Saturday, December 19, 2015

Jakarta vs. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

I've always been interested in Southeast Asian countries (the first country that got me interested is Thailand). However, the country that has made me 'infatuated' is the one where Ha Long Bay, one of the New7Wonders of Nature, is located: Vietnam.


I am from Indonesia, an archipelago republic with a great number of volcanoes dotting the country and stunning scenery stretching from west to east. Jakarta, the capital, is a bustling city chock-a-block with people from all walks of life trying to continue to survive on this planet. Twenty-five years has been spent residing in this metropolis and I plan to find bread and butter in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon – I guess the locals prefer the term "Saigon" to "Ho Chi Minh City" ("Saigon" is sometimes abbreviated as "SG", which can lead to confusion as Singapore is often referred to as "SG" as well). The question is: Why Saigon?

First, let's get this out of the way; Saigon is NOT the capital city of Vietnam–Hanoi, which is located in the north rather than the south, is. However, it is the largest city in Vietnam and is comparable to Jakarta. My first trip to Saigon, which lasted from 9 to 16 June 2014, simply swept me off my feet! And, subconsciously, during what I call "a life-changing adventure", I learned a lot about the differences between both cities. Curious? Here we go!

1. People

Vietnamese gathering at 30/4 Park, Saigon
(photo taken on February 28, 2016)

Me with Ron Le, a Vietnamese friend, at a restaurant in Saigon
(photo taken on February 29, 2016)

An Indonesian family

To my knowledge, Indonesians, including Jakartans, are some of the friendliest people on the globe. An example would be if you go shopping at malls in Jakarta, you'll definitely encounter shop assistants smiling at you and greeting you warmly. I am not saying that Saigonese are rude; they are amiable as well, but, in my opinion, Jakartans take this to a higher level.

As for prosperity, a huge wealth gap can be clearly seen in Jakarta. Just use a crossing bridge and you will most likely come across beggars sitting with their shabby clothes, hoping for a bit of compassion. On the other hand, Saigonese look more or less the same all over the city. When I was there, I NEVER saw any beggars. How surprising! This is probably due to the fact that Vietnam is a socialist country, while Indonesia is a democratic one.

Speaking of style, on the whole, Jakartans are more stylish than Saigonese. And this is even truer when it comes to men. Jakartan men display more hairstyles than their counterparts in Saigon. However, Saigonese girls are fashionable in a way that is close to that of those in Jakarta.

A street in Saigon when the light is red
(photo taken on June 10, 2016)

A street in West Jakarta
(photo taken on September 5, 2015)

Let's move on to behavior. To be frank, people in Saigon are much more orderly than those living in Jakarta. People running a red light is not an uncommon sight for Jakartans. Wrong-way driving is something that people here are used to. Saigonese people, in general, are much more compliant. That's why I felt ashamed when I discovered this fact...

2. Food and drink

Phở bò, a popular Vietnamese beef noodle dish
(photo taken on March 5, 2016)

Bún bò Huế, a popular Vietnamese soup dish from Huế, a city in central Vietnam
(photo taken on June 12, 2014)

Nasi tumpeng, an Indonesian traditional food

Indonesian foods: grilled chicken, sayur asem, etc.

I have to say that Jakarta is a must-visit for all foodies in the world. Indonesian foods, made with lots of herbs and spices, are rich in taste (rendang, a West Sumatran dish, is the most delicious food in the world according to CNNGo readers) and you can find most, if not all, of them in Jakarta. In contrast, Vietnamese foods generally taste plain; however, they boast a wide variety of vegetables and often contain a large amount of water (I think this explains why I almost never saw full-figured people in Saigon; you'll see people with more body shapes in Jakarta). So, if you are looking for mouth-watering foods, come to Jakarta. If you are craving for healthy foods, visit Saigon.

Cà phê sữa (milk coffee) in a coffee shop in Saigon
(photo taken on January 21, 2015)

How about drinks? I guess they are more or less similar. Milk tea and that kind of thing are popular in both cities, though I guess coffee is more popular in Saigon – you can find coffee shops all around the city.

3. Buildings, infrastructures, etc.

A view of Saigon (1)
(photo taken on June 12, 2014)

A view of Saigon (2)
(photo taken on June 11, 2014)

A view of Saigon (3)
(photo taken on June 11, 2014)

A view of Jakarta (1)
(photo taken on September 23, 2015)

A view of Jakarta (2)
(photo taken on April 8, 2016)

A view of Jakarta (3)
(photo taken on April 25, 2016)

Firstly, Saigon is much more well-structured than Jakarta. If you get around the city, you'll see lots of similarities between one place and another (the arrangement of streets, etc.). In Jakarta, things are quite different. A set of tremendous buildings there and a sheer slum here. Very wide streets there and super narrow ones here. Again, this is likely because of the democracy-socialism difference.

Talking about sanitation, honestly, Saigon is much cleaner than Jakarta. I was knocked off my feet when I was there for the first time. What an amazing city! In Jakarta, some places are free from garbage, dust, and so on, whereas in others, fetid smell is ready to stimulate your brain.

AEON MALL in Tân Phú District, Saigon
(photo taken on June 12, 2014)

A park near my hotel, District 10, Saigon
(photo taken on June 15, 2014)

Grand Paragon Mall, Jakarta
(photo taken on September 11, 2015)

Malls. We have an enormous number of them! (In fact, if I'm not mistaken, Jakarta is the city with the most malls in the world.) And, from my viewpoint, there are too many of them! By contrast, Saigon has an ideal number of malls and it provides its residents with plenty of parks, which I think are what is needed by people in Jakarta to lead a both physically and mentally healthy life. (I miss them so much!)

A host of motorcycles in Saigon
(photo taken on June 12, 2014)

Transjakarta buses are seen at Harmoni crossroads, Central Jakarta
(photo taken on June 2, 2016)

Transportation is an interesting topic to discuss. Jakartans use a broad range of means of transportation: cars, motorcycles, buses, angkots (public transportation in the form of cars designed in such a way that they can carry more people), etc. The ratio of cars to motorcycles in Jakarta is approximately 2:3. In Saigon, surprisingly the ratio is very different, probably 1:17. However, what made me bite my nails was the fact that buses in Saigon are much, much better than those in Jakarta. First of all, most of them are air-conditioned. They are also cleaner, less crowded and in better condition. It is true that Jakarta has the Transjakarta service, which offers comfortable buses to passengers (it is not fully true, though, as there are some routes that are served by poorly maintained buses), but there are many, many buses which should NOT operate anymore due to their horrible conditions. What is more, Saigonese buses only pick up and drop off passengers at certain places (bus stops), while in Jakarta, apart from Transjakarta buses, passengers can get on and off buses anywhere. When I was in Saigon, I didn't have to wait long to take a bus. In Jakarta, a lot of irritating experiences have happened to me. It once took me around one hour to catch a bus to get to work!

4. Costs of living
Things are slightly more expensive in Jakarta than in Saigon. However, there isn't too much difference. The ratio of the cost of living in Saigon to that in Jakarta is more or less 4:5.

I hope this article could be a good read to end the year of 2015. Have you ever been to Jakarta and Saigon? What do you think of them? Please let me know in the Comments section below. :) Have a terrific day! ^^


  1. It's kool, man ;) but AEON mall is in Tân Phú district :))

    1. Right! Sorry! My brain! :))) Thanks for pointing that out, Anh! ^^