When looking for a new home in Saigon, it is wise to consider the pros and cons of the many distinct areas around town. Many expats work in offices or industrial zones outside city center but living in these areas can feel isolated and offer limited nightlife and restaurants. As such, many decide to endure longer commutes in order to improve their social life and sanity in this crazy town.
Do you want your home to be in an area where you can immerse yourself in the local culture? Or do you want to come home to an area with amenities similar to back home?
Traffic should be another factor in your decision. Where will you be working? Where will your kids go to school?
For the most part, newcomers end up living close to the heart of Saigon near District 1, or in ex-pat areas like Districts 2 or 7. But, in the end, the choice is yours to consider carefully. Here is a run-down of the most popular areas around town:
District 1 is the central business and nightlife district of Ho Chi Minh City. Here you will find many corporate offices and almost all of the most popular clubs, bars, restaurants, and five star hotels. As such, it comes as no surprise that this area commands the highest rents in Saigon. You won’t find as many street food vendors in this neighborhood, but there are still some and there are a multitude of other eating options with international cuisine. District one is also the shopping capital of Vietnam with towers like Vincom and Bitexco adding to the magnificent skyline.
There is no doubt that District 1 is unique amongst the other districts, but it is still much more “Vietnamese” than some of the ex-pat intense areas. District one also enjoys nicer, wider streets with trees and parks. But during rush hour, traffic entering and leaving this district is pretty bad, so living here is very convenient.
Le Thanh Ton Street is a tree-lined avenue just off the hectic and busy main boulevards. Here you can find affordable rooms more peaceful and tranquil than other parts of D1.
District 2 – An Phu / Thao Dien
When ex-pats talk about District 2 they are referring to An Phu or Thao Dien wards, where much of Saigon’s western expatriates live, as well as wealthy Vietnamese. Other parts of this large district are still being developed.
The roads around An Phu/Thao Dien are fairly peaceful and can be navigated by bicycle. This area has many large villas with pools and walled communities. It is a good area for those with families or whose housing is included in their contracts. There is a large number Western and international eating and drinking options in An Phu, including riverside cafes and shops. People who live in this area usually play in this area as the commute to District 1 is generally around 40 minutes. There are also major international schools and nurseries here.
Referred to as ‘the village’ by residents, An Phu is a friendly area, quite Westernized by Vietnamese standards. While it may not offer a “genuine” Saigon experience, may relish the peace, quiet and safety it provides for their children.
District 7 – Phu My Hung / Saigon South
Phu My Hung is a large development located less than 40 minutes south of District 1 which was originally conceived as a ‘satellite city’ for Ho Chi Minh. The entire area was designed and built from scratch with wide, tree lined roads and towering apartment blocks and villas. There is not a lot of other development in the area which means fewer “local” eating options but it offers unparalleled access to green space, shopping malls, sports clubs, swimming pools, international schools and universities.
Phu My Hung is home to an abundance of Korean ex-pats, and you will find many Korean grocery stores and restaurants here. There is a large number of Western expatriates in this area too. Compared to other parts of Saigon, Phu My Hung appears clean, almost sterile, with much less street life. It does have a number of cute shops and restaurants and offers some of the best Western food in Vietnam. After a hot day in the city, it can be nice to relax in breeze of the late afternoon on one of the many grassy areas in Phu My Hung.
District 7 may offer less of a “Vietnamese experience,” but it is also a nice secluded area away from the noise, pollution, and chaos of city centre. With some of the best international schools in town, it is also an ideal place to raise kids. . Here Apato Him Lam (South Him Lam Residential Compound (riverside), District 7, Ho Chi Minh City) and Apato Sunrise City (Nguyen Thi Thap Street, District 7, Ho Chi Minh City) will be where you can really retreat after a long day of work or play.
Many Vietnamese consider District 3 an ideal place to live. It has many large, colonial villas hidden behind trees, and it is right next to District 1. There is a decent quality of life and many street food options. Less ‘westernized’ than District 1, it is a peaceful place to live near central Saigon. Vietnamese people say you should “Go out in District 1, eat in District 5, and sleep in District 3.” There are some beautiful buildings in varying states of repair. Expect higher rents for villas in good condition, but there are many townhouse options in this area as well.
District 4, formerly known as the “mafia district” is located between districts 1 and 7. Those who work in Phu My Hung but want a more local experience live here as it is also conveniently located near the bars and clubs of D1. There are many very nice apartment complexes and rents are much cheaper than District 1.
District 5 is famous for its abundance of delicious street food. It is a great choice for those who want to be close to district one. Commutes range from 10 – 20 minutes, with less traffic then many other areas around town. Rents are also lower here and the street life is well known throughout all of Saigon. D5 also includes Chinatown and many historic neighborhoods. Located in the tri-district area between District 1, 5, 7 and 4, Apato Nguyen Van Cu (Nguyen Van Cu Bridge, District 8, Ho Chi Minh City) provides easy access to any other main districts and a multitude of delectable options for dinner in the neighborhood!
Traditionally, many students live in District 10. There are many cheap options for food and apartments with low rents. As the crow flies, it is not far from downtown, but on a motorbike in traffic it can be a bit of a drive. This area is one of the most densely populated areas and still has narrow streets so traffic in and out of the centre can be a challenging. The area is also has amenities such as public coffee shops, swimming pools and sports centers catering to the student population.
Phu Nhuan is another densely populated area in Saigon and there are several heavily trafficked main roads running through this district. Like most parts of Vietnam, this area has its charms including a number of parks and some interesting street life. Be aware that traffic in this area to and from the D1 can get very bad. But if you work in the E Town area in Tan Binh, or anywhere near the airport, living in Phu Nhuan is a good option halfway between work and play in city central.
Binh Thanh is a large district between District 1 and District 2, known for cheap housing popular among English teachers on low wages. This district is constantly under construction with extensive roadwork over the last four years as it is the primary point of entry for hundreds of HGV trucks that pour into the city each night. This area is also the first to get flooded when it rains, even main roads such as Nguyen Huu Canh can be a meter deep in floodwaters. Binh Thanh is also infamous for very low air quality, because of dust from construction and trucks combined with diesel gas fumes.