loud into the street.

We didn’t spend much time on Bui Vein street because we couldn’t talk to each other over the noise, the smoke gave us sore throats, and it was hard to get anywhere later in the evening when it was shoulder to shoulder with people everywhere.

Hanoi – Ta Hien Street

Hanoi definitely has a drinking street, but it’s nothing like Bui Vein Street in Ho Chi Minh.

Crowded drinking street in Hanoi's Old Quarter
Crowded drinking street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter

Hanoi’s drinking street itself is quite small and narrow. The restaurants and bars are small inside. Mini chairs and tables are sitting all along the street, so there’s basically only room for single file shuffling down the middle. You’re just as likely to find people drinking cold tea and eating sunflower seeds as you are to see people consuming alcohol.

You do have to get used to people blocking your way or yelling at you across the street to get you to come in and eat at their place. You’ll be greeted with, “Hello beer,” regularly as you walk around these streets.

Buying cheap beer

Ho Chi Minh – Supermarkets

In Ho Chi Minh, we found the cheapest alcohol in the supermarkets. The cheapest beer was around 10,000 VND, or you could get a 500ml Zorok beer for 18,000 VND in store.

Hanoi – On the streets

Bia Hoi
Bia Hoi

In Hanoi, the beer was cheapest on the street. Walking around Hanoi’s Old Quarter, you can find chill places to sit and drink the cheapest beer you could ever find. I’m talking 5,000 VND for a glass of freshly brewed beer. I’ve written a post about this particular beer, called Bia Hoi.

Some weekends, we even were given free beer because of promotional events going on, which was really cool.

Person dressed up as a beer bottle
Always things happening in the streets of Hanoi before midnight

Midnight Curfew

Ho Chi Minh

Even though it’s the same country, you wouldn’t necessarily realize it when you experience the nightlife in Ho Chi Minh versus Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh is a lot more westernized. We stayed right next to Bui Vein Street (Ho Chi Minh’s drinking street) and we often heard people yelling in the street up until 3:00-4:00am. If there is a curfew in Ho Chi Minh, we certainly weren’t aware of it while we were staying there for a month.

Hanoi – Midnight on weekdays, 2AM on weekends

In Hanoi, police patrol the streets at midnight on week nights and close down establishments. One night we were walking back to our apartment at midnight and we watched as restaurant and bar owners scrambled to put away chairs and tables, while the police truck slowly rolled by. Police officers walked on the streets in front of the trucks blowing whistles at people who didn’t appear to be packing up.

At the present, Hanoi has extended drinking hours on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, where the curfew is 2AM, rather than midnight.

Security

Ho Chi Minh – Security guards everywhere

In Ho Chi Minh, we basically couldn’t go anywhere without seeing security guards. They were posted at regular intervals along the streets. We rarely saw police though.

Hanoi – Mainly police

We did see security guards in Hanoi, but they were definitely not as common. We mainly saw them at grocery stores and banks, rather than all along the street.

However we regularly saw police patrolling the streets of Hanoi either enforcing curfews or traffic bans, as traffic is not allowed on certain streets in the Old Quarter on weekends or public festivals.

Cleanliness

Ho Chi Minh

We didn’t take too much photos of the streets in Ho Chi Minh, but there was generally a lot more rubbish around. We saw rats and cockroaches there every evening.

Hanoi

The streets in Hanoi’s Old Quarter seem to be a lot cleaner than those in Ho Chi Minh. Every night, you’ll see locals sweeping and cleaning the streets and getting rid of the rubbish by either putting it in a bin or burning it.

So far we haven’t seen any rats or cockroaches in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. However, the streets can get a bit more dirty the further away from the Old Quarter you get.

Hanoi at night
Hanoi at night

Drugs

Ho Chi Minh

Drugs are illegal in Vietnam. I don’t know what the punishment is, and I’m definitely not keen to find out. However, for some reason in Ho Chi Minh, local men would whisper to us, ‘marijuana,’ as we walked past. We always either ignored them or said no, but I’m assuming they had some to sell.

We did see an American guy smoking some weed in the backpacker street, and the lady we were with thoroughly told him off and warned him of the consequences if he got caught.

Hanoi

In Hanoi, we have not experienced anyone offering us drugs of any sort, which is nice.

English Speaking

In both cities, local students and children would often approach us and try to practice their English conversation, which is a good way to learn if you have some spare time to help them.

Ho Chi Minh

Most people selling us things or running hostels could speak broken English or could at least speak a few words. If people didn’t know English, we got by with pointing and showing notes to display how much something cost.

A local food market in Ho Chi Minh
A local food market in Ho Chi Minh

Hanoi

It seemed like a lot of locals in the area spoke very good English, if not fluent. Most people we ordered food or bought items from spoke English quite well. In fact, we saw a local chasing a tourist with a broomstick and I commented to my partner wondering what was going on, and a local next to us explained that the foreigner hadn’t paid for his scooter parking, so the local was angry. The point of this story being that locals around you probably understand what you’re saying and can help out in situations where you’re confused.

Beggers and Scammers

We came across a few people in Ho Chi Minh who would come up to us and point to their mouth and hold their hands out for money. They did genuinely look malnourished a lot of the time, so I would label them as beggers.

We came across a lot more scammers in Hanoi, and I’ve written another post with details about the most common scams to look out for in Vietnam.

Food

Both places have amazing food, and I’ve written posts about our favourite dishes in both Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. Some dishes are easier to find in each city though, so I’ll put some pictures of our favourites from each city below.

Ho Chi Minh

Bun Thit Nuong
Bun Thit Nuong
Banh Xeo: Crispy Rice Pancake
Banh Xeo: Crispy Rice Pancake

Hanoi

Bun Cha
Banh Cuon: Steam Rice Rolls
Banh Cuon: Steam Rice Rolls
Vietnamese egg coffee
Egg Coffee

A note on the egg coffee, it is local to Hanoi as it is a drink of Northern Vietnam. However, the best egg coffee we tried was actually in Ho Chi Minh. You can read more about that experience here.

Until next time, peace and good times to you all ✌

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