I have been asked by Nevada Sam to compare Hanoi and HCM. I have been thinking about this question a lot, but am finding it quite difficult. When I first got to Hanoi it was my first time living in a new country for a prolonged period of time. I spoke no Vietnamese and was seeing things with very fresh eyes, although I had been to Vietnam before, I had never been to Hanoi or taught anywhere for a long time.
But let me try and see where this goes… Well I’ll start with the obvious: HCM, or as most people call it, Saigon, is far larger than Hanoi, has far more cars especially, and traffic in general. As the roads are generally wider, the traffic moves quicker than in Hanoi, so it has taken some getting used to. Atm (at the minute) I am not renting a motorbike as I did in Hanoi as I spent three weeks in Cambodia over Christmas and New Year (which I really enjoyed) and spent most of my available money. So am a bit borassic.. for those who don’t know Cockney rhyming slang borassic lint means skint or broke…
Hanoi is cold now! Although it gets up to about 20C during the day, it still feels cold, especially when on the motorbike or if you are out of the sun. HCM is hot all year, around 33C during the day, falling to no lower than 25C at night. The heat can sap your energy, if you are busy.
In Hanoi, initially, I paid $9 a night for the Prince Café Hotel, which was a bit basic, but had internet in the room, which is important to me, was up on the 5th floor, had a full-size glass wall one side which was extremely draughty, was in the Old Quarter, not far from Hoan Kiem Lake and the owners name was Nunh, who became a good friend and who ended up wanting me to rent or buy a hotel with her, which she would run. The hotel in HCM is $10 a night, is run by a lady called Nunh! Is right in the centre of the backpackers area, with a big room, fridge, hot shower, big bed, wardrobe, air conditioning, is on the 1st floor, next to the reception, which can make it a little noisy. I also have internet in the room. So, altogether, very similar, apart from the heat. One difference is the TV channels here in HCM. There is no CNN and BBC World picture is blocked but the sound is audible.
HCM is a huge city, far more modern than Hanoi, with no Old Quarter and looks in some places almost European, except for the millions of motorbikes, with its many expensive department stores/malls, shops, wide roads and posh, expensive looking cars. It has few, if any lakes unlike Hanoi, but does have some nice, well maintained, although well-hidden parks. Hanoi has the Red River and HCM has the Saigon River, so not much difference there.
When I first got to Hanoi I used to walk miles trying to learn where everything was. The Old Quarter is extremely complicated with its tiny similar-looking streets so took me weeks or months even to understand. Since I have got here I have walked miles again most days. Because it’s a bigger city it takes a lot of understanding and I am far from knowing where roads lead, but I find walking is the best way to learn a city, before renting a motorbike, so you can recognise some of the buildings when you get lost. So I am still at the walking stage atm and quite enjoying flip-flopping along mile after mile.
Loneliness was a bit of a problem when I first got to Hanoi. I don’t make friends with people easily; I suppose I am a bit shy and like to know people before deciding to give my friendship or not. Not everyone gets my sense of humour, way of looking at the world or disbelief of god, etc. After a while I started making friends and ended up with some great friends who I hope will be friends for life. At the moment I am at that early stage. I have a few friends who I knew in Hanoi who have moved down here too, which helps, but one has no phone so I have lost contact with him (Julien, who I went to Vinh with), another has been ignoring my txts, don’t know why (but she is North Vietnamese, so probably didn’t need anything) but she rang today and wants me to teach her and a colleague, English. And she knows where Julien lives, so hopefully I will get back in touch with him now…
With James, or Shaky, as he is known to his friends down here, due to his uncontrollable shaking hands, I am working on the website CheapHotelsCambodia.com, which is not online yet, but should be in the near future. We have taken pictures of a lot of hotels and guest houses in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap/Angkor Wat and should have done Sihanoukville (but I couldn’t be bothered to get my arse off the beach to take the pics…)
As for the difference between the Hanoian people and the Saigonese, it is a little early to judge. I know the Hanoians very much live by the saying “save money, make money”, and down south they are more into spend money to make money, hence the city being far bigger and more prosperous. The police are not as strong down here either. In Hanoi, where the government is and most of the police are supposed to come from, they close almost all the bars and clubs at 11.30pm every night. In HCM, I have been told this doesn’t happen, although I can’t really judge because I haven’t been out that much late at night due to lack of funds or anyone to go with…
I am not sure this blog has answered Sam’s question, but it is more what has been on my mind lately and probably partly answers it and I will get back to it when I have more experience to judge.