Today, we begin a series on the top markets of Vietnam for those of you planning a trip to the country this summer. We start with the economic capital of the country and the place many of you are most likely to visit: Saigon.
So what’s one of the first things almost every tourist in Vietnam after setting foot in the old pearl of Southeast Asia? Shop! Whether you’re looking for clothing, coffee, jewelry, handmade crafts, or god-forbid some counterfeit designer bags, there’re hundreds of places to satisfy your shopping needs in Saigon. Today, we talk about what is likely the most famous: Ben Thanh Market
Dark, hot, sweaty Ben Thanh market with the narrow aisles pressing against you on all sides as you try to squeeze your way past a hundred merchants grabbing and shouting at you to buy their wares. It is the quintessential Saigonese market and an experience that should not be missed.
Located in the heart of District 1 next to Saigon’s equivalent of the Arc de Triomphe traffic circle, Ben Thanh market is probably the most iconic image of the city. The giant clock on top of the market can be found on postage stamps and postcards throughout the country and the one place that probably every tourist who’s been to Vietnam has been been to.
Just because it’s touristy though, does not mean it should be missed. The market has a long history dating back to French colonial times. It was once the largest market in the city and is actually the second Ben Thanh market, the first having been destroyed in a fire in 1912. Today, it is open from from 7am to 7pm and accessible through four main entrances corresponding the points of compass. So if you want to go to meet someone at Ben Thanh, it’s useful to say North, South, West or East gate.
The Market itself is divided into two main parts: an outer ring of various shops running around the entire market, and an one giant inner market divided into aisles and sections. Like most Vietnamese markets, Ben Thanh has the obligatory rows and rows of fake designer goods. You can find almost anything inside the market however from coffee beans to jewelery. It is also a good place to buy cloth for that dress or suit you’re planning to have tailored. Being such a touristy location, it is also a great place to find that perfect Vietnam souvenir. If you missed that that cheesy Good Morning Vietnam t-shirt or that exotic handmade wooden statute you saw elsewhere on your trip, odds are you can track it down somewhere in Ben Thanh’s countless aisles.
The one hidden gem that really separates Ben Thanh from other Saigon markets, however, is the food. It’s an often-overlooked fact, but there’s an entire section of indoor food vendors inside the market serving everything from pho to banh mi for reasonable, marked prices. So after a tiring day of pushing your way through Ben Thanh’s crowded aisles hunting for that perfect deal, make your way to the food section and refresh yourself with a bowl of pho and some sugarcane juice. Then throw yourself back into the fray for another round of shopping!