Vietnam is unlike most countries in Europe and South America where there is one central square where most of the tourist attractions and accommodation is concentrated. Instead, everything is spread out in several districts.
Vietnam has three administrative divisions:
1. Province / Municipality
2. Provincial city / District / District-level town / Urban district
3. Commune-level town / Commune / Ward
Vietnam’s 58 provinces (administrative division 1) are divided into districts, provincial cities and district level towns (administrative division 2), which are then subdivided into commune-level towns and communes (administrative division 3).
Vietnam’s five municipalities (administrative division 1) are divided into rural districts and urban districts (administrative division 2), which are then subdivided into wards (administrative division 3).
This link provides a detailed Wikipedia drawing of Vietnam’s administrative divisions.
As per personal choice, expats in Vietnam have the choice to rent in an expat neighborhood, or live in areas where there are less foreigners residing. Both have their advantages. By choosing the latter, expats are able to fully immerse themselves in the Vietnamese culture, whereas the former may offer a higher standard of living with international schools and other expat-friendly establishments nearby.
Ho Chi Minh City
District 2 and District 7 in Ho Chi Minh City are typical expat neighborhoods. These areas are far away from the chaos of the city center and offer peaceful developments such as large houses and access to green space, which is a rarity in Vietnam’s urban centers. District 1 and District 3 are the areas where you will find lots of tourist sights, museums, the best restaurants, bars, etc. Although not known to be expat neighborhoods, if you prefer to be in an area where all the action is happening, these areas may be the right choice for you.
Expat neighborhoods can be found all over Hanoi. Tay Ho is an expensive side of town, but there are a number of expats living there, due to its luxury. Ba Dinh is the political center of the city. It is centrally located and known to be a fairly safe neighborhood, therefore it may be a good area to settle as an expat. Hoa Nhan Chinh tends to attract expats from other Asian countries, and the West Lake area seems to be where many Australian and European expats choose to reside.