When another resident of Saigon asks me which part of the city I live in and I tell them district seven, they usually assume I mean Phu My Hung until I clarify further. That is because, even though they know there must be more to the district than the luxurious urban shopping and suburban residential zone that serves as the largest expat haven in HCMC outside district two, they are totally unfamiliar with the Pham Huu Lau-Huynh Tan Phat neighborhood, nearer to the suburban district of Nha Be. I shared that unknowing until I moved here to shorten the commute to an office in Phu My Hung, but I made some discoveries that have caused me to grow very fond of the peaceful residential neighborhood since I arrived. Here are a few of the major reasons to consider it if you are ever looking to rent or buy accommodation/housing in Saigon.
Price – Compared to anywhere else near Phu My Hung, the Pham Huu Lau area is inexpensive. My furnished apartment is in the Belleza complex and has three bedrooms, a living room, a dining area, a small kitchen, and two bathrooms. It cost about $450/month. You can rent a room in a house on the network of prettily suburban streets that lie between Belleza and the main road for far less, although it will not have the easy access to a supermarket, a gym, and a pool that apartment-dwellers enjoy.
Proximity to Phu My Hung – As I said, I moved here to be close to an office in Phu My Hung. That was two years ago, and at the time the drive was only 10-15 minutes. Since then, a new road connecting Pham Huu Lau directly to Phu My Hung’s Nguyen Luong Bang Street has been constructed, and that cuts a good 10 minutes off the drive. You can now get to the border of Phu My Hung in 2-3 minutes, and to the center in easily 5-10 minutes. It’s also close to District 2; Phu My bridge, which connects Districts 2 and 7, is only a few kilometers down the road.
Ample social opportunity — Although it is not as well-known as some more premier housing neighborhoods of Saigon, there are two gigantic apartment complexes on Pham Huu Lau – Belleza, which I would estimate contains 8,000 people, and the even larger (and slightly more upscale) Era Town. Although the great majority of the residents are locals, many of them can speak English and maybe 3% are expats.
A taste of the North – Before the apartments were constructed, the area was dominated by diasporas of people from Hanoi and surrounding northern areas. Because of that, you run into a lot of shop owners with Northern Vietnamese accents who sell northern foods. Bun cha, a traditional northern dish, is plentiful while bun thit nuong, found everywhere in most Southern cities, is only sold in one shop on the street in the evening.
Easy to get out of the city – It takes just 20 minutes to get from Belleza to the Pha Binh Khanh ferry, and it takes a few minutes to bring you across the river to the wonderfully bucolic district of Can Gio. The air is cleaner, the forests are deeper, and the highway leading to an awesome beach is incredibly picturesque in its tropical beauty. Can Gio is also home to a monkey island that provides a great option for day trips.
The countryside is a block away – The other option for “getting out of the city” is even closer than Can Gio. Just a five-minute drive away, across the intersection of Pham Huu Lau and Nguyen Huu Tho, lies a stretch of undeveloped road that might as well be in the most rural province of Vietnam. There are no factories or shops, just never-ending fields and fruit trees lining either side of the street.
Growing luxury – Perhaps the most exciting part of living in this area right now is that it is in the middle of an evolution from a poor and run-down slum to a prosperous ward of HCMC. It’s still much cheaper and (in my opinion) down-to-earth than the cushy lap of luxury found in Phu My Hung, but nicer shops and other conveniences are now popping up frequently. I would guess that five or ten years down the road this area will be just as opulent and orderly as Phu My Hung, but for now it is a pleasing in-between where you can see the local infrastructure slowly changing before your eyes.
I have loved living in the Pham Huu Lau neighborhood for the past few years, and I expect that the coming years will be an exciting time in this residential area as it scales itself up. It isn’t exactly “classic Saigon” and therefore might not make the best location for tourism, but it is certainly a great place to live.
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