Both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City blew me away with their majestic detailed architecture, storied history, rich culture and, of course, its endlessly friendly locals. Between the bowls of delicious pho my mother and I slurped, washed down with refreshing Vietnamese iced coffee, always, between the wild honking of horns every hour of the day, between the playful interactions between the children we met along our journey – we became smitten with Vietnam’s two cities. Here is an Insider’s Guide to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Hanoi, the cultural capital of Vietnam, has endless sights and destinations to see. Truly, the best moments in Hanoi happen in a flash. And luckily, the city is extremely walkable, so we were able to soak in every fleeting, beautiful moment.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is endlessly interesting. You’ll find locals hanging the laundry out to dry, colorful displays outside of family owned businesses and restaurants, souvenir shops galore and spices wafting through every inch of the area.
This cafe was so adorable! Cong Caphe is a trendy cafe chain in Hanoi, with nostalgic twist. I highly recommend a visit!
If you love architecture, make a stop at Loading T Cafe! It’s located in an aged, French colonial home with the most gorgeous tiled floors. Their menu is filled with all sorts of treats, perfect for a break while walking around the city. And, obviously, order their Vietnamese iced coffee! (I’m not kidding, if you travel and love coffee… Hanoi is your place!)
Take a look at these views, and ask me how beautiful this hotel is. I couldn’t recommend the Lotte Hotel more! Waking up to the sprawling Hanoi city skyline below us was a dream come true. It felt like we were able to wake up in the clouds every morning. Add delicious pho and Vietnamese iced coffee delivered fresh for room service into the mix? If I weren’t such an adventurer, I’d stay here all day long!
Hanoi Railway Street
The tightly compacted Railway Street in the Old Quarter is so stunning. Yes, trains do pass by regularly! You’ll see the daily trips locals make to and from their homes (which are scary close to the tracks). I love little areas like this. It feels like a slice of authentic Vietnam every traveler dreams of.
St. Joseph Cathedral
St. Joseph Cathedral is a French colonial cathedral was constructed in 1882, with neo-Gothic/Parisian inspired architecture. It truly stands out in the city – and even I caught myself thinking I was somewhere in France when we passed by!
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City delighted us in every way. The bustling former capital of Vietnam, also known as “Saigon” is busting at the seams with energy and life. You’ll find much more traffic, crows and chaos – but also serene scenes of local life, adorable neighborhoods and temples galore. Here’s some of my favorite finds in Ho Chi Minh City.
Cafe Gian Giao
Translated loosely, Cafe Gian Giao means “Cafe Scaffolding” – which is obviously inspired by the industrial, constructional vibe of the eatery. You’ll find traditional fishing canoes filled with plants next to concrete electricity poles. It’s a totally unique place to grab a bite that I’d highly recommend!
Cu Chi Tunnels
Travelers who want to learn more about the Vietnam War should definitely check out the tunnels of Cu Chi. The immense maze of connected tunnels shows how ingenious the Vietnamese battle plans were. So many traps, puzzles and mazes! It’s impressive to experience each long and thin tunnel… just be sure to not get lost!
Independence Palace, or the Reunification Palace, was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace. Visitors can visit the well preserved palace, including its original tanks from the Vietnam War, its quiet gardens, secret rooms and command bunker!
The Caravelle was once home to the Australian and New Zealand Embassy, and the main center of communication during the Vietnam war… but now it’s become quite a fabled placed. It’s featured in many Vietnamese books! It’s worth a trip to see for yourself!
Saigon Opera House
You don’t have to be an opera aficionado to appreciate this gem! The concert hall puts on regular performances… so be sure to check out what is playing when you visit.
People’s Committee Of Ho Chi Minh City
The grand and opulent exterior of the People’s Committee building is a sight to behold! The building serves as the City Hall, so it’s not open to visitors – but the outside is stunning.
The Rex Hotel is a perfectly situated hotel in Saigon. Our accommodations were super welcoming and warm (always appreciated!), and I absolutely adored the overgrown greenery in its open air spaces. Gorgeous!
Notre Dame Cathedral
Another French-inspired Cathedral in the heart of Vietnam. The Notre Dame Cathedral (of Ho Chi Minh City that is, not Paris!) had all of its intricate tiles and materials shipped in from France. It’s a great place to see some of the European influence in the city right downtown.
Central Post Office
Saigon’s Central Post Office’s yellow and green exterior is a stunner. You’ll find tourists galore here, taking photos and exploring its expansive interiors. It’s a great spot to mail a post card or letter home while in Vietnam (while also getting some stunning photographs).
Explore Saigon’s Bustling Streets
Of course, take some time out of your schedule to just soak in all of Ho Chi Minh’s busy street life. I loved snapping photograph after photograph of every scene that unfolded in the city. So many flowers, overgrown greenery, waves upon waves of motorbikes and colorful exteriors of the downtown area.
The Loft’s white bricked interiors are so welcoming! This cafe is actually up above an art gallery, where you’ll find marble tables, lots of natural light… and of course, delicious Vietnamese iced coffee! It’s the perfect place to take a break while exploring.
Feast your eyes! The Reverie is a bedazzled jewel of a hotel, offering some of the most opulent lodgings in the country. The interior decor is endlessly detailed and intricate, I loved exploring the different rooms and lobby areas – just soaking in all the color and textures. It’s truly an unrivaled beauty in Vietnam!
Thien Hau Temple
As a culture loving traveler, I always take the time to research the important historical and religious sites wherever I go. The Thein Hau Temple was a must-do in my book, as it was dedicated to the Chinese sea goddess Mazu and the deified form of Lin Moniang – who saved her family from a typhoon with her powers. I loved watching the locals come to the alter and lighting incense. It’s always a blessing to be able to experience these sort of places first hand!
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