Hanoi, located in the Red River Valley a hundred kilometers inland from the Gulf of Tonkin, is a city of lakes and rivers. The Red River flows down and curves around the east edge of the city, and a dike road connects the center of town to the West Lake suburbs to the north where many expats choose to live.
The Old Quarter, or Cité Indigène, has been inhabited for thousands of years, and is the undisputed center of Hanoi. The Old Quarter begins at the north end of Hoan Kiem Lake, where narrow alleyways sprawl out at strange angles from each other, packed tightly with everything from machine parts to bamboo poles to bolts of silk. It’s an urban implosion of people and markets and engines, exciting and chaotic, and if you want to live close to the pulse of the city you can find serviced apartment buildings, some that have maintained their original character, around Hoan Kiem Lake.
From the Old Quarter, Hanoi fans out to the north, west and south. Directly west of the Old Quarter is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, bordered by spacious parks and squares. Continuing west the city opens up and spreads out along Kim Ma Road, a major east-west artery, with lakes Giang Vo and Ngoc Khanh near the Daewoo Hotel. North of the Mausoleum, West Lake, Hanoi’s biggest lake, sprawls almost the entire length of the city—the north side of West Lake is the largest enclave of Western expats in Hanoi. Ten minutes south of the Old Quarter, Lenin Park is an oasis of green, with the large Lake Bay Mau at its center. To the east of the Old Quarter, two bridges, Long Bien and Chuong Duong, cross the Red River to the suburb Gia Long, where vegetables grow along the river banks and cows wander across the roads between green fields. More and more expats are now choosing to live in Gia Lam as a more rustic alternative to city living.
Because rush hour traffic commuting can be a headache, you may wish to choose your area of residence according to where you work. Many NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are based in West Lake, while corporate offices, architecture and engineering firms, tend to be nearer the center. Recent developments in the city’s western limits of My Dinh have seen the relocation of many offices to this fast growing suburb. If you’re coming here to take up a position, no doubt your co-workers will have some inside information on what part of town will be most convenient to your work and social life.