Jul 28 2011
If you love Hanoi so much you decide to stay, or are sent here on a volunteer programme or job transfer, you’re likely to want somewhere to live that offers more than a bedroom and bathroom — even if it means you won’t get the free breakfast. Of course, it’s perfectly feasible to live in a hostel or hotel room – a friend of mine has been doing just that in HCMC for the past 10 months – and it can work out cheaper than an apartment, especially if you negotiate a long-term rate, but it’s not ideal for most.
So you’re apartment hunting. There are three main things to consider: location, price and type of accommodation. In this post I’ll cover location and follow up with price, type of accommodation and sources of information in the next installment.
Hanoi is a large city, with 28 districts covering over 3,000 square kilometres. Most expats live in 5 or 6 of the central districts: Hoan Kiem, Hai Ba Trung, Ba Dinh, Tay Ho and Dong Da, with a few living over the river in Long Bien (a cheaper and more local alternative) or in Cau Giay or My Dinh. Each offers its own benefits, so think about what you’re after before selecting an area: shops nearby? near Western restaurants? local life? other expats? near schools?
Hoan Kiem is central — for the Old Quarter bars, restaurants and shopping – and buzzing but tends to be more expensive than the adjoining districts and is full of tourists, pushing the prices of goods up. Many longer-term expats will tell you that when they first moved here they spent a lot of time in Old Quarter but over time have found other, more local, places to eat and socialise, so don’t feel you need to be in Hoan Kiem in order to have a life; life exists everywhere in this city and anyway, taxis are cheap.
Hai Ba Trung – to the south of the lake – is more of a business district but has some great back streets full of coffee shops and street eats, plus it’s handy for Vincom Towers and the sprawling Thong Nhat Park and is an easy taxi or bus ride into Old Quarter.
Dong Da starts at the Temple of Literature and spreads south. It’s a reasonably popular district with reasonable prices and a lot of local life, including markets and temples.
If you’re looking for more of a Western lifestyle then you’ll want to consider Tay Ho, which incorporates a very popular area to the north of West Lake and is home to the famous Xuan Dieu Street, which is lined with Western restaurants, cafes and grocery stores. The roads that run off it are an expat enclave, although still home to plenty of local life, and there are opportunities for lake gazing. As you’d expect, much of it is not cheap, but a good variety of properties are on offer. On the other side of the dyke road (Nghi Tam / Au Co) you’ll find plenty of reasonably priced houses for rent.
Ciputra is “The International Village” – a gated development housing a mix of apartments and housing, an international school, a few shops and a restaurant — and is also in Tay Ho district, though to the east of the lake. It’s quite a polarising place so best to check it out before deciding to live there.
Finally, Ba Dinh – my district – is a particularly diverse area, covering both the zone around Truc Bach Lake, the Mausoleum Complex and Botanical Gardens, the diplomatic area and the hive of activity that is Kim Ma Street. Prices vary accordingly, with Truc Bach being pricey but the alleys between Doi Can and Hoang Hoa Tham full of character as well as good value housing.
The best way to decide on an area is to chat to expats and have a wander around. Of course, price and availability may be determinants of your final choice but it’s a good idea to decide on an area or two before you start approaching agents.
Part 2 to come!
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