Indochina Trends

The Debate of Century: North or South Vietnam?

The Debate of Century: North or South Vietnam?

Vietnam shares borders with China, Laos and Cambodia and looks like an elongated ‘S’. There are three separate regions: The North, The Central and The South. Although sharing the same language, tropical climate and latitude, the North and the South of Vietnam still have their distinctive characteristics. The diversity of culture and landscape in each part of Vietnam is highly attractive to curious travelers. For whom who would like to know which is better “North or South Vietnam?”, below article may contribute good ideas.

1. Weather Preference: North or South Vietnam?

Northern Vietnam weather comprises of 4 seasons spring, summer, autumn and winter in this area and each season has its own specialties, fruits and flowers. There is a considerable disparity between the temperature of summer and winter. By contrast, there are only 2 distinctive seasons in the South – sunny season and rainy season, the climate is hot all year round in this area.

1.1. Weather in Northern Vietnam

For tourists, the most noticeable characteristic of Northern Vietnam weather is the cold winter.  Many visitors just bring short and T-shirt while travelling to the North of Vietnam from December to March, keeping in mind that this is a tropical country. On arrival, they are taken by surprise by the low temperatures (Sometimes under 10 C degree) and bitten winds. In the Northern Highland Vietnam, the temperatures are even lower, causing heavy fog and ice.


During winter, the sun rarely shines in the Northern area. The clash with the mild and moist air of the Gulf of Tonkin generates compact cloudiness and frequent rains. Along with the frozen atmosphere, rain would make thing worse and people would feel cold to the bone.

In other periods of year, the temperature of Northern Vietnam weather gradually rises. The maximum temperature is around 33 °C (91 °F), but the humidity makes the heat annoying, also because it can sometimes reach as high as 37/38 °C (99/100 °F), with peaks of 39/40 °C (102/104 °F) in May and June.

1.2. Weather in Southern Vietnam:

north or south vietnam
This image is took around 5:30pm in the summer in Ho Chi Minh City.

In the South, the amount of rain is abundant from May to mid-November, with a maximum in September. Luckily, sea breezes will cool the air down in the evening.

The maximum temperatures are around 30/32 °C (86/90 °F), while by mid-February, the temperatures starts to rise, and reach the highest level of the year between March and May: 33/35 °C (91/95 °F) on average, but with peaks of 40 °C (104 °F).

What to pack for your trip to Vietnam?

From November to March, bring both light and warm clothes, especially if you plan to visit the Northern highland Vietnam. In other months of the year in the North or South Vietnam, short and T-shirt are fine for your trip, however, light coat is still recommended if you visit Northern Highland Vietnam.

2. Which region has better food?

cooking class in hanoi

The Northern Vietnam food is renowned for its balanced, mild taste and sophisticated combination.  The fertile land filled with alluvium from Red River Delta creates a fertile area, resulting in the richness of rice, herbs and vegetable. With the diversity of local ingredients, the culinary of Northern Vietnam food is super nutritious and healthy.

Southern Vietnam food tends to be sweeter with a considerable amount of chili, taking some features of food from Cambodia and Thailand. Because of hot weather all year around, people in the South also consume a massive amount of cold ice.

2.1. Specialties of Northern Area – a symphony of harmonious spices:

Hanoi chicken/ beef noodle soup (Pho Hanoi)

Pho is an internationally famous dish of Vietnam. Although being considered as the soul of Northern Vietnam food (Particularly of Hanoi city), you can easily find Pho in American where there are large groups of Vietnamese community.

pho hanoi
All time favorite dish from Hanoi

This is a hot bowl of clear and sweet broth mixed with flexible but soft noodle strip, the beef or chicken meat is juicy and not chewy. To make the perfect texture, local people will add chili sauce, lemon slices, onion, fresh herbs and black pepper.  With mouth-watering taste, you definitely will want to savor every small bite. In the cold winter of Northern Vietnam weather, a bow of Pho will give you a piece of heaven.

Fresh Spring Roll

hanoi food

Among the wide variety of Northern Vietnam food, fresh spring rolls looks like an eye-catching picture with full of green basil and cilantro, light pink shrimp and white rice noddle, red carrot then served with a slightly spicy Vietnamese style sauce.  The combination of taste is also harmonious with soft rice noddle, crunchy carrot, and juicy shrimp. These Vietnamese spring rolls make a great healthy appetizer for any get-together occasion.

Vietnamese grilled pork with rice vermicelli noodles (Bun Cha) in the North

Speaking of Northern Vietnam food, we cannot overlook Bun Cha, this dish includes meat in form of grilled pork ball and grilled thin slice pork dipped in the broth and served with rice vermicelli noddle.

bun cha obama

The pork is well-chosen to make sure it is not only juicy but also fresh and tasty. Then they mix ground pork with water, sugar, fish sauce, garlic and shallot together in a small bowl.  Let the pork in the marinade for at least 30 minutes, or overnight in fridge for best results. Grill the pork over charcoal fire until it smells good.

The broth (or dipping sauce) is rather easy to make, just follow the recipe to mix fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar together then added some green papaya, garlic and chili. The green part in the meal is a big basket of herb including fresh lettuce, Thai basil, cilantro, fish mint, banana flower and coriander.

To know even more delicious dishes, check out Best Vietnamese Street in Hanoi

2.2. Specialties of the South– heaven for fan of spicy and sweet food:

Vietnamese sandwich in Saigonese style (Banh Mi Saigon):

You can find Banh Mi anywhere in Vietnam but it seems a little famous as a Southern Vietnam food (Banh Mi first appeared in Ho Chi Minh city before it made its way to another part of Vietnam).

banh mi vietnam
Photo: Mark Wiens

Bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwiches) are in the personal portion of 3/4 foot long baguettes. The bread is crispy outside and soft inside, filled with a number of different meats, from BBQ chicken to grilled pork, omelette to pâté, and often served  with Vietnamese pickles, cucumbers, cilantro, and finally a bit of chili sauce and spicy peppers to top it off. The signature of Banh Mi is creamy sauce including mayonnaise or butter

Broken rice (Com Tam):

A full dish of grilled pork chop or fried chicken, a fried egg, local style steamed egg cake, broken rice and the dressing made from meat mixed with spices. The favorite version is a plate of Vietnamese pork chops marinated with fish sauce, sugar, salt, lemongrass and garlic/ pepper then are grilled on charcoal until it turns to the brown yellow color. Served with sweet and sour pickles in Southern Vietnam food style.

Tip for eating in Northern or Southern area

Some people say all Vietnam food is good, regardless of location in North or South Vietnam. In our opinion, feel free to enjoy the Northern Vietnam food because of the mild taste. There are also options to add chili or lemon to adjust the flavor of food. But if you visit and would like to try Southern Vietnam food, ask sellers to make sure if you cannot consume hot chili or sweet food.

3. People in North and South of Vietnam – different charms:

Vietnamese people are famous for their friendliness, laboriousness and patriotism.  In the comparison between the North and the South, Northern people are more subtle and poetic, whilst Southern residents are far more direct and straightforward.

3.1. Northern people – conservative and shy:

vietnamese traditional dress
Vietnamese lady with Ao Dai Vietnam traditional dress, Vietnam

When arriving cities in the North, you may feel people here tend to be gentle and elegant. They are still conservative in an Asian way and less open-minded to new things. It is widely popular belief that the cold winter of Northern Vietnam weather causes that trait in their personality. In the evening, people usually do not go out and the streets are covered with darkness.

3.2. Southern people – open and energetic: 

In the South, people are more dynamic and adaptable. The center of the South, Ho Chi Minh city has attracted interest of many international companies and becomes a melting pot. The local people have to adapt to the diversity of their surroundings. Bars and night clubs can be seen everywhere and you may feel like you are the downtown of Hong Kong or Singapore.

TIP for what to do when breaking the ice with local people in each region?

When talking to friends from the North or South Vietnam, you may realize that people in the South behave more like Westerner, people in the North tend to be more like Asian. You can get close to a new local friend in the South but will have wait a little before the one in the North feel comfortable to be open.

Get more insights in 13 Top Vietnamese Culture Facts No One Told Your Before

4. Which is Better Destination Overall?

Generally speaking, Northern area is more famous with mountainous area plus Halong Bay, while Mekong Delta and beaches are what people often look for when they arrive these provinces in the South. It’s not easy to tell travel destinations in the North or South Vietnam are more worth visiting.

4.1. Northern Vietnam – famous for mountains and bay

Halong Bay

Halong’s name means ‘Descending dragon”, UNESCO recognized the heart of Halong Bay as being a site of natural World Heritage and stated that “Apart from Halong Bay there are no equivalent sites on the World Heritage List”.

north or south vietnam

Considered as a must-see destination in Vietnam, Halong Bay attracts a great deal of tourists coming here to soak up the ethereal beauty of nature. Imagine that you are on a luxury ship, cruising on a blue bay with more than 1000 floating islets among the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Activities here include swimming, kayaking, witness the breath taking scene of sunset on the bay, sunbathing on the sundeck or visiting fishing village.

Mountainous area

Northern highland Vietnam is a wide area covering peaceful and poetic valleys, pristine and rustic villages, slow-moving streams or imposing mountain ranges. This is great place for people who love to get away from excessive amount of stress in the big cities or those who want to challenge themselves with picturesque hiking trails or challenging motorbike loop.

best places to visit in vietnam in december

A highlight of scene in Northern highland Vietnam is the terrace rice fields. Unlike the immense rice field in delta, terrace fields here have many layers as a creative way to ultimate the water source. The scene of area is quite unique and eye-pleasing so be prepared to get your camera ready. Be careful in the coldness in Northern Vietnam weather, heavy fog may create a thick layer of cloud this this area, wrapping up the roads and deduce the visibility of driver.

For Northern area, spending one or two nights on the cruise is the favorite option of many tourists for Halong Bay. Trip visiting Northern highland Vietnam should be planned for 3 days to less than a week.

4.2. Southern Vietnam – paradise of beaches and rice fields: 

Southern Beaches

Compared the beaches in the North, Southern Vietnam beaches are much more beautiful. A lot of islands in the South are situated close to hot sea currents from the equator, creating suitable environment for the development of many coral and tropical marine species.

sao beach phu quoc island
Sao Beach in Phu Quoc Island

These islands attract attention of oceanographers, researchers, and tourists who are interested in the ocean creatures especially the coral forest with a lot of appealing colors and multi-shapes. These white sand beaches are ideal for swimming, enjoying BBQ lunch and dinner, relaxing or participating in water sports such as banana float, water motorbike, parachute pulled by boat. Fresh sea food is another added point, tasty meals with seafood at reasonable prices are often voted as top-thing to try in Southern Vietnam beaches.

Famous names of Southern Vietnam beaches can be mentioned are Mui Ne Beach (Phan Thiet province), Phu Quoc island, Con Dao island, Vung Tau beach city.

Mekong Delta

Called the “rice bowl” of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta is much larger than Red River Delta in the North. Famous as a fertile region with rice paddies stretching to the skyline, green lush fruit gardens and fish-flocked rivers, Mekong Delta feeds millions of Vietnamese population every year.

north or south vietnam

When choosing this area as your destination, you will have chance to follow the route away from the mass touristic area, leading you to small paths under the shade of coconut palms that offer a particularly poetic landscape. Another highlight of trip is travelling on small rowing boat through canal surrounded by water palms to soak up the daily life of the delta. Homestay and dine Southern Vietnam food with local people are experience that many people would like to try fist hand.

Southern Vietnam beaches will be ideal if you plan 3 days to 7 days there. In Mekong Delta, time budget of 2 or 3 day is the most-chosen itinerary for the majority of foreigner tourists.

In conclusion, there is no ruler to measure the attraction of the North and the South. For most tourists visited Vietnam, they find each place has their own charming characteristics. If you are interested in any particular thing listed above in the North or South Vietnam, feel free to visit that place based on your personal preference. If you want to widen your horizon and get comprehensive knowledge of Vietnamese travel sites, people and culture, a tour covering both the North and the South will definitely suit your taste.

>>> See a possible perfect choice here: Best of Vietnam Tour – 12 Days

For other choices which may catch your eyes, please visit our session tour in Vietnam to find more tour to Northern Highland Vietnam, the Southern Vietnam food, the Southern Vietnam beaches, Halong Bay tours and overland excursion.

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