Ho Chi Minh City is easily the largest metropolis in Vietnam and is divided into 24 districts. Of these, 19 are classified as inner districts, the other five are rated as suburban districts.
The obvious question for the expat is, ‘where should I find a place to live?’ The answer is far less obvious, for a number of reasons.
First, are you coming to live by yourself or with your family? Are you moving to HCMC as part of an employment deal with your current employer? Does your salary or income allow you to pick and choose where you would like to live and the kind of accommodation you’d like, or are you more restricted, simply because of your financial situation?
Each of the 24 districts in HCMC possesses its own characteristics, although, naturally enough, many of these overlap and, equally, many are generic to the entire city. Nonetheless, choosing the right district, or what you consider will be the district with the most upside for your situation and circumstances, can at least reduce the stresses on moving.
The following is a fairly general guide to each of the key districts within HCMC. Hopefully it will serve to give a broad overview of what an expat might expect if they were to choose to set up home in one of these areas.
This, along with District 3, is considered the heart of the city. This is where the majority of commercial, financial, and administrative activity takes place. Traffic, as might be imagined, is quite frenetic and at peak hours can be very slow indeed. If you have experienced Bangkok or Jakarta then HCMC will be almost familiar.
This area has a range of restaurants and shops catering to all sorts of tastes, but as it is also the main tourist area prices tend to be a little higher than elsewhere. High-end shopping can be done along Dong Khoi Street and Nguyen Hue.
The area has the majority of museums and historical sites such as the Ben Thanh Market, Reunification Palace, and the War Remnants Museum.
As far as accommodation is concerned, District 1 has a range of serviced apartment buildings, although the rents are much more expensive than in other districts.
That said, District 1 also caters to budget travelers in the backpackers’ area of Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien. Hostels and guesthouses are cheap and longer term rental houses can be found if you are prepared to saunter down the alleyways.
This is often referred to as the ideal place to live in Ho Chi Minh City. There is a general expression which suggests to get the best of the city you should ‘go out in District 1, eat in District 5, and live in District 3’.
Its proximity to the sights and sounds of District 1 means many expats can stay close to the ‘action’ of HCMC but can go home to a quieter area when they’ve finished partying.
District 3 has both serviced and non-serviced apartments as well as houses and French colonial-era villas (think 1950s and older). Rents will obviously vary depending on what’s required, but should be cheaper than District 1.
The area is quite bristling with expats (as might be expected) and, as with most areas of the city, motorbikes and taxis are the best way of getting around.
Squeezed between District‘s 1 and 2, Binh Thanh has a lot of cheap housing, which has made it a go-to area for many expats teaching at the local international schools.
In recent times it has also attracted property developers who are seeing opportunity in constructing good quality, high-rise, serviced apartments. In a few years the chances are this neighbourhood will become far more expensive, and the teachers will be squeezed further out.
This is the area which houses many long-term expats who are looking for living standards similar to their homeland. It is still close to the city centre, but sufficiently far enough away to be immune to District 1’s endless activity.
For expats with families, the Thao Dien Ward and An Phu Ward’s present as very family-friendly or Western expats. A raft of international schools are close by and housing tends to be more Westernised than elsewhere.
Basically, everything most family expats could ever want or need is in District 2, from restaurants to retail shops, grocery stores, and commercial offices.
Construction of the Thu Thiem Tunnel and Thu Thiem Bridge which will connect District 2 with District 1 and Binh Thanh will only help to increase the popularity of the area with expats.
This is another more family-centric area for expats with wide, tree-lined boulevards and plenty of villas and apartments from which to choose, and plenty of swimming pools for those who like the idea of lazing on a Sunday afternoon while being able to refresh with a cooling dip.
It’s one of the ‘greener’ areas of the metropolis with the Phu My Hung area well and truly catering to expats with international schools, Western grocery stores and other specialty shops and restaurants.
This is an especially quiet residential area, no bustling nightlife or much in the way of street life either. It is attractive to those who are financially quite well-off and houses in District 7 are more expensive than elsewhere in HCMC.
It is also a little removed from the city centre so that anyone who needs to commute to the CBD will need to look at allocating around 40 minutes, and sometimes more, to reach their destination. Then again, that’s the trade-off for being located in a high-end area and away from the hustle and bustle of the main centre.