38 wanderlust.co.uk September2019
Vietnam’s north-south divide is more than geographical. Split into two nations
in the 1950s, they were only reunited post-Vietnam War, yet cultural Hanoi and
buzzy Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) remain polar opposites. But which is for you?
with modernity. It mostly resists Western
culture, and strolling the Old Quarter and
its ‘tube houses’ (some just two metres
wide) oers more historical context than
the city’s one-eyed museums. But the Hoa
Lo Prison and the Mausoleum, in which
‘Uncle Ho’ Chi Minh lies, are good primers.
It was set up by the French as a commercial
centre in the 1800s, and remains resiliently
modern. Still, the Reuniication Palace
(pictured), where the Viet Cong stormed
the gates in 1975 to end the war, and the
no-punches-pulled War Remnants Museum
ensure that its historic moments aren’t lost.
Hanoi is a foodie icon, with tiny pho (noodle
soup) shops like Pho Gia Truyen rightly
lauded. Vietnam’s coee ixation – a legacy
of the war, after which it sought a new cash
crop – inds form in the ‘egg coee’
(pictured) of Giang Cafe, while Vespa tours
of the markets see you ill up on tasty bun
cha (pork noodles) and nem (spring rolls).
The pace rarely lets up down here. Vespa
tours or going toe-to-toe among Ben Thanh
Market’s 3,000 bustling stalls are a good
way to get up to speed. Catch your breath
in the French Quarter, where the gothic-
style post oice and spires of Notre Dame
Cathedral recall its Gallic roots, while Jade
Emperor Pagoda is an island in a neon sea.
Dreamstime; Shutterstock; Getty
Despite the tide of Vespas, Hanoi is a slower
burn. Wander the chilled Hoan Kiem Lake,
visit the ancient pagoda Tran Quoc
(pictured), then hit the Old Quarter where
workshops spill out onto the pavements.
Meanwhile, the Water Puppet Theatre –
a tradition from the rice ields – oers a link
with the city’s rural roots.
Hanoi is all tradition, but HCMC’s mass of
expats means there’s more dining variety in
District 1 than in all the north. Craft beer (try
Pasteur Street Brewing), slick roasteries and
Turtle Lake’s food carts, hawking banh mi
sandwiches to busy workers, show all sides
to the city. Finish at the Vietnam Cookery
Center, polishing your pho-making skills.
Head to Head
Hanoi VERSUS Ho Chi Minh City
leader Ho Chi Minh
died in 1969, a team
from the USSR lew
in to embalm him
(a la Lenin) , but
his body wasn’t
unveiled at Hanoi’s
after the Vietnam
War, so US troops
couldn’t capture it.
3,329 sq km
resting place of
‘Uncle Ho’, tai chi
by Hoan Kiem Lake
and water puppets
2,061 sq km
Fox holes, war
Palace and boat
trips on the
HANOI NORTH HO CHI MINH CITY SOUTH