Right in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City is the Ben Thanh Market, the large marketplace that boasts that they are one of the oldest structure still remaining from old Saigon. If you are seeking local crafts, textiles, and souvenirs, or if you just want to experience some of the culture of Vietnamese marketplaces, head to Ben Thanh for a fun outing.
Located in the southwest of HCMC, you will always be able to find this market as it just around the clock tower on the large traffic circle, and likely will be crowded with tourists during the day. Once you are in the market, be aware that your personal space may be severely diminished as the stalls are crowded together and there are likely to be many people visiting for the same reasons you are. Depending on what you are looking for (or browsing through), determines which half of the market you should visit. Ben Thanh is divided between tourist goods like cheesy t-shirts and small souvenirs, and regular goods like fruits, kitchenware, and fresh flowers among other things.
The market consists of clothes, souvenirs, meats, spices, candies, and all types of foods or household items. You may find a number of gifts for your loved ones back home or perhaps even some gifts for yourself. You can find local handmade items, along with beautiful silk scarves, and local cuisine. If you would like to take home a traditional outfit or if you want to blend in with the locals, keep your eyes peeled for the beautiful ao dai, a Vietnamese national costume. Mostly worn by women, but sometimes by men, you can slip into brightly coloured silk tunics with lovely patterns that lay over pants.
Naturally, it is a pickpocket’s heaven as there are plenty of tight spaces where someone can easily snatch a purse or a wallet and quietly get away before you’ve even realized it’s happened. Make sure your bag is closed completely and close to your body so passer-by can’t easily dip into your bag and snatch your belongings.
This market can be overwhelming with the sheer number of people in the aisles and with aggressive and sometimes demanding shop keepers. Shopkeepers can be quite aggressive, grabbing onto tourists even after they have said no to the product. They may also try to inflate the price to unbelievable highs, simply because of the general perception that foreigners are very wealthy. They expect that you will haggle the price, so do not settle for the price you are given. Use your debating skills and work your absolute hardest to get down to as low of a price you can get—a price that you deem fair. If the price isn’t dropped enough for you, then simply walk away.
At night, the market shifts into the night-time vendors and cooks. This may be a better time to visit, especially if you are looking for freshly cooked local cuisine.
You may love the assortment of watches and jewellery as well as tobacco and hardware. Just be aware of what you can and cannot transport back with you. Remember that you’ll have to go through customs on your way back to Australia so there’s no point in spending money on goods that will just get confiscated at the airport.
Protect your belongings, new souvenirs and holiday memories from being tainted by purchasing international travel insurance from Cover-More Australia.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Robert S. Donovan