Still been thinking about the differences between Hanoi and HCMC.
Bia Hoi in Hanoi generally costs VND 2000 or 8p or 15cents. Sometimes it's 3 or 4,000. I like the taste and don't mind sitting outside on those tiny plastic chairs chatting with fellow drinkers. Other than Bia Hoi the bars usually charge you VND 20,000 for a bottle of Tiger or similar. Yet I have only had Bia Hoi once since moving to HCM. It was VND4500 a litre and came in a plastic bottle. But it tasted bloody awful! So I will stick to drinking bottled beer. Tiger, Saigon (green or red), BGI (usually the cheapest and comes in a bigger bottle), Heineken (the most expensive) are the most popular and usually available around the backpacker's area. I can find a BGI for around VND 10,000 or 33p/66cents. So drinking is a bit more expensive in HCM compared to Bia Hoi. But of course it is 34 Celsius during the day and only drops to around 25C minimum compared to 17/10C in Hanoi now, so it is nice to sit and drink a cold bottle of beer.
The food around the backpacker's area is certainly more international/westernised than anywhere in Hanoi. For example, I looked everywhere in Hanoi for a decent English breakfast and never found it. The save money, make money mentality meant they tried to save money and therefore give you tiny portions. Even if it said "eggs" on the menu I have known them to give you just one egg. In a restaurant near the cathedral I ordered breakfast, specifically asking for soft/sunny side up eggs (this I have asked for in every restaurant I have had breakfast in and almost always got hard eggs) but of course the eggs came hard. So I said to the waitress "I asked for soft eggs!" She said "I know" and wandered off...
The service in general in Hanoi is poor to diabolical. It is not unusual to go into a restaurant and find all the staff sitting down watching television. Most restaurants serve the same Vietnamese food and that gets incredibly repetitive. In the end I almost stopped eating Vietnamese restaurant food as it was just so dull. There are lots of restaurants that serve international food, but they are generally expensive. I ended up buying wholemeal bread, salad, ham, tinned fish, cheese (which is expensive) and eating sandwiches during the day. Luckily, I enjoyed one local lunchtime dish that was available everywhere in Hanoi: Bun Cha, which is rice noodles in soup with barbecued pork and a plate of herbs to add as you like. This I have been unable to find so far in HCM :-( It really is delicious and filling and often costs VND10,000). Some places serve spring rolls with it too and with a couple of those it is a very filling dish. The Bun Cha restaurants are the dirtiest restaurants in town because of all the barbecuing, but is easily the most delicious and I never had any stomach problems after eating it.
Pho (pronounced fer) is the Vietnamese national dish and is available both north and south, but I am not a big fan I'm afraid. It is rice noodle soup, usually (although not always) with uncooked beef on top: Pho Bo, or Pho Ga, which is the same but with cooked chicken.
There was one great Deli/restaurant on Kim Ma that anyone who is in Hanoi should look up. It is only a small place and is often empty, but has a three course set menu for VND75,000 (US$4.5) which they changed regularly and was always delicious. It was called Oregano and was 657 Kim Ma or something close to that. It had things like stew and mashed potatoes on the menu, and for sweet one option was a fantastic chocolate mousse, with some good starters too. Good French wine was VND30,000 a glass, which was really good value.
Here in HCM the food around the backpacker's area is generally pretty good for Western tastes. So far I have not had one hard egg when eating English Breakfast and don't even need to ask. Mexican food is more prevalent down here and is often very good. Most of the restaurants around here have it on the menu. In Hanoi there was TexMex on Giang Vo, but that was the only Mexican restaurant I found. It is rarely, if ever spicy, however.
Never order curry in Vietnam. They are unable to cook curry as a Westerner knows it, they put some ginger in and call it curry. There are a few 'Thai' restaurants around in both North and South, but I have yet to find one where the food tastes anything like Thai food and always avoid them now, even though Thai is my favourite food. Every table has a bottle of Tuong ot (ert) or curry sauce, so I use that to spice things up.
In Hanoi they are just starting to implement a new law to ban hawkers from a lot of streets. The police often arrest street traders and that is only going to get worse. But you do get bothered by book-sellers if you go for bia hoi at the international Bia Hoi corner at Luong Ngoc Quyen, but it isn't too bad. Here in backpacker's area in HCM the book-sellers/newspaper hawkers/women who sell this and that/women with babies selling chewing gum are totally beyond the pale.. You can sit in a restaurant and you will get 10 sellers come up to you and ask if you 'wanna buy book?' within a 5 to 10 minute timescale. Maybe more. Also there are far more disabled people here in HCM. I see anywhere from 20 to 50 disabled people every day, mostly begging on the streets. From people with a limb/foot/hand missing, to people who ride around on a small wheeled cart because they have no limbs, to people who lay on corners with apparently no control of any limbs, to a woman with a baby in a pram with a hugely oversize head. All just normal everyday sights, ignored by almost everyone, and rarely given any money. In Hanoi, I rarely remember seeing disabled people begging for money, probably because the police would move them on.