Ben Thanh Market, Ho Chi Minh City
Most definitely on the tourist trail, Ben Thanh Market is a landmark at the big roundabout where Le Loi, Tran Hung Dao and Ham Nghi meet. The central island of the roundabout, alive with bright yellow flowers, is a good vantage point from where to photograph the energetic market. It is also interesting to watch the traffic go by!
Ben Thanh supplies everything and more... From fresh vegetables to stationary and power tools! For those who suffer claustrophobia it may be a bit daunting squeezing down narrow aisles past product displays and bustling patrons.
Vietnamese versions of western food halls are very informal. Small stools line the many stalls, most of them occupied by hungry locals. Food preparation occurs in the open right in front of you. It is therefore easy to decide on a tasty-looking dish. Pull over a stool and tuck in!
Built in 1914, Ben Thanh Market holds loads of stalls with delicious very cheap local fare during the day. As Lonely Planet says "everything that's commonly eaten, worn or used by the Siagonese is available here: vegetables, meats, spices, sweets, tobacco, clothing, household items, hardware and so forth". Lots of souvenirs.
After the tour in the market, you also can tour around, there is a lot of life there, and lots to discover and enjoy!
In the middle of a big round about, next to the market, always crowded with traffic, you will see the statue of Tran Nguyen Han, a famous general who served under King Le Loi in the 15th century (picture 1).
I am not sure the market today is laid out as it was originally programmed: there are decorative tiles above the different entrances indicating probably in which section of the market you enter; on picture 2 is a montage showing one of the entrances and a few details of the tiles; it seems there was a sea food section, a meat section, poultry section. . . just nice to look at that sort of details which are generally overlooked, but have a sense.
Walking around, you can meet fellow photographers (picture 3) trying to catch a bit of the life around the marked, as I do, like photographing this girl (picture 4) carrying
some yummy food (sinh to sau rieng, a durian based milk shake) from the market to one of the cafés nearby; and a bit humour to finish with this meat shop next to flowers (picture 5).
There arte of course not only flowers and fruits at Ben Thanh, you can find many souvenirs sellers, and there are of course all the goods people need for every day life; stacks and stacks of clothes, great choice of shoes (Two first pictures), with always kind vendors; but I wanted to bring back some spices, sweets, and crystallized fruits, and here (picture 3), I found what I wanted. But be warned: I brought back few cinnamon sticks, and after a few days, my cupboard at home was invaded by hundreds of small insects.. . . One hour cleaning and I used quickly the cinnamon. . . . ; I hesitated to buy some of the dried shrimps (picture 4). Of course meat and fish (picture 5) can be found plentiful. I could spend the whole day strolling in the market. . . . .
Another feast for the eyes (and the imagination. . . . . and the palate!) are the fruits in this market;
I just like the shapes, colours, and the way the fruits are displayed, like here (First picture), the rambutan pyramid, green mangoes, green oranges, orange persimmons, brown longans, red shining Malay apples, (and in upper left corner, a bit far, one of the most delicious on the planet: the mangusteen!). People prefer to sell them rather than left you taste them one after the other, but it is worth to try!
Is this stall (picture 2) not colourful, almost all green, with the big grapefruits, the huge durians, green mangoes, a bit red with the dragon fruits (look at the tamarinds in the bags) and the orange vendor. I cannot stop. . here (picture 3) another stall with custard apples, and small jackfruits beneath, and other ones we have seen before. Well known fruits like pineapples are also on the market (picture 4). And here, outside the market, the lady allowed me to make a picture of her durians (picture 5), very big ones here, but without her, and she hided behind the newspaper with a big smile.
A visit to Saigon without a visit to the Ben Thanh Market would not be a visit to Saigon. . . . .
Where ever on the planet, I love to visit the markets, stroll around or in the narrow alleys, look at everything the eyes can catch, listen to voices and noises, smell the atmosphere. . . ; there are the flowers with their colours, fragrances, nicely arranged by the vendors; there are the fruits, I like to taste or just look at, discover new ones, ask for their names; the local craftworks, telling so much about local customs, the colourful and lively crowds of locals, so different from one place to the other, the atmosphere of “real” local street life. . . To me, essence of travels is also here, as much as world renowned museums, famous architectural “marvels”, high summits in the mountains I love so much, “breathtaking” landscapes; here are people and a bit of their everyday life, and I keep my five senses just receptive, gathering and recording feelings and impressions which make my modest trips a bit more than souvenir boxes.
Come, let’s have a look. . . . see the beautiful orchid crowns and colourful bunches (first picture) on the northern side of the market building, where the vendors take a moment for a short lunch, waiting for customers, or just keep busy, preparing bunches and compositions (picture 2) for weddings, receptions, funerals, official buildings or offices decoration. . . . or for people who just like to have beautiful flowers in their home. . . . . On the Northern side of the market, you have plenty of choice (picture 3), just for the “pleasure of sight”.
Stop there, look (and smell, specially the lilies and jasmines), there are the flowers and lots of small details which make the visit more interesting, the busy people, the tools, the containers, a bit an “organised mess”, and, unavoidable in Saigon, a motorbike. . . . (picture 4).
Ben Thanh market covers almost 1 square kilometer which enables hundreds of stalls to sell souvenirs, clothes, fruits, vegetables, fish, electronic appliances and many more. It has become a tourist magnet due to variety of goods that can be bought. The building was built in 1914 and the clock tower is one of the symbols of HCMC. You can get some good prices if you have good bargaining skills, but Ben Thanh is not the best place for shopping. It is a good place for learning the product variety and average prices, but you will definitely find better prices in HCMC.
Got to buy really cool stuff in here. So many souvenir items and cute bags too!! Everywhere you go here, you'd see lacquers and wooden sandals. They close at around 5-6pm but they have stalls outside the market for those who want to go shopping at night.
Famous for not only its shopping for cheap/fake stuffs, there is also a selection of good and affordable foods offered inside the market. If you are looking for some souvenirs then this place is a good place to stop and stock before you leave. Be prepared to bargain yet again.
Ben Thanh Market is always loaded with varieties of goods, such as consumer goods, cakes and candies, food and foodstuff, and particularly high-quality fruit and vegetables. Goods are displayed in a very attractive way that always catches the eyes of the buyers. They meet all requirements for the customers' daily life or for their families. The market has four gates that are very convenient for the market-goers. For all of its advantages, Ben Thanh Market is one of the most attractive tourist sites in the city for both domestic and foreign visitors.
BEN THANH MARKET IN THE CENTRE OF SAIGON IS A SHOPPERS PARADISE..
WHEN YOU WALK IN THROUGH THE MAIN ENTRANCE UNDER THE BELFRY CLOCK YOU WILL FIND THAT IT HAS JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING YOU COULD WANT TO BUY ALL UNDER ONE ROOF.
YOU CAN GET EVERYTHING FROM A WASHER TO THE WEEKS GROCERIES.
THE WHOLE MARKET IS A DELIGHT FOR THE SENSES FROM GIFTS TO CATCH THE EYE TO SPICES TO SEND YOUR NOSE INTO A SPIN.
I WAS AFTER A CHEAP T-SHIRT AND THIS PLACE WAS COMING DOWN WITH THEM..AND THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF PEOPLE LOOKING TO SELL YOU ONE, IN FACT THIS IS A GOOD PLACE TO BUY SOME GREAT SOUVENIRS ..BARGAIN HARD BUT REMEMBER TO ALWAYS SMILE AND DONT FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TO GET THE LOWEST PRICE POSSIBLE.. A RULE I GO BUY IS THAT IF YOUR HAPPY WITH WHAT YOUR BUYING AND YOU THINK THE PRICE IS FAIR THEN EVERYONES A WINNER.. ITS ALL PART OF THE EXPERIENCE.
PLUS WHEN YOU GET HUNGRY YOU CAN REFUEL FROM ANY OF THE DOZENS OF LITTLE FOOD STALLS SELLING GOOD FOOD AND COLD DRINKS.
BEN THANH MARKET IS WELL WORTH A LOOK ON YOUR TRIP TO SAIGON.
NOW GET IN THERE AND HAGGLE !!!
Bin Tay Market is about twenty minutes southwest of the Reunification Palace via motorcycle. It is a huge, two-story, orange building with a square clock tower in the center. Under the clock tower reads "Cho Bin Tay," in case you are not sure of your location. This place is jam packed with everything including toiletries, dishes, alcohol, and souvenirs. We spent about 15 minutes here, but I just wasn't that impressed by the throngs of people and heaps of junk at this "Wal-Mart on steroids."
What you can find in Ben Thanh market:
1. Lots of local souvenirs; from fridge magnet and lacquerware to various items from silk and ceramics.
2. Local snacks/food (I prefer buying the local food in supermarket for its fixed price)
3. Household items (bet you won't need this one, better to buy in your home country although everything's cheaper here but will occupy your luggage space...)
4. Fake branded bags and leather producs.
5. Cosmetics and hair accessories.
7. Wet market selling fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood. Located behind the Ben Thanh market, but still in the complex.
8. A bunch of street manicurist/pedicurist.
Be careful of pickpockets. Keep your passport at the safe in the hotel, and bring only the copy of it.
** For more shopping and pricing tips see my other shopping tips under 'Oleh-oleh'
This market is an easy walk being 700 metres from the city centre and the Rex Hotel. As we were staying at the Rex we visited this market several times, both early morning (10am) and late afternoon when it is very crowded.
The walk along Le Loi street south to the market takes you past many shops and street vendors selling much of what you will find in the market. It is your chance to check the quality and price before you reach the market.
At the market there are hundreds of stalls selling designed label clothing, bags, beads, shoes, jewellry, cosmetics, crafts, lacquer ware etc, all at very low prices. Do not accept the first offer price, bargain hard but remember the exchange rate is over 18,000 Dong to the US $ and 1,000 Dong is approximately 5 cents. Be reasonable with your offer.
There is a large food market which we walked through but did not eat here. It all looked good and most likely was safe to eat.
The market was constructed by the French in 1914 and has a stylish clock tower.
Markets are fascinating, markets are real and markets are cool. Markets tell you stories that shopping centres don't. Markets oozes life - you won't know how the locals live unless you visit the local markets. There are many around HCMC and you don't need to travel far. markets in Vietnam are know as "Cho" - "Cher" in plain English. The least authentic of them all is of course Cho Ben Thanh, that obligatory place that all tourists must visit to contribute to the Vietnamese economy. So I'll skip that.
The nearest market to Cho Ben Thanh is Cho Thai Binh, found at the end of Pham Ngu Lao where it intersects Nguyen Trai - you can see a traffic circus there. There is also, literally, a circus opposite the market that preforms on weekends too. It's not big but you can get a taste of the local culture there.
The one I like is Cho Tan Dinh, opposite the Catholic church Tan Dinh along Hai Ba Trung. Now that's authentic. It has its usual share of the wet market, the eating places, the fabric and apparel stalls - you can spend a good 2 hours walking inside and out of the market too.
One that is close to town is behind Sun Wah Plaza, a small stretch of 100 odd metres or so. Things are cheaper there and you can get some pretty decent stuff. I think the street name is Ton That Dam but let me confirm that later. Oh yes, the area surrounding is what I call the DVD Haunt - many shops sell the "copy" DVD movies for less than US$1 (@13,000-14,000VND). You can also get blank DVDs and CDs for copying; there are all kinds of "copy" game cartridges, from those for Gameboy and PSP etc. Very cheap. Have a look around and you'll know what I mean.