Hanoi is a charming and exciting city to travel to, and unveils even more of its unique character should you decide to stay here for longer. As an expat, you get to choose your place of living from many districts and quarters. I want to give you a small guide on where to live in Vietnam’s capital and how to find suitable housing.
It’s one of these mornings that I love in this city. I’m sitting at the street, watching the motorbikes and cars passing by while enjoying my coffee and banh mi. It’s loud and busy, but it’s also charming and I feel safe. Hanoi is by far one the safest cities I’ve ever lived in. While some of Hanoi’s areas are more affluent than others, all of them are very safe. So, should you come to Hanoi thinking about your personal safety, especially during the night, don’t worry, it’s all the same.
However, Hanoi’s districts and quarters are still quite different. Let me give you some quick tips on where to live and what to expect. Hanoi is divided into 12 urban districts, one district-level town, and 17 rural districts. These are further divided into townlets, communes, and wards.
Among the urban districts, the older ones are Hoan Kiem, Ba Dinh, Hai Ba Trung, and Dong Da – each with well-preserved colonial buildings, many cultural venues, and the typical rustic charm. Hanoi’s newer Western districts Cau Giay, Thanh Xuan, Ha Dong, and Nam Tu Liem are a huge contrast, featuring skyscrapers, business centres, and large shopping malls. All these districts are liveable and enjoyable but let me introduce you to some of the more popular ones for expats and foreign visitors.
The area around and north of Hoan Kiem lake, Hoan Kiem, is also known as the Old Quarter. This historic area comprises of 36 streets, each specialising in a different product. As the touristic centre of Hanoi, most foreigners you’ll meet here do not actually live here. However, Hoan Kiem is still a prominent expat neighbourhood. Infused with many different cultural influences, the area is a pure tourist-magnet with its cosy cafes, Western-style buildings, Buddhist temples, and the French Cathedral. Prices are bit above average but with luck you may find an affordable place to stay.
Tay Ho is located between Ba Dinh and the Red River, surrounding Ho Tay (literally West Lake). Considering the area’s name, it seems almost humorous that it happens to be well-known as the centre for mainly Western expats. As such, Tay Ho is generally quite a bit more expensive but also caters to its large expat community, featuring chic cafes and boutiques, restaurants and bistros, wellness and spa centres, as well as clubs and bars.
Ba Dinh is Hanoi’s governmental district. Many embassies and consulates, government offices, and impressive villas can be found in this location. The area also boasts many restaurants, retail and book stores, and galleries. Moreover, Ba Dinh is home to the majestic Presidential Palace, the One Pillar Pagoda, and the Flag Tower.
The Dong Da district is a bit different from the above-mentioned ones. Whereas in Hoan Kiem, Tay Ho, and Ba Dinh, foreigners are a common sight, Dong Da is almost fully Vietnamese. Many universities can be found in this area – as well as in Bach Khoa, in the south of Hai Ba Trung – and the general cost of living is a bit lower than that of Tay Ho or Ba Dinh. One big advantage of especially northern or central Dong Da is its location. From here it’s easy to travel in any direction and it shouldn’t take more than 20 to 40 minutes to most destinations.
Hai Ba Trung
Hai Ba Trung is one of the most central districts with many restaurants, cafes, stores, and even shopping centres. Some of the fanciest restaurants in the city can be found in this area alongside rooftop bars and many specialised stores for things like cigars, audio systems, high-quality shoes and clothing, and more. If you like to visit cultural venues like the opera, the cinema, or music bars, Hai Ba Trung certainly has a lot to offer. Additionally, because of its very central location, getting anywhere in the city is a breeze. Prices and quality of real estate can vary strongly here, from quite affordable to high-end.
My personal favourite, which doesn’t get mentioned often in such guides, is Bach Khoa, the southernmost part of Hai Ba Trung district, which is quite the opposite to the rest of the district. With some of the biggest Hanoian universities being in Bach Khoa, it’s no surprise that many shops, cafes, and services cater to their needs. It is the cheapest area on this list, however, also one of the most vibrant. While it might be tricky to find high-end apartments, affordable food is abundant. Like Dong Da and Hai Ba Trung, Bach Khoa shines with one of the best locations in the city, conveniently situated at many major streets leading to all directions.
How to find housing in Hanoi
One of the greatest advantages of the whole housing topic in Vietnam is its flexibility. You can find housing in advance, but I would suggest you just book a hotel for a few days and start searching when you’re here. Most landlords will invite you to take a look at the place almost immediately or the next day. Also, whenever you decide to rent a place, it takes just hours until you can move in. In most cases, the contract gets signed right away and you get the keys instantly. So, where can you start searching for housing? Here are a few options:
One blogger described Hanoi Massive as “the Godfather or Yoda” because this is the place you can ask any question related to your life in Hanoi. Hanoi Massive is a Facebook group with tens of thousands of members. It’s always full of housing ads and a good place to start asking. To find the group on Facebook, just search for “Hanoi Massive”. There will be more than one, so just pick the one with many members.
Hanoi Massive Housing
Yet another Facebook group. As you can tell by its name, it’s the dedicated version of Hanoi Massive just for housing ads.
TNH, The New Hanoian, is generally a very helpful website and can be reached via thenewhanoian.com. It’s kind of a Vietnamese Craigslist and can contain many housing ads, though most of the offers might be the same as in Hanoi Massive. However, with the abundant usage of Facebook, TNH slowly becomes less crowded. At the time of writing this guide, the website listed only 25 properties for Hanoi.
Another great source for housing ads is Vietnam’s own craigslist which you can find under vietnam.craigslist.org. The English version of the site currently offers around 3,000 properties for sale or rent. However, the majority of these are in Ho Chi Minh City.
Should be a no-brainer, but yeah, asking Google is, of course, one of the best options. The real estate agencies that rank the highest in the search results for terms like “hanoi housing” are often also the most professional ones. Companies like Hanoi Housing, VietLong Housing or Alphahousing cater to more discerning customers looking for high-end apartments and villas. However, again, most of these can also be found on Facebook.
This article was first published in the print issue of Timeout magazine in December 2019. Timeout is the lifestyle and travel magazine of Vietnam Investment Review under Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment.