Should you choose to visit Bangkok or Hanoi?

Bangkok took a bit of time and multiple visits to grow on us. Our 1st trip was after a month on Koh Samui. I’m not a fan of big cities normally, so I just chalked it up to that. But our second time was definitely different, and we really enjoyed it. Now’ we’re in Vietnam which is a whole different world. So if you’ve ever wondered about visiting Bangkok or Hanoi, here’s my perspective.

Bangkok or Hanoi

Noise

Thailand has a calmer culture. You honk only when it’s necessary. Traffic noise is really pretty quiet for a big city. Actually, so is most of the noise. Sure, every so often you’ll have a club thump thump thumping into the night, but generally speaking it’s pretty mellow.

Hanoi is not. Hanoi loves its noise. It cherishes it. It has far more motor bikes than cars, and they’re loud. That’s before you factor in all the honking. All the freakin’ time.

But variety is the spice of life, and the noise isn’t limited to just honking and engines. We also have the cars that drive slowly through the neighborhoods blaring announcements and what sound like infomercials. At night, the place gets a rockin’ from loud music. Thankfully, we’ve at least been spared the karaoke that is reminiscent of cats doing the dance of love in alleyways.

Food

Vietnamese food is really quite good, but Thai food kicks it culinary butt in my book. If you don’t like eating with chopsticks, definitely stay in Bangkok. (I love them personally, but I know not everyone does, including Tigger.) From what I’ve seen in Hanoi, I would also say that Thai food in Bangkok is fresher. Most Thai food is prepared as it’s ordered, whereas a lot of the Vietnamese food we’ve seen in Hanoi is prepared and just waiting to be ordered.

Another interesting thing about Vietnamese restaurants and booths is that they often specialize in and serve only one specific dish. Can make ordering things a bit easier, though.

Prices are fairly similar. Depending on what you order, you can eat in both cities for around the same cost (around $1-2 per serving).

If you tend to be a bit more. . . squeamish about street food, stick with Bangkok. The food there is cooked on grills and in woks while the person stands. In Hanoi most street food is prepared just above the ground, with everyone walking by, with the person squatting next to it. I have no concern with it, but someone who is more sensitive might not enjoy that.

Ditto when it comes to comfort level while dining. Street food vendors in Hanoi have limited, very low tables and chairs that make me feel like I’m visiting a preschool. Obviously, it works for them, but for my Western hiney and my bad knees, it’s rough and uncomfortable. In Bangkok, you’ll find more comfortable seating (or you walk around with your food).

Note: Restaurants in Hanoi have standard seating and often have flatware. That food is quite a bit more expensive, though, just as it would be in Bangkok.

Bangkok or Hanoi

Walkability

Bangkok is a pedestrian’s friend compared to Hanoi. If there is a busy street, you will easily find an overpass so that you can get to the other side safely. On a less busier street, most Thai drivers, including taxis, will slow down or even stop so that you can cross. Even if you’ve gone against the light, Thais are too polite to honk at you or run you over.

Hanoi, the City of Lakes, does not have this compunction. Crossing the street here is an event. Generally speaking, scooters, bicycles, and motorcycles will just move around you. The drivers of cars, however, are seemingly only too happy to plow right over you.

While the Venice of the East has sidewalks that are in fairly decent repair, Hanoi doesn’t want you bored while you’re out for your stroll. You’ll have plenty of cement obstacles to keep you awake.

Bangkok makes getting around without a car quite a bit easier, too. Taxis are also cheaper in Bangkok.

Escaping the heat

Both countries are a warmth-loving person’s friend. But temps in the 40s (Celsius) can be quite sweltering. In Bangkok, it’s very easy to tuck into a place with AC to get a reprieve. Hanoi offers a bit more of a challenge to that. A lot of places just have fans running indoors. If you can sit right in the fan’s path, you’ll be fine, but those seats are often already occupied. Bangkok has a fondness for large shopping centers that is not shared by Hanoi’s more humble surroundings.

Bangkok or Hanoi

Culture

This is really a big one for me personally. Thailand is the Land of Smiles. When you purchase something, a clerk will hand you your money carefully, often holding it in both open palms, while giving you a dazzling smile. In Hanoi, they fling your dong (the name of the Vietnamese money) at you, rarely crack a smile, and just seem surly. It might be exaggerated for us since we’ve spent the last few months in very friendly Thailand and Malaysia, but I’ve read similar comments from other people so I’m thinking it’s a cultural reality here in Vietnam.

In Thailand, I always felt welcomed. When we had a struggle communicating, it usually ended up with both of us laughing as we worked our way through it. Hanoi has a much grumpier crowd. Many of the merchants I’ve dealt with have acted like we were inconveniencing them with our business. I’ve watched and seen that locals are treated the same way. It’s just how it is here.

The touts and cyclo and motorcycle taxi drivers are much more aggressive than the ones in Bangkok. From what I’ve seen, I’m going to chalk that up to a different economic situation between the two cities. Nevertheless, it’s part of the experience and can affect different people different ways.

Safety

I never once felt at risk in Bangkok and was generally left alone. Yeah, we had the occasional taxi driver that didn’t want to use the meter and the people who tried to convince us the Grand Palace was closed when it wasn’t, but pretty much that was the extent of it.

Hanoi exhausts me. Not only do we have all the honking, “fun” street crossings, and the heat to deal with, but scammers are out in full force. During our first 30-minute walk, I spotted no less than 5 people actively sizing me up (even Tigger caught it a couple of times, which tells you something), and disappointed at least one possible pickpocketing attempt.

I have felt much more “on guard” in Hanoi than anywhere else we’ve been.

Activities

Comparing things to do and see in Bangkok versus Hanoi, I’m going to give Bangkok the win in this category as well. There is more of a variety of things to do in Bangkok than in Hanoi. And the former makes it so much easier and affordable to get around and experience things.

Bangkok or Hanoi

Getting there and visas

Thailand gives most countries a free, no hassle, 30-day stamp upon airport entry (overland visitor get 15 days). Vietnam requires an advance visa and charges a $45 USD stamping fee per person. You can get a visa on arrival, but you have to go through an online agency which charges its own service fee on top of the stamping fee you’ll pay at the immigration office.

Flying to Bangkok is usually much cheaper as well, unless you’re flying from another Asian country. Even then, prices are generally lower flying into Bangkok than Hanoi.

On a side note, Thailand’s rail system is better and cheaper as well.

If you’ve decided Thailand is the place for you, here are some cheap hotels in Bangkok.

Tigger’s perspective

Hanoi has “crazy insane roads,” and he’s nervous crossing the street here. He also feels Bangkok is a lot safer than Hanoi. (We haven’t discussed my opinion regarding this, and I haven’t said much to him about any of this.)

Summary

Comparing the two cities is really a lot like comparing apples and oranges. They’re both Asian countries, but that’s where the big similarities really end. We feel like we’re in a completely different world here in Vietnam compared to the other countries we’ve been in Southeast Asia.

That isn’t necessarily bad.

We have found Thailand to be a very easy country. That’s not always the best thing when you’re looking for experiences, but it helps explain to me why so many people go there and end up staying a long time. It’s also an extremely welcoming culture, which is quite enjoyable.

If you aren’t an experienced traveler, I would probably steer you toward Bangkok compared to Hanoi. I feel like the level of scams and awareness you need, the lack of infrastructure, and some of the cultural differences in Hanoi are going to tax a person more than using Bangkok as an introduction to SE Asia.

Hopefully, the above will assist you in deciding whether to visit Bangkok or Hanoi first.

What are your thoughts? Which of the two do you prefer and why? Would love to read your comments!

Share This Post On

29 Comments

  1. Hmmm… clearly, as one who has lived here in Vietnam for nearly 2 years, I’m a tad biased.

    Also, I’m wondering… you’ve been in Vietnam now what? A grand total of 48? 72 hrs? Not to mention…

    I suppose comparing two large Asian cities is somewhat valid (though as you yourself say – it’s like apples and oranges), I’d be a little careful when comparing all of Thailand (food, culture, etc.) to all of Vietnam – given that you know nothing of Vietnam save for a single city, plus…

    Anybody that’s traveled the length of Vietnam will tell you that the people, the food, the culture, even the language (o.k. but not the motorbike traffic) ;) is COMPLETELY different in the south vs. the north.

    Sorry to wax grumpy Talon, but it just seems a little premature to start comparing Thailand to Vietnam – leastwise until you’ve explored the latter country a smidge more than a 10 block area of Hanoi.
    Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..With a Little Help from My Friends…My Profile

    Post a Reply
    • Which is PRECISELY why I didn’t compare Thailand and Vietnam. The name of the post also reflects that (Bangkok and Hanoi). I commented on 2 cities and my experiences and observations in them so far, all of which are similar things I’ve heard from other people who are more familiar with both cities than I am. I’m VERY clear throughout the article to reiterate Bangkok and Hanoi to make it clear I’m not painting all of Thailand or Vietnam with the same brush, which would be preposterous.

      I would never write about a whole country based on one city much less such a limited amount of time. I would venture to say every country has differences across regions, cities, etc. Even if I had spent 10 year in Hanoi, if I never ventured much beyond it, I wouldn’t feel qualified to comment about the country as a whole.

      Post a Reply
      • True, you did indeed (as usual) present mostly a fair comparison of just the two cities, but I guess it was blurbs like “Vietnamese food is really quite good, but Thai food kicks it culinary butt in my book.” that made me think that you were already – in a handful of days in but one city – comparing the two countries across the board.
        Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..With a Little Help from My Friends…My Profile

        Post a Reply
  2. Interesting comparison, I found Bangkok very noisy and chaotic, but I guess thinking back the people were all very calm and peaceful. But those tuk tuks are loud! Look forward to visiting Vietnam some day, how touristy is it these days?
    Canuck88 recently posted..STRIP CLUBS – House of LancasterMy Profile

    Post a Reply
    • There are definitely parts of Bangkok that are more chaotic. Chinatown being one of them. I think the heavy tourist areas are more noisy as well. Yes, the tuk tuks are loud for sure, but compared to the noise level here, I feel they’re quieter.

      I can’t really comment on Vietnam in general since so far we’ve only been in Hanoi. I would say Hanoi is not very touristy, though. There are specific sites that obviously draw more attention and certain areas that tend to have more tourists, but we’ve been in many areas where we didn’t see any other Westerners. Outside of the more touristic spots, it’s very much “daily life.” That is one very thing about it.

      Post a Reply
    • So far I can’t say Hanoi gives Bangkok a run for its money in the food dept, but they definitely have some tasty street food.

      Post a Reply
  3. Welcome to Vietnam! ;)

    Some random thoughts that your post has prompted me to share:

    1) We liked Bangkok right from the start, though I don’t necessarily love all big cities—Tokyo left us lukewarm, and it took a second visit to KL, before we really started to enjoy the city. In that respect, Hanoi was similar as when we first arrived, we liked it for about a day, then started to hate it… we took about 2 weeks away from it as we explored northern Vietnam (cannot recommend this highly enough! The northern section of the country is the most beautiful place we have EVER been!), and when we returned, we found we were better able to enjoy Hanoi.

    2) We thought the food in Hanoi was fine, but certain things underwhelmed us, and as lovers of Vietnamese food, we felt a bit disappointed by the dishes (and especially the banh mi). The one thing I would say that the south definitely wins at is the food: as we have been moving south, the food has becoming less similar to the flavor profile we associated more with Chinese food, and more like the flavors we knew and loved from prior Vietnamese food encounters. If you head to Hue, that was where we first noticed that the food was getting really good!

    3) Weather-wise, I found Hanoi a lot more bearable thank Bangkok. We arrived in mid-March, and it was absolutely the perfect temperature for me… I could even wear long pants! I also found it much less humid than Bangkok.

    4) We never felt threatened in either city, and I would not say that scams are that much worse in Hanoi than in Bangkok. I mean, we saw tons of people being taken in by tuk-tuk, taxi, jewel shop, and “the Grand Palace is closed”, scams while in BKK, but I really didn’t see this happening while in Hanoi. This could be because people always assume I am a local, whether we are in Thailand or Vietnam.

    5) Vietnam is definitely a challenging country, whereas I agree that Thailand is pretty easy. I don’t think it’s an accident that most people choose Thailand as their first “Asian” country to visit. I am glad that we waited until we had been traveling 8 months to visit, rather than coming directly after China after only 2 months of travel; I think that would have potentially sent us home! That said, we have met some of the nicest, most welcoming people in Vietnam (as well as some of the grumpiest!), so it’s certainly a country of dichotomies. I think the reason I have come to love it so much is just because of all the places we have visited to date, it feels incredibly exotic and foreign. Everything here is so different from back home… it’s even the first place we have visited without McDonald’s!

    My biggest advice to you two is do your very best to get off the standard tourist trail if you can. To me, one of the biggest joys about Vietnam has been the sense that I have really been able to explore and discover things that few others have… it’s really hard to get that feeling in Thailand! Not sure if you are still in Hanoi, but if you are planning to make your way south, I highly recommend stopping in Ninh Binh for a day or two and renting a motorcycle to get around and just get into the countryside. The traffic there is much more reasonable, and the people there are so friendly. We stayed at an excellent hotel while there for $12USD per night that had an AMAZING manager who really went above and beyond; email me if you’re interested and I’ll send the details!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Chewing the Fat with Never Ending Voyage!My Profile

    Post a Reply
    • Yes, Vietnam is very exotic and VERY different. Which is one thing I love about it, even if I don’t care for Hanoi so much.

      Countries often have different foods in different regions. I’m glad to hear you liked the food more in the south. I’m looking forward to trying that.

      So far the temps have been pretty similar to Bangkok for us, including the humidity. I know that this is the beginning of their hot season, though.

      We’re heading down south next. We don’t like tourist places generally, and we’ve been moving around so much more than what we prefer for a few months now. So we’re ready to just go somewhere and chill for a while. We’re headed to Dalat next week & will stay there for a few weeks. We fly out of HCMC, so will spend 2-3 days there. Should be quite interesting. LOL

      Post a Reply
      • Don’t go to DaLat! We were literally just there yesterday and it is dreadful. You will have a MUCH better experience if you go north to SaPa. There is a lot more natural beauty there, whereas DaLat is like Niagara Falls/Mini Las Vegas on crack. It’s really touristy, filled with honeymooning Vietnamese people, and is probably the place that has been most like Hanoi in terms of hustle and bustle. All to say, you will not want to spend several weeks there, nor is it a place to just chill out.

        If you are determined to move south rather than heading to SaPa, I highly recommend checking out Ninh Binh and Hue. Both of those places are quite chill, but Hue especially has enough to keep you busy when you want it (gorgeous mausoleums and amazing historic buildings… we went thinking we’d spend 1 day, maybe 2, and happily stayed for 4… it’s a great place to just wander). Also, the food is great!
        Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Chewing the Fat with Never Ending Voyage!My Profile

        Post a Reply
        • Uh, “dreadful”, Steph? LOL – Dalat happens to be my own personal Shangri La, and where I’ve opted to make my home for more than a year.

          Sapa is fabulous too, but much more touristy and far too cold in winter for me to choose it as my “home”. Just another case of “you say tomayto” and “I say tomahto”. Great that there’s so many different corners of the world for each of us.

          I did really enjoy reading your expansive impressions of Vietnam, and I very much agree that it’s a shame Talon and Tigger aren’t spending more time in the north (indeed, you nailed it “it’s the most beautiful place we’ve ever been!”

          But Dalat? “dreadful”? LOL, I’m still giggling at that. ;)
          Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..The Laos Elephant FestivalMy Profile

          Post a Reply
          • To each her own! We went to DaLat curious as to what we would find as it is so often compared to SaPa, but honestly, I didn’t see much overlap between the two. I suppose SaPa is more touristy, but it’s so easy to get out into the surrounding countryside, which isn’t really very touristy at all, and—for my money—is some of the best of what Vietnam has to offer. We actually liked the bit of country even farther north even more, but that’s far harder to get to for those with just 1 month in the country and without their own transportation.

            I guess our differing opinions just go to show that there’s no substitute for seeing a place for yourself and making up your own mind. We found DaLat overly busy (whether it was with Western tourists was beside the point… we just found the streets really hectic and chaotic) and it just didn’t pop for us. Then again, our opinions about Vietnam might be somewhat subversive as I think we’re the only people to date who have come and avoided HaLong Bay and also disliked Hoi An!

            Anyway, I suppose I shouldn’t have said DaLat was dreadful, as obviously there are people out there who enjoy it quite a lot. It just definitely wasn’t for us, and one day was more than enough! :)
            Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Chewing the Fat with Never Ending Voyage!My Profile

        • I’ve heard many good things about pretty much every place in Vietnam other than Hanoi. LOL When we initially planned to come here, I was bemoaning that we’d only have a month because it seems there is just so much to see and explore here. But we need to spend some time not running around so much and just need a place to stay for a while, so we’re going to skip most of the country this time. We’ll return another time when we haven’t been bouncing around so much so that we’ll be up to touring the country more, and will probably apply for longer visas so we have adequate time to really enjoy Vietnam.

          Post a Reply
  4. Great post! Now I know to stick to Bangkok. I was just there with my 8 year old daughter and both of us fell in love with the city at once. Though yes, it is loud and congested in some areas (two things we both HATE about any city) I suppose the people there being so incredibly nice and helpful and yes, their smiles!, helped us overlook some of the negative things.
    I was dreading visiting Bangkok. We are more the “off the beaten path” kind of travelers. But I have to say Bangkok pleasantly surprised us. We loved it so much that when it was time to leave both my daughter and I would have loved to stay longer and would have had it not been for our flight schedules.
    It is definitely on our “places to return to” list.
    By your description of Hanoi and what I have read from other travelers, I don’t think I will put it on my “Places to go to Before I Die” list.
    Thanks for your insight!!
    Nilda recently posted..All Creatures Great and SmallMy Profile

    Post a Reply
  5. I’m glad you found it helpful. I found the noise in Bangkok to be isolated to specific areas mostly, especially when compared with Hanoi’s hustle and bustle.

    We like to go off the beaten path a bit more as well. Bangkok was a place that took a bit to grow on me. I think I initially expected it to be more like Hanoi, but it proved to really be just another big city albeit with friendlier people. Finding NY-style bagels didn’t hurt either. LOL

    We haven’t been to anywhere else in Vietnam, but from what I’ve read and from what others have told me, there are certainly better places to spend your time. It’s a country with a lot of character for sure.

    Post a Reply
    • It really depends on what type of experience you want. If you’re looking for a country that is very unlike many others, I’d say Vietnam. Thailand is absolutely wonderful, but at the same time it’s more developed and very “easy.”

      In Hanoi if you eat in the restaurants, you’ll get flatware. Some street food you can eat with your hands. But you’ll probably want to bone up a bit on chopsticks, bring your own fork, or bring a rubber band to tie on the end of the chopsticks to make a cheater set so that you can enjoy pho properly. :)

      Post a Reply
  6. Great comparisons Windwalker! (Just decided I’m going to call you Windwalker from now on.) I agree that Bangkok took some time to grow on me. Staying outside of the tourist areas is definitely key, as you mention above. Sounds like you should come back to BKK! :)
    Angela recently posted..Nepal School Progress: 20 Days LaterMy Profile

    Post a Reply
    • Definitely will probably come back at some point, but there are a lot of other places in Thailand we need to explore, too. :)

      Post a Reply
  7. I have spent a lot more time in Hanoi than Bangkok, and Hanoi holds a special place in my heart. We have considered moving there, but a lot of what you said is true. There is something I enjoy about walking a sidewalk in Hanoi, it’s like a full contact sport. I love the tiny stools, and the sounds on the street. But, as I live in a small villa in Bali which is soooo quiet, surrounded by rice paddies, I suddenly remember all of the street noise outside of our room in Hanoi. We return to Bangkok in June for a few weeks, and hope to explore a lot more than we have in the past. You have given me a lot to think about.
    Amber recently posted..Traveling Labels – Flashpacker versus BackpackerMy Profile

    Post a Reply
    • One of the things I like about Hanoi is it’s raw and energetic. Bangkok is almost too calm and too sterile in some ways. It lacks the culture that Hanoi has in abundance.

      They are definitely two VERY different places. I can see the attraction to both, really.

      Post a Reply
  8. Really interesting idea, Talon, comparing two big cities like this. I’ve been to Bangkok but not Hanoi, and I have to say that after reading this I would not be mad on the idea of staying in Hanoi for a long time. The noise thing is a bit deal for me; I’m very sensitive to noise and would find the levels in Hanoi rather overwhelming, according to what you’ve said.
    Sam recently posted..100 Days of TravelMy Profile

    Post a Reply
    • I’m not very sensitive and find it overwhelming, so, um yeah. LOL

      For me it was an interesting comparison because of their proximity to each other and their high degree of difference. They are completely night and day which I find fascinating. We leave tomorrow, and I’m so ready.

      Post a Reply
  9. I imagine we will end up going to both in our travels. Ali was in Hanoi last year and liked it well enough to want to go back, which is saying something. Neither of us have been to Thailand, but is definitely on our list. Maybe even for this winter. We’ll see.

    Interesting comparison, but an odd one somehow. What made you want to compare them? As you say, they are like apple and oranges and really only similar being large Asian cities. I have not done a lot of research, but I don’t really think of Hanoi as being an alternative to Bangkok for travelers. Is there actually this impression on the ground there though?
    Andrew recently posted..Shifting Away From the Vacation MindsetMy Profile

    Post a Reply
    • I had made several comments about how night & day Hanoi and Bangkok were and had several requests to explain more about my observations. So felt this was as good an opportunity as any. :)

      Post a Reply
  10. Thank you for this, I am heading to Hanoi tomorrow after having been on Bangkok for 3 weeks. I found this article very helpful

    Post a Reply
  11. No offense at all. I don’t know anything about Thailand but what you wrote about Vietnam is extremely limited regarding culture and cuisine. A bit of history lesson. Thailand has been around in tourism industry more than 60 years or more while Vietnam is just opening up its door. A bit of comprehension of turbulence of recent Vietnamese history will be much help to understand a country and its people.

    Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge