This is an updated version of the original article written by Jake Hornberger in 2017.
When this article was first published in 2017, Ho Chi Minh City only had 8 million residents, but as of the most recent data available (March 2023), Vietnam’s busiest city now has at least 9.3 million people. That makes it one of the fastest-growing cities in the world and one which, by 2025, is expected to hit as many as 13.9 million residents.
For many of us, however, the city seems small as we gravitate to areas like District 1 — the central district and home to many of the city's major tourist attractions and landmarks.
To its northwest, District 3 is a mix of residential and commercial areas and is often regarded by many as 'the' place to live in the city because of its location and availability of must-do experiences, not to mention the food and shopping options.And the grimier dynamism of Phu Nhuan with its restaurant enclave of Phan Xich Long.
Just because you’re in a bustling city doesn’t mean there's no fresh seafood, District 4 is the place for you to satisfy that cravings. District 5 boasts the ‘biggest market,’ the city’s Chinatown. Tan Binh District is where you can find the country’s busiest airport. HCMC’s expat paradise has seen one residential development after another since Masteri erected its four-block buildings in 2017. And the population numbers continue to rise as more properties pop up outside of D2.
With all this to understand, finding a place to call home can often be burdensome. In order to save you some time and probably a headache, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to dissect each of the city’s wards that have our attention right now, as well as the city’s primary districts, and guide you through the highlights and features of each.
An Overview of Ho Chi Minh City’s Districts
The city is divided into 24 districts consisting of 19 inner city districts and five suburban areas, some numbered and others named. Districts one and three are considered the modern heart of the city. Each district, in turn, is broken down into even smaller sections called wards. This is a simple way to manage and organize addresses and specific locations, especially within districts that cover large amounts of land, like triangular Tan Binh that reaches downwards from the airport or the diamond-shaped expanse of District 9.
Take note that these are not districts but smaller neighborhoods. They get a mention here due to their eclectic international creative communities and abundance of cool pop-up bars, cafes, and stores.
Home to most of Saigon’s consulates and several elegant buildings dating from the French-colonial period, Da Kao’s historic streets also contain a bewilderingly high concentration of great restaurants and bars. From music and art events to craft beer and edgy restaurants such as Noir. Dining in the Dark, Da Kao has continued developing into one of the hottest places in town. Da Kao is on the north side of District 1, between Binh Thanh and District 3.
What used to be one of our poorest areas due to its over-the-river location, Thao Dien has undergone a complete metamorphosis from a dirt road in the swamp to one of the most developed wards in the entire city. The streets of Xuan Thuy and Thao Dien make for two of the most international strips, chock full of bars, restaurants, galleries, schools, and spas. Thao Dien is synonymous with District 2, its best-known ward, and just a step off the Hanoi Highway.
Phu My Hung
Often referred to as ‘Little Seoul’ because of its large Korean population, Phu My Hung is home to many Korean and Japanese restaurants, upscale cafes, famous chain restaurants, and bars. The area now boasts world-class shopping malls like SC Vivo City and Crescent Mall.
Nguyen Thai Binh Ward
Just a few years ago, this area was primarily industrial, and it still feels like the location for a movie set in pre-1975 Saigon. Home to Yersin market, where hardware materials are sold, the nearby streets took on a similar persona. However, the recent development of Nguyen Thai Binh Ward has brought forth a series of trendy food and beverage establishments, giving these streets a lively underground atmosphere.
Guide to District 1
This is the city’s business hub and the commercial core of Vietnam. D1 (District one) is viewed as the prime location and maintains the highest standard of living throughout all twenty-four districts. Note that despite its imposing corporate developments, Vietnamese daily life is still experienced at every corner, and there is, culturally, much to absorb in this vibrant part of town. It’s also a place for banks, international hotel chains, consulates, administrative buildings, and global cuisine.
District one is six kilometers south of Tan Son Nhat International Airport and covers an area of 7.7 km2. It is bordered by the Thi Nghe canal, D3, D4, D5, and Binh Thanh.
Guide to District 2
Historically, D2 was one of the poorest areas in the city as the Saigon River cut residents off from the city’s beating heart. However, recent prioritized development and vast urbanization have transformed District 2 into one of the most exclusive districts in the city. The Thu Thiem tunnel, opened in 2011, even connects D2 to the edge of Districts 1 and 4.
There are bigger sidewalks, and it is much more westerner-friendly than the dense, congested Cho Lon (or District 5). This is the spot for you if you like a modern environment and prefer plenty of international-standard amenities, western food options, and sports pubs. It’s quiet and clean and generally gives you more room to breathe. Many families live in this area due to its cluster of international schools like the International School Ho Chi Minh City (or ISHCMC for short), the Australian International School (AIS), the American School, and the European International School.
Do note that this area experiences terrible flooding regularly, leading to serious transportation problems and potential water damage depending on which part you’re in. D2 is about a 20-minute drive (7.5 kilometers) from the border of D1.
Guide to District 3
D3 is well-known for its beautiful colonial architecture with restaurants, temples, parks, and street food vendors. It’s a beautiful mix of old and new, with a favorable combination of cheap, middle, and high-end shopping, dining, and housing. Its fantastic location neighboring D1 attracts people from all walks of life, creating a unique environment with much to do and see.
Going from central D1 to central D3 takes about 10 minutes (2.5 kilometers). D3 conveniently rests between D1, Phu Nhuan, D10 and Tan Binh, providing an ideal location just a few minutes from the city center.
Guide to District 4
Street food, street food, and more street food. Over the years, D4 has undergone substantial development while remaining one of the city’s more characterful locations. It’s quickly becoming a more popular place to live, eat and drink, marked by the development of residential towers like the Icon 56 that rejuvenate the district’s personality.
It remains a vibrantly Vietnamese district with some of the best and most affordable grub in Ho Chi Minh City. If you like to be knee-deep in Vietnamese culture, this is your spot. Over the past few years, it has begun to flicker with co-working spaces, drawing a young independent community of freelancers and start-up entrepreneurs.
Just a hop across the river from central District one, D4 is only 10 minutes (3 kilometers) or so out, bordered by the Saigon River, D2, and D7. District 4 is the smallest of all 24 districts, with an area of only 4 km2.
Guide to District 5
D5 holds immense historical and cultural significance due to its Chinese heritage. It is home to Vietnam’s Chinatown, which people call ‘Cho Lon’. During holidays like the Mid-Autumn Festival, many visit Chinatown’s street-side stands on ‘Lantern Street’ on Luong Nhu Ngoc.
District 5 is also famed for its specialty market shopping and flavorful Chinese fare. Bursting with teahouses, pagodas and huge markets, there is much to take in.
D5 is about a 15-minute drive (5.2 kilometers) from central D1.
Guide to District 7
People most often associate the flashy, new high-end drag of Phu My Hung with district seven. As you would expect from such a young, self-sustaining neighborhood, it draws a select international crowd. Most street food and vending are banned in this area, allowing for cleaner, wider sidewalks.
It attracts families, foreigners, and locals alike, projecting a different vibe than other parts of town. Life moves a bit slower here, and it’s packed with restaurants, leading international schools like Saigon South, coffee shops, bars, and clinics. If you want to escape the fury of the inner city and need more privacy, this might be the place to go.
The main drawback of D7 is its distance which makes the commute to the center or further north a bit of a journey.
D7 is 6.5 kilometers or 20 minutes south of the city center. D7 is one of the biggest, stretching itself out over 35 km2. It is bordered by D2, D4, and D8.
Guide to Binh Thanh
Binh Thanh is beginning to see spurts of growth driven by recent investments. As it sits next to D2, just a 5-10 minute drive away, its popularity is rising expats, particularly in new developments like Pearl Plaza.
Yes, Binh Thanh can be a bit of a haul from central D1— depending on which part of the relatively large district you call home—but many view its proximity to D2 as compensation.
If you don’t mind living in an area that is a little rough around the edges, this could be an ideal location for you. There’s an abundance of street food and a mix of international and local restaurants. It has a real local buzz, and you certainly feel you are a bit outside of the Ho Chi Minh City nucleus.
Binh Thanh is 6 kilometers from the city center and it can take about 15-20 minutes to reach this area depending on the time of day and the traffic. It’s bigger than Districts 1 and 3 but overall of average size and covers a space of nearly 21 km2. It is bordered by D1, Phu Nhuan, D2 and Go Vap.