A tour guide once shared the wisdom that New York's Chinatown isn't one Chinatown, but many: since the 1880s immigrants from different regions of China have staked out certain parts of this lower Manhattan neighborhood and retained their regional cuisine and customs. What looks homogenous to an outsider is actually a diverse community.
This is a vibrant, densely packed area full of old tenement housing that’s been converted to apartments, cheap Chinese restaurants, Buddhist temples, historic sites, and stores selling knick-knacks (and, oftentimes, knock-offs) that spill out onto the sidewalk. Canal Street, which was once a canal, is the busy main thoroughfare and normally jammed with traffic. While there are lots of Chinese eateries around there isn't much of a nightlife here. But hip neighborhoods like Lower East Side and Tribeca are a short walk away.
Chinatown is one of the more affordable neighborhoods by Manhattan standards, but it's by no means a cheap place to live.
Wall Street: 1 miles / 5-15 minutes by car / 15-20 minutes by transit
Rockefeller Center: 3.5 miles / 15-40 minutes by car / 20 minutes by transit
Jersey City: 8 miles / 25-50 minutes by car / 40 minutes by transit