Stores & Markets, Ho Chi Minh City
Saigon Square is a more spacious alternative to Ben Thanh, fewer shops but shopping is cooler. Its pretty compact, so do a quick walk through, cos the shops at the entrances tend to be more pricy than those tucked in corners or in quieter lanes
What to buy: Good buys for Knock-Offs at Saigon Square- Kipling bags (big tote bag - S$13), North Star backpacks or pouches (S$8). Adidas/Puma/Nike - drifit sort of material (S$9) - watch out for zips on the shirts - some don't zip well, Kids clothing - American brands, like Children's Place, Gap, Sprockets - girl's skirts abt S$5, dresses abt S$8. Loads of girl's Tees, skirts, shorts, dresses. Limited Boys stuff
The Ben Thanh market is a busy, bustling place. It's a bit hot and stuffy as well but, being that is is under a roof, you can at least count on the fact that the sun won't be beating down on your head while you shop.
There are certainly tourists at this famous landmark but there are plenty of locals as well. It's a great place to soak up a little culture as you bargain for mother-of-pearl inlaid purses and horn soup spoons.
What to buy: You can buy all types of items here.
Coffee, spices, shoes, purses, kitchen items, plates, spoons, pans, clothing, fabric, sunglasses, watches, robes, junk toys, etc.
What to pay: As far pricing goes, anything is possible. Well, except zero of course! One of the keys to striking a good deal is the willingness to walk away. Even if you just LOVE the item in question, you must not let on. Be casual, be cool. Otherwise, if they smell blood, you're dinner!
Always smile when haggling and never look at the item you really want first. Look at a few other things and then casually pick it up and ask the price.
I have a longer tip on haggling listed in my travelogue section, here's the address...
The market and surrounding streets make up one of the liveliest areas.
It was built in 1914 from reinforced concrete; the main cupola is 28m in diameter. The main entrance has become a symbol of HCM.
What to buy: Everything that you could want to eat, wear or use is available here: veges, fruit, meat, spices, bikkies, lollies, tobacco, clothing, hats, plasticware etc.
Ben Thanh market has long been one of Saigon's most famous landmark. The market has been in existence since the French occupation. The original market was located on the shores of Ben Nghe river by old fort Gia Dinh. Its proximity to the fort and the river where merchants and soldiers would land was reason for its name (Ben meaning pier or port and Thanh meaning fort). In 1859, when the French invaded Saigon and overtook fort Gia Dinh, Ben Thanh Market was destroyed. It was rebuilt shortly thereafter and remained standing until it was moved to its present location in 1899.
Built on a landfill of what was once a swamp named Bo Ret (Marais Boresse), the new Ben Thanh Market is located in the center of the city. Under the French government, the area around Ben Thanh Market was called Cu Nhac circle (Rond point Cuniac), named after Mr. Cuniac, the person who proposed filling the swamp to create this area. The area was later renamed Cong truong Dien Hong.
There are many 'sieu thi' or supermarket in Saigon (HCMC). These supermarkets, ressemble shopping malls, carry a wide array of products from grocery, electronic, appliance, art crafts to clothing(very low quality). Although, everything seem to be reasonably priced compare to western standards, you can get these products at smaller vendors for a much better price, as much as half of the prices in these supermarket. Nonetheless, shopping plaza such as Diamond are great to hang out at. On the 4th floor of Diamond there is a recreation center. The recreation center house a bowling alley, video arcade, internet cafe, a billard and a KFC. So, if you are looking for a good time just hanging out? Diamond shopping plaza is the place to be. As far as bargains, the smaller vendors that can be found all over the city is worth seeking out.
one of the stalls in the G/F of Bin Thay Market
What to buy: Hand-embroidered triangular-shaped silk bags - $ 5 - small and $ 6 for the big one. These bags cost double in Dhong Koi st.
I bought 2 bags so instead of paying $14, she gave me both for $12. Haggle for at least half of its price or buy more than 1 to get a discount. They quote you in dollars as they know you are a tourist so use their calculator to show the price you want.
What to pay: Half the price of bags found in Dong Khoi st.
This swanky shopping mall houses 10 levels of sheer shopping pleasure. When you get tired, you can even stop for a meal at the numerous resaurants within Zen Plaza. It may be a bit up-class for the locals but the clothing and food are reasonably priced. You can also have your fastfood Pho - Pho 24.
Zen Plaza is also a good place to buy local food stuff here, also if you want to buy foodstuff to cook, this is also the place .
What to buy: A varied amount of items from clothing to children wear, to food and even daily needs and what's best, there's no need to bargain as prices are shown as it is.
literally a one-stop shop... benh tanh has everything you would possibly need. from souvenier items, clothes,shoes,food,fruits,etc.
What to buy: for coffee lovers, get some vietnamese coffee. the special weasel flavor is exceptionally good. 20,000 dong for 100g. roughly 1.25USD per 100g
What to pay: fairly cheap.. haggling is a MUST
Cho Ben Thanh, or Ben Thanh Market, is a large market located in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City's District 1.
Hundreds of stalls are housed in the main building, with others on the streets surrounding it. The market building is divided into sections which specialise in selling certain products. You will find areas devoted to clothing, fabrics, souvenirs, CDs and DVDs, flowers, coffee and tea, fruit and vegetables, meat, seafood, nuts and spices, suitcases and bags, children's toys, household goods...and much more!
While some of the stalls have signs stating that they are "fixed price" shops, many of them expect you to haggle. We found that most people spoke English and that many of the stallholders would try to entice us into their shops. Browsing Ben Thanh Market is certainly not a relaxing experience!
As well as the shops, there is also an area of the market building that contains a cluster of food stalls selling bowls of piping hot pho (noodle soup), pork buns, rice, spring rolls, fresh coconuts and bottles of Saigon beer. We paused briefly at one of the stalls to enjoy refreshing drinks of coconut milk (20,000 VND / £0.70)..
We visited several other markets during our stay in the city in May 2013 and I would compare them as follows:
Ben Thanh Market (Night) – many of the stalls selling souvenirs, clothing, jewellery, handbags, watches, sunglasses and toys inside the market building during the day move outside onto the surrounding streets between 6pm and midnight each evening. There are also a few food stalls and stalls selling fruit and vegetables, but it's mainly clothing, bags and souvenirs aimed at tourists.
Cho Ba Chieu – a much more local and authentic market, located around 15 minutes taxi ride from Cho Ben Thanh. There are no souvenirs here, but instead items aimed at locals; foodstuffs, coffee and tea, household goods, clothing and kitchenware. We also saw live seafood, eels and frogs for sale. Here, prices are fixed and are considerably lower than at Cho Ben Thanh. Very few people speak any English, there is no hassle from the stallholders and tourists are met with curious stares and smiles. A much more pleasant experience than Cho Ben Thanh in my opinion.
Cho Binh Tay – located in the Cholon area of the city. A similar layout to Cho Ben Thanh, but with fewer tourists, less hassle and much cheaper prices. We found that we could buy items in bulk at Cho Binh Tay for the same price as an individual item at Cho Ben Thanh. For example, we purchased a box of 5 shuttlecocks at Cho Binh Tay for 30,000 VND (£1.00), rather than one shuttlecock for 40,000 VND (£1.30) at Ben Thanh Market.
Overall, the more time I spent in Cho Ben Thanh the less I enjoyed it and the less likely I was to buy anything. I'd recommend visiting the more laid back (and significantly cheaper) markets of Cho Ba Chieu and Cho Binh Tay instead.
Ben Thanh Night Market operates in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City each evening from around 6pm until midnight.
Many of the stalls that are found inside the market building during the day move their wares outside after darkness when the building closes. The streets that line the east and west sides of the market building are filled with stalls selling souvenirs, clothing (t-shirts, dresses, underwear, socks, hats) jewellery, ceramic goods, handbags, watches, sunglasses and toys.
As well as the stalls, you'll also find mobile sellers walking or cycling through the market selling their wares (for example, CDs and DVDs, leather belts, paper fans, city maps)
There are a few stalls selling fruit and vegetables, but it's mainly clothing, bags and souvenirs aimed at tourists.
We only saw one food stall on the west side of the market, but later discovered a larger outdoor eating area with several stalls selling local cuisine on the east side of the market. There are also carts selling helpings of colourful glutinous rice, corn-on-the-cob and other snacks.
We visited the night market most evenings during our stay in the city in May 2013 as it was practically outside our hotel. It was often chaotic. As well as lots of shoppers, there was a near constant flow of motorcycles buzzing past and we'd often see rats scuttling around underfoot.
Although there are warnings in place over pickpockets and bag-snatchers on motorcycles around the night market, we didn't experience or witness any attempted thefts during our various visits and we never felt the least bit unsafe.
Jac and I had wanted to make our way to Cholon but thanks to our hotel receptionist, she introduced us to An Dong Market. Our experience is that the market is less chaotic than Bin Tay Market and though the humidity level is about the same within both the markets, the items sold in An Dong market looked to be more appealing some how. It might be for the fact that there were not many tourists around.
But if you can't stand the heat, there the An Dong Plaza just a couple of steps away where you can shop in air-con comfort. Prices are a little higher, but definitely not exhorbitant .
What to buy: Some of the storeholders could converse in mandarin and that made it alot more easier for us to push in terms of getting a better discount. I bought myself a nice laquer board for a mere 30,000VND (Less than USD2).
Again, you can find the same stuff at most markets so I will mention about Ben Thanh market because I found some reasonably priced items that I liked
What to buy: Forget about the fake Gucci or Vuitton bags, the locally made stuff are much better and don't look tacky. I'm talking about the beautiful fabric bags made of silk, either embroidered or beaded with hundreds of colorful sequins & glass beads. They look more exotic than a tacky-looking fake Coach bag
Another item worth buying are the beautifully laced cotton bedsheets that come in soft colors & many tasteful designs. These are made with 100% cotton and are nice for your own use or as gifts for mom
Silks are a also worthwhile buy in Vietnam. You can get 100% silk kimono pyjamas or blouses for good prices
Remember, the more you buy, the more discounts the sellers will give
What to pay: Those lovely beaded or silk bags start at US$1 (small). My friend bought the lovely bedsheets (king size) for US$15 and I got a silk kimono pyjama for US$10. Maybe someone else can get these for less but I thought the price was fair
Ben Thanh night market opens from 5pm to 11 pm. Limited stalls, which sell mostly very similar things - knock-off sports clothing, hair accessories, bags, shoes, toys. Plus point - its spacious, fewer tourists, and its cooler to shop at night
What to buy: Knock-off Sports clothing - shorts for S$7, drifit shirts for S$9 (watch out for zips) - sometimes the storekeepers have more designs on display - so ask her to show you all in the size you want. You get a better bargain, with more pieces you buy. Ladies tennis set - top/skorts - S$10. Souvenir Ts - S$2
I've mentioned before how most of the vendors prefer you to pay in US dollars but, what we found interesting, was the extreme interest of one lady that we pay with a US $100 bill.
We were haggling for robes and such with a vendor at the Ben Thanh Market and were buying quite a bit from her so hubby was trying to get a better deal. Naturally, we were tourists so we knew we were paying the "high price" but as the negotiation went on, it was clear that she wanted US dollars and not Dong.
Then, as it progressed a little further, we discoverd she not only wanted US dollars, she wanted a US $100 bill. "no 20's!" she said. Hubby used this to our advantage and ended up telling her that if she'd give us the whole lot for $100US we'd pay with a $100 bill.
Worked like a charm. Rather than only getting a 20-30% we walked away with a 47% discount by paying her with a C note.
So, keep this in mind when making larger purchases at the market. $100 bills get a premium beyond their simple monetary worth.
What to buy: Nice robes with dragons on the back!
What to pay: That's determined by your bargaining skills :)
Night Market outside Ben Thanh Market
What to buy: Custom-made wooden (heeled) sandals with inlaid shell design for its insole
You get to choose the color and design of the sequinned sandal straps. Straps of the wooden sandals are stapled first as you you try them on and nailed securely according to the width of your feet. Prepare to sit in a little stool as you try those sandals.
What to pay: $ 5 instead of $ 8 in Dhong Koi St.