Visit Traditional Markets in Saigon
Chào! brings you this guide to the best traditional markets HCM City has to offer. So anyone should have a try.
More than 1.3 million foreign visitors visited HCM City last year. On the average Japanese and European tourists spend US$50-60 per day on a three-day trip. This excludes shopping or expenses for visiting places outside Saigon.
Of course, the majority of foreign tourists who visit HCM City are not here only to shop. However, many find visiting a local market an interesting and exciting experience. Being amidst thousands of articles on display at these markets, they cannot resist the temptation to buy something, whether it is an unexpected souvenir or a dirt-cheap item.
What does a traditional market mean to the Vietnamese?
Although suffering tremendous pressure from mushrooming supermarkets and shopping malls, the traditional market in Vietnam and HCM City retains an important position in the Saigonese lifestyle. A huge number of housewives prefer to buy things they need at the traditional open-air markets instead of air-conditioned minimarts or spacious supermarkets. One of the reasons most often cited-although it's not always the case-is that prices at traditional markets are lower than those in supermarkets. A more persuasive reason is the proximity of traditional markets. Saigonese can always find a market in their neighborhood while they must travel farther to reach a supermarket.
Types of traditional markets
HCM City is administratively divided into quận or huyện (districts), each of which includes several dozens of phường or xã (wards). The scale of the traditional markets in the city complies roughly with these categories.
Markets of the smallest scale are often called chợ bên đường (sidewalk market) or chợ trong hẻm (alley market). They are so called because they occupy just a short section of a sidewalk or alley. Sellers and buyers gather for several hours, often in the morning, and then disperse. There are no fixed stands; sellers just sit on stools and display their goods on trays.
The larger scale markets consist of roofed stalls, often made of wood and standing along a short street. Cho Cu in District 1 is a typical example. Some "middle-class" markets are found in small one-story concrete buildings.
The large category of traditional markets consists of great concrete buildings with one or more stories. They are divided into different sections by type of goods and offer a huge variety of products. The best examples are Ben Thanh, Binh Tay and An Dong markets that are detailed at the end of the article.
The Art of Bargaining
Bargaining is at the heart of making a purchase in a market. One of the great virtues of traditional markets is that shoppers can find items that are not available in shopping malls or supermarkets. But one thing you'll rarely see in a traditional market is price tags. And price tags or not, shoppers must bargain skillfully if they don't want to be overcharged. Here is a bargaining primer for foreign shoppers:
Your first offer should be 40% of the shopkeeper's price.
Add 10% for the second offer.
If the shopkeeper cuts just 10% off the original price, don't accept it. Hint that you are about to leave.
If the shopkeeper offers a further 10% cut, still don't accept it. Insist on what you offered as your second price, which was 50% of the original price.
Our former copyeditor Jeff Franklin offers his perspective:
"I developed a formula that I enjoy using. No matter what I am looking to buy, be it a watch or satin bed sheets, I always undercut the first price the merchant offers by 75%. This way, I jump headfirst into the bargaining game, yet I am totally willing to pay a higher price. Next, the seller plays his or her part: insulted. I counter the attack with a look that says, "Hey, you're lucky I'm here!" Gradually we inch toward a middle ground. In the end, both the merchant and I, with you're-lucky-I-settled-on-that-price looks on our faces, show our true feelings with a smile and a thank you."
Some markets in HCM City you should visit
Ben Thanh Market
All tourists should pay at least one visit to this market, the most famous in HCM City. To describe the busy state, a Vietnamese composer says, "Life is as busy as Ben Thanh Market." The market gains its fame not only for being one of the oldest in town, but also for its prime location. Developed by France's Brossard & Mopin Co., Ben Thanh was constructed between 1912-1914. The market has four main gates-east, west, north and south-of which the south gate is most well known for its clock tower, one of the symbols of Saigon.
Booths on the front side of the north gate sell flowers and fresh fruit. Inside the gate are the meat, seafood and vegetable stalls. Inside the east and south gates are the pre-made clothing and handicraft stalls. The west gate area is devoted to jewelry. In the center of the market are booths selling food, fabrics, cosmetics, dried fish, coffee, tea, handicrafts, porcelain and glassware, to name just a few.
At dusk a night market appears when stalls are erected at the east and west gates. Visitors then can watch the city's nightlife, buy souvenirs or taste Vietnamese food.
Tips for Travelers
Pros: Foreign tourists can communicate and bargain in English at ease with many shopkeepers. Some also speak French and Japanese.
Price tags have appeared on many of the items, but to be on the safe side, especially with more expensive goods, it's wise to bargain. Most items are of acceptable quality.
Cons: Prices are often higher than the smaller markets.
How to get there
Ben Thanh Market is just a few blocks from City Hall. Every visitor should take this short walk to enjoy the scenes and shops between the two ends. Le Thanh Ton Street is especially nice to walk along toward the market, as it has many fine and interesting shops.
An Dong Market
This three-story market in District 5 features more modern architecture than Ben Thanh or Binh Tay markets, including escalators. It is both a retail and wholesale market.
The basement is reserved for processed and packaged foods and small eateries that sell Vietnamese dishes such as noodle soup, rice and sweet soup. On the first floor are jewelry, footwear, fabrics, eyewear and hat stalls. The second floor features garments and the third has lacquer ware, woodwork and handicrafts. Jackets and knitwear are also available on this floor.
Tips for travelers
Pros: Many shopkeepers can speak Chinese.
Many items have price tags.
Cons: There are fewer people who can speak English at An Dong than at Ben Thanh.
How to get there
Take the Ben Thanh-Dam Sen bus route. It departs at the central bus station just across the south gate of Ben Thanh Market. Get off on An Duong Vuong Street in District 5 and walk to the market just a few blocks away. The bus route operates from 5 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. at intervals of 15 minutes.
A taxi from Ben Thanh to An Dong costs about VND28,000 (Phi Long Taxi. Tel: 911-1111)
Binh Tay Market
Built about 15 years after Ben Thanh, Binh Tay in District 6 soon gained prestige as the biggest market in HCM City. Larger than Ben Thanh, Binh Tay's area is 2 hectares. Binh Tay is the hub from which goods are distributed to other parts of Vietnam. The two-story market houses 2,600 stalls and shops with a wide variety of goods ranging from garments, footwear, and household plastics to processed foods.
Tips for travelers
Pros: Visitors can communicate in Chinese.
Goods are cheap and customers have no fear of being overcharged or price haggling.
Cons: There are fewer people who can speak English at Binh Tay than at Ben Thanh.
How to get there
Take the Saigon-Cholon bus route. The bus departs from Me Linh Square in District 1 and the last stop is just a few minutes' walk away from the market. The bus route operates from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. at intervals of 5-8 minutes.
A taxi from Ben Thanh to Binh Tay costs about VND55,000 (Phi Long Taxi. Tel: 911-1111).