Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Districts of Saigon - A Guide

[caption id="attachment_621" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Photo source: Flickr. (c) David McKelvey"][/caption]

Saigon is a city that has known important positive transformations during the last 20 years. These transformations have not affected only the skyline of the city that once distinguished itself through its low traditional buildings, but also its size and quality of life. It is a fast-paced economic and cultural city and the biggest and most populated of Vietnam.
Its official name has been Hồ Chí Minh City ever since the fall of Saigon in 1975. However, the central part of the city still bears its old name. We also chose to use it in the title of this website, as this city we are living in is definitely a city with a past.

However, traditional and modern influences live side by side. 21st century Ho Chi Minh is an attractive blend of high-tech office buildings, shabby old French villas, Chinese-style pagodas, tall and slim Vietnamese houses, modern karaoke bars, charming cafes, food stalls, and green parks. The once called Diamond of the Far-east is a like a living body through the veins of which thousands of bikes, cars, and millions of pedestrians rush every day.

When coming to Saigon, the first thing you have to do is to find a proper place to live. If you are a tourist, you’ll have to know what the tourist area is and what wonders that might be of interest for you the other districts hide. If you are an expat with a three-year work contract here, let’s say, it’s definitely a tougher job. You will have to take into account much more factors in order to make your stay and your foreign experience as enjoyable as possible.

We will try to put together all the information we read online before coming to Saigon. It’s a sort of guide of the districts that are usually inhabited by tourists and expats alike.

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Saigon has 19 inner districts, numbered from 1 to 12, plus 7 that have only a name name: Tan Binh, Tan Phu, Binh Thanh, Phu Nhuan, Thu Duc, and Binh Tan.
District 1 – Saigon

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District 1 is the tourist hub and the place where most of the office buildings, embassies, companies, eateries, and shopping centers are located. Even if it is the urban center of the city, there are many large boulevards lined by tall trees and it is easy to walk around without a map.
Rising rents on the booming real-estate market led to an increasing number of international restaurants and a decreasing number of local food stalls and eateries. For information on hotels, restaurants, bars, and shopping, check the appropriate sections of this website.

Traffic is more hectic at the limits of the district than in the district itself, but that has an impact on long commutes. Another downturn of living in district 1 is noise and air pollution.

There are a lot of residential compounds or serviced apartment buildings that have been recently developed here, mostly for the use of expat employees. Housing is pricier than in all other areas but you’ll have the advantage of living close to work and to most of the exciting things this city offers. Maybe you’ll have a long commute if you work in an industrial area, but you will definitely be able to have a rewarding social life.

We will list here all the tourist attractions in District 1, with links to detailed articles on each of them on our website. If there’s no link, it means we didn’t get to see that yet. But we will, soon.

Reunification Palace - Ben Thanh Market - Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral - Pham Ngu Lao (Backpackers Area) - Dong Khoi Street - War Remnants Museum - History Museum - Fine Arts Museum - Saigon Opera House - Saigon Post Office - City Hall - Former US Embassy - Rex Hotel - Museum of Ho Chi Minh City - Municipal Theatre - Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens

District 2 – An Phu / Thao Dien

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District 2 is a huge, mostly underdeveloped area. Most expatriates and wealthy Vietnamese live in the An Phu or Thao Dien wards. It’s a beautiful peaceful area that can be explored by bicycle. Commuting time to District 1 is generally 30-40 minutes. An Phu is a friendly ward referred to by residents as “the village”.
There are two types of housing:

1. large expensive villas with pools, in gated complexes – preferred by families with children and by those whose housing is included in their contracts;

2. less expensive apartments, serviced apartments, and houses.

District 3

[caption id="attachment_418" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="District 3"][/caption]

District 3 is very close to District 1 and most Vietnamese consider this is the ideal place to live in Saigon. A popular Vietnamese expression says you should go out in District 1, eat in District 5, but sleep in District 3. It is still in the center of the city, but much more quiet and fit for families. There are less Westerners, more French colonial villas, and narrow streets with tamarine trees on the sides. There are also lots of restaurants and hotels that cater for all needs.
District 3 – Attractions

Pasteur Street - Xa Loi Pagoda - Jade Emperor Pagoda - Vinh Nghiem Pagoda

District 5

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Located close to District 1 and 3, on the Westside of the city, with commuting times ranging from 10 to 20 minutes and lower rents, this district is also known under the names of Cholon or China Town. Famed for its street food and reasonable prices. This is the biggest ethnic Chinatown in the country.  The famous huge complex of Binh Tay Market stands at the center, offering everything you can think of, from fresh produce to Vietnamese and especially Chinese goods. Popular items range from Vietnamese silk to lacquer ware and hand-embroidered clothes to skillfully woven textiles.
District 5 – Attractions

Thien Hau Temple (Nguyen Trai St.) - Quan Am Temple (Lao Tu St.) - Cholon Mosque (Nguyen Trai St.) - Cha Tam (a small Catholic cathedral on Duong Hoc Lac St.)

District 7 - Phu My Hung / Saigon South

This district was conceived as a satellite for HCMC, therefore the buildings are more recent, the roads wider and lined with trees, and green space more abundant. The developers have also provided this area with sport clubs, fitness centers, and swimming pools. It was built for expats and few Vietnamese residents are to be found here. The biggest group of expats is formed by Koreans and Japanese. There is no buzzing street life, but the area is growing livelier each year.

District 10

This is considered to be the student district, with low rents, cheap food, nice coffee shops, swimming pools, and sports centers. At the same time, it is a little far from the center of the city, and its narrow streets turn traffic into a constant mess.

Tan Binh – Airport District

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Tan Binh District is a middle-class residential area, located in the northwestern part of Ho Chi Minh City and bordered to the south by Tan Son Nhat International Airport. It is made up of large residential areas with a variety of good restaurants, fine boutiques and malls (Big C, Parkson CT Plaza). It is a popular choice for business travelers. The city centre is about 20-30 minutes away (depending on the traffic) by taxi from the airport.
Tan Binh Attractions

Giac Lam Pagoda (Lac Long Quan St.) - Le Van Duyet Tomb (Dinh Tien Hoang St.)

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