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HCMC or Hanoi

Hi,
I almost feel ashamed to admit this - but I have never been to Vietnam. On an upcoming trip I would be lucky enough to have an opportunity to fill the void. Problem is, still only enough time for one city. So, Saigon or Hanoi? That is the question.
I would welcome you to comment on all aspects - but this being a chowhound board, I am expecting more to concentrate on the food. A little background - I prefer, much prefer street food. Places like Yaowarat are heaven to me. I am hoping for the same great beer-drowning, flames at your face stir fry experience. :-)

Thanks in advance!

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  1. It's not as if one city is a better version of the other. They're really different.

    If you want flames at your face, Saigon is the way to go.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jaykayen

      Actually I believe Sai Gon is the better version. Hands down. Every northern dish you could ask for is available down south..along with tons of southern specialties much harder to find in Ha Noi. More fruits and veggies, more flavor, more variety of street food..it's just no contest.

      com suon, mi quang, banh khot, com ga xoi mo, hen xao, mi vit tiem, bun rieu...eat it up.

      globaleats.blogspot.com

    2. easy one: Saigon. no doubt about it. same reasons stated by anthonyrza below/above. very good beer drowning experiences as well. mind-blowingly delicious food everywhere in the country, coarse dining by the roadside on children plastic stools inhaling exhaust and dust, rubbing elbows with locals in packed little restaurants at peak lunch time watching them eat humongous trays of herbs and leaves along with their food.

      VN has the best food and coffee in all of SEA! at least according to me ;) [been to coughThailandcough *twice* and enjoyed it immensely but never again.]

      1. Ho Chi Minh City may be the best for food, but if you are interested in which city to see for other reasons Hanoi should be your choice. Although it is starting to change, Hanoi still retains some of its old character, with very few (used to be none) western stores or fast food. In a few years, Hanoi will be like so many other Asian cities, where you could conceivably forget which one you are in. In my opinion, HCMC is already like that, so i would recommend seeing Hanoi while you can.

        If you do decide to go to Hanoi, there is plenty of great food and drink to be had.

        14 Replies
        1. re: LloydG

          I have to spend 2 nights in Saigon and 2 in Hanoi every year. Gotta say I agree with LloydG in every respect.

          It's certainly not the reason to choose Hanoi over Saigon, although it could be, but you'll find species on the menu there and in the nearby surroundings that you won't find in too many other places.

          1. re: LloydG

            Yeah I disagree. If you just talking about the relatively tiny downtown district 1 area of HCMC with the 5 star hotels and overpriced restaurants then yes, it's more developed. But HCMC is huuuuge..take a 5 minute drive outside the city center and there is nothing western about it. Of course every tourist/expat driven area of a city is going to have more of an international feel. The old quarter of Hanoi, despite it's charm is teeming with mediocre restaurants and shops selling useless crap foreigners. Hanoi is a much smaller city, so there are less international businesses. Despite being the economic capitol of Viet Nam, HCMC still keeps pumping without a McDonalds, Starbucks, Burger King or 7-11, to name a few. I feel like it's still one of the least developed metropolis cities in Asia. Make sure you get out of district one though.

            1. re: anthonyrza

              planning a trip to HCMC this winter; is it advisable to stay in district 1 for hotel and venture elsewhere, or stay in other districts and just get around? and, any other good food destinations aside from HCMC if I'm planning a 2-3 week trip to VN? maybe one or two more cities, for contrast.

              1. re: bigjeff

                Go down to Canh Tho and explore the Delta!!!! can't miss.

                1. re: bigjeff

                  I think it'll be easier for you to stay in D1, since English is spoken more widely than in the outer districts. Plus, transportation (xe om or taxi or bus) is really cheap so it'll be no problem jumping from meal to meal. You can also rent a moto if you want ultimate flexibility/excitement.

                  HCMC has the biggest selection of cuisine in the country. You can get foods from all over Viet Nam here. In the countryside or in smaller cities, the choices will be more limited (READ: HU TIEU, PHO, BUN BO, MI QUANG, COM). Hue has tasty dishes such as COM HEN and BANH BEO but you need to get outside the travelers belt. In my opinion the north has far less variety and overall flavor than other parts of VIET NAM, and two of the most famous northern dishes (PHO and BANH CUON) are prevalent all over HCM. Any coastal destinations (MUI NE, PHU QUOC, NHA TRANG) will serve fresh seafood. Try SO DIEP NUONG (grilled mussels), GHE HAP (steamed crab) or Oc Len Xao Dua (snails with a coconut milk sauce). So i'd say HCM is top, then HUE..although you can find almost anything if you sniff around enough.
                  http://globaleats.blogspot.com/search...

                  1. re: anthonyrza

                    the quintessential northern Vietnamese dish is Thit Cho but I've never seen it anywhere in HCMC. Could be that I'm always stuck in the wrong neighborhoods. Any chance you've run across it in HCMC?

                    1. re: el jefe

                      Funny, I actually live right down the street from a clutch of 'thit cho' restaurants that are packed every night. Going towards the airport on Cach Mang Thang Tam street, make a left on Chan Hung street (about 50 meters past Le Thi Rieng Park). You'll see 3-4 'quan an thit cho' restaurants on this bumpy-ass street and you'll certainly smell that grilled dog from a distance. Pham Van Hai street sells fresh canine carcass in the morning if you're interested in cooking it yourself. Have fun!

                      1. re: anthonyrza

                        Thanks for the directions. I don't do thit cho any more myself, but I always have a client or two that's interested.
                        With that info, since this is Chowhound and we're keeping this just to food, I'll switch my vote and go for HCMC over Hanoi now.

                  2. re: bigjeff

                    thanks guys, sounds good. planning to do HCMC > Pho Quoc > Can Tho > HCMC with maybe 4 or 5 days at each spot, with additional time at the end, bookending the trip. now just trying to book all the flights and lodging all at the same time but once that is squared away, will hit these boards hard. thanks anthonyrza for the recs; the all-caps is quite helpful and, great entries on your blog too. perfect.

                    1. re: bigjeff

                      The Delta region is a mystical water world. I don't know how you would do it (it used to be part of my work), but try to get on some fast boat that wojuld take you out first onto the large ship going channels, but then quickly into the grids of cross cutting canals of different sizes until you finally get down to the very small channels that go through local "neighborhoods" where you'll see the lives lived in and from that water world. Fascinating and beautiful. And there is grreat food everywhere.

                      1. re: bigjeff

                        If you are making the trip half way around the world I think you would be remiss without hitting up Hanoi. There was a certain chaotic charm to it that I really liked. I flew into Hanoi and flew out of HCMC with multiple stops in between. I hopped an cheap internal flight from Hanoi to Hue and then hop stopped down the coast.

                        1. re: MVNYC

                          vietnam airlines is the major domestic carrier, yes? did you do all flights? some trains?

                          1. re: MVNYC

                            Hope you went to the big market across the bridge in Hue.

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              I flew over on Korean Air(I used Delta miles to fly free) into Hanoi and out of HCMC. Both trips took me through Seoul. On the return trip I had about 13 hours to kill so I got a brief tour of the city which was nice.

                              In Vietnam I flew on Vietnam airlines one way down to Hue, I think it was around $75. I ended up taking a bus now to Hoi An which basically sucked. After that we ended up just hiring guys to drive us down the coast to each of our stops. With 3 of us it wasn't much more than a bus and a lot easier. I am not too familiar with their train system but I don't remember it being the most convenient option. I ended up seeing a good part of the country in two weeks though I wish I had a full month or longer. I absolutely loved Vietnam.

                              Sam-I did hit up that market in Hue, I ended up getting an egg bahn mi from a vendor with all sorts of fermented goodness. I ate a few good meals there as well.

                  3. You won't go hungry either place, so why not see which city best fits in with the rest of your itinerary? Personally I ate better in Hanoi, because the guesthouse I stayed in just happened to be right next to a great market. Lunch was a fifty-cent bowl of soup with nem nuong, and snacktime was a few skewers from the vendors who'd appear every day as school let out to grab some custom from the hungry kids. While I had better individual dishes in other places, Vietnam in my experience had the best food overall of anyplace in SEA.

                    1. Both are great! Like trying to choose between your two kids. Although Saigon was my first born.

                      1. Just check your travel times. Hanoi can be a ghost town during Holidays and Celebrations. Haven't yet done a roundup for Hanoi (will be going back there in late Nov) but have done one for HCMC . There's some nice food, but the town is set up to be pretty hard for foreigners to experience much of it.

                        Most of the action takes place in a square you can walk if it's not raining too bad. Most of the better "western" restaurants are all owned by the same group... good food, but not necesarrily a local experience. Actually a lot are the same as Phnom Phen to boot (like the Spanish Tapas place).

                        If you live in Asia be sure to stop by the Gourmet Shop... I think that's actually the name. Best prices I've seen on Californian reds in a long time.

                        Not the best article we've done (was before I was intentionally doing my site) but still some general info should you go HCMC.

                        http://accidentalepicurean.com/2009/0...

                        Paul

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: pcypert

                          I happily stay well away from "Western" restaurants when in Hanoi (or Saigon).

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            There are some good ones though and good prices. I eat both as you have to enjoy the French fusion going on these days here. You'd be missing an emerging food trend if you just ignored restaurants because they are "western"... or maybe we're confusing terminology. But there are French restaurants serving up lovely interpretations of traditional Viet cuisine...