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A day in Vietnam: Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City

So you have a spare day in Vietnam and want to make the most of your time? Take a look at some of our must-do experiences that you can do before heading off to the airport or your next destination.
12 hours is not nearly enough time to see all the highlights of Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi but here we’ve listed some of our favourite experiences in both cities that you can easily get to and see within your time limit.


12 hours in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is the biggest city in Vietnam, with more experiences and attractions than you could cover in half a day. If you only have a few hours, here are our top 4 things to do:

War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh
Moving, sombre and educational, the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City offers a shocking reminder of the long Vietnam War, where you can see many photographs and memorials of this brutal moment in history. Around the War Remnants museum you can see a variety of military equipment used by the American troops including tanks, helicopters with rocket launchers and infantry weapons and a conventional bomb weighing 6,800kg.

Wander the Old Saigon streets 
Old Saigon is famous for its tailors, with fabric shops lining many of the old streets – their front windows vibrant with bolts of shimmering silk in every colour imaginable. Get yourself a suit tailored to fit or for ladies, a traditional Vietnamese ao dai – the brighter the better.

Last-minute souvenir shopping at the Ben Thanh market 
Located right in the heart of the city, Ben Thanh is one of HCMC’s liveliest markets, packed with hawker-style food stalls, clothing shops and souvenirs - great for a spot of souvenir shopping! You are likely to get a great deal here, whether it’s on a piece of traditional Vietnamese art or a plate of fiery wok-fried noodles.

Time for Coffee
The Vietnamese consider the drinking of coffee an art form – almost as much as the Italians. The country is the second-largest exporter in the world and HCMC has its own preferred ways of drinking the beverage: pull up a chair at a pavement café and order a ca phe da (iced coffee) or ca phe sua da (iced coffee with condensed milk). If coffee is not to your taste, we’d recommend trying a 'nuoc mia' – pressed sugarcane juice served from street carts that is refreshing and surprisingly not too sweet.

12 hours in Hanoi

Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital city and this bustling hub could easily engage visitors for several days. Here are our top highlights, if time is limited:   

Take a walk around the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake
Legend has it that in the 15th century a giant golden turtle once plunged into the depths of Hoan Kiem Lake; nowadays the beauty spot is popular for a relaxing stroll to escape the perpetually busy traffic. Visit early in the morning and you can join locals practising tai chi on the lakeshore.

Catch a water puppet show
Water puppet shows date back to the 11th century. Interpreting folk tales through amusing skits accompanied by an orchestra playing traditional Vietnamese music, it’s an authentic and unforgettable experience.  Visit the world-famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre – a Hanoi institution – to see a performance for yourself.

Stroll around the streets of the Old Quarter in Hanoi
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is known as ’36 Street’ – though there are actually a lot more than 36 streets, with names like Medicine, Headstone and Silk. Weave through the streets, dodging power cables and motorbikes, and shop for iced coffee, silk prints, fans and beautiful paper products.

Time to go Pho
Pronounced ‘fuh’ – is a warming Vietnamese soup cooked long and slow with beef bone broth and slippery rice noodles. The city of Hanoi practically runs on pho with many eating it for breakfast or a late night snack; head to one of the noodle bars in the historic French Quarter (we like Pho Thin, open since 1979) and pick up a steaming bowl for around £1.50.

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