Shopping is, whether unfortunately or not, an indispensable part of life. How can you eat if you don’t buy the food first? How can you buy the food if you have nothing to wear out of the house?
We need shoes for work, food for fuel, phones and laptops to communicate, vehicles to get from place to place, machinery, gadgets, jewelry, gifts, stationery, you name it we probably need it! And shopping in Saigon for that one thing you really need (or let’s face it, really want) can be a very daunting process. I needed an adaptor plug for my laptop the other day, and honestly I am still borrowing my friend’s plug because I just couldn’t face the chaos of Saigon’s commercial network. Where the heck do I buy an adaptor plug?
Ok so it turns out plugs are very easy. But the point still stands. Sometimes shopping here can seem too hard! And a bit of insight will go a long way. Therefore, we decided to put our heads together and come up with an excellent, insightful and very un-chaotic ten point guide to shopping in this beautiful madhouse of a city. Enjoy!
An Đông Market
What is it for? Saigon’s greatest fabric market
I already mentioned An Đông Market in my How to find a good Tailor article. An Đông Market is the biggest fabric market in Ho Chi Minh City. Whatever textile you desire, I am pretty positive that An Đông Market has it.
You might have to search the different booths for a while, at least if your wish is rather eccentric, but usually you find what you need. Prices in this area are mostly fixed and reasonable, but double-check.
Downstairs you find the usual articles that you find in other markets as well. Fashion in Asian sizes, wholesale goods and food kitchens. If you are just shopping for small amounts of goods and not well-versed in using this kind of market, you might want to do some research on pricing beforehand.
Top Tip: Many fabric vendors sell at a fixed price. But if you buy a bulk amount, like for three shirts and two pairs of trousers, they are usually willing to give a discount.
Nguyễn Tri Phương Market
What is it for? From groceries to jewelry
Are you as sick of unfriendly, pushy vendors, bad quality and the regular tourist crap at Bến Thành market as I am? Would you like to shop at an extensive but largely tourist-free market that is not too far away from District 1?
Nguyễn Tri Phương Market is exactly that, a huge market in District 10 that has everything any other big market offers. From spice vendors to rice soup kitchens to goldsmiths, it satisfies your needs.
Of course, the freshest fruit and vegetables are sold out until noon, but there is a steady supply coming in. Fresh seafood and tea leaves are some of the recommended things there.
Top Tip: Right outside of the market on Bà Hạt street, there is a small stall where a lady sells traditional Vietnamese cakes. Give it a try, they are delicious! Especially the green sticky rice cakes that are filled with coconut or green bean paste.
What is it for? Sushi, mall and supermarket
Photo source: Quốc Thanh
What do I see in Aeon Mall that you don’t have in other shopping malls in Ho Chi Minh City? Or let’s rephrase the question: Why would I go to a mall in Tân Phú District when District 1 has more than enough shopping malls?
Well… I believe Aeon Mall is different. It is a place to shop for your everyday needs, rather than just luxury items. The mall includes a vast supermarket with many local and imported goods. Whether you want rice paper, olive oil, German biscuits or fresh blueberries, here you can get it.
It’s a Japanese shopping mall, so if you need some Japanese articles you can’t find in Lê Thánh Tôn street, chances are pretty high that Aeon Mall has it.
Three things are especially worth mentioning:
First, the shopping mall offers a free shuttle bus from several popular downtown locations, which is really convenient.
Second, the food selection is amazing. First and foremost you will find Japanese food at a reasonable price.
Third, Tân Phú District is one of the parts of Ho Chi Minh City where the land is relatively cheap, so many people from the countryside move there. A mall is a new experience for them and you may find it entertaining to watch what some people try to get on the escalator, while others apparently are afraid to get eaten alive by the vanishing steps…
Top Tip: Try the sushi. It cannot stand up to my favorite sushi kitchen in District 5, but it’s definitely a nice snack at a good price.
What is it for? The manly alternative
On Yersin street in District 1, you can find Chợ Dân Sinh, or Dan Sinh Market. You need to fix some pipes or the electrics? You want to fetch some nails, screws and angle irons for making your own bookshelf? You need ropes, lines or tape? You want to go all out and shop for the basic parts for your very own Battle Mech?
Then Chợ Dân Sinh is your paradise. Tools, parts and resources for the maker and the handyman in abundance. Walking through the hardware market and even just along Yersin street makes me want to build my own Death Star.
The area offers close to anything, a traditional man needs to mess up the house. Not just hardware, but accessories for boats and motorbikes, protective clothing and tape for fencing off the area.
It is really hard to walk through Chợ Dân Sinh and not getting dreamy about all the things you could create and how to improve your home. There are even materials and strangely formed metal artifacts where you rely on your best guess about what they are used for.
Grab your wallet tightly and get a hold on yourself. Put wax in your ears like Odysseus used to do, so you don’t hear the siren calls of that very useful percussion drill over there.
Top Tip: Right in the middle of the area is a chaotic shop for kitchenware. It appears small at first glance, but it has everything a kitchen needs. Everything.
Xô Viết Nghệ Tĩnh Street
What is it for? Everything for everybody
People might wonder why I pick Xô Viết Nghệ Tĩnh as a shopping location. There are no big shops there, no malls, no specialized vendors clustering together.
Well, that’s exactly it. The street is one of the major routes between Saigon’s District 1 & District 3 to the northern part of the city. The area is largely untainted by tourists, so the prices are normally within Vietnamese standards and the vendors are friendly and unobtrusive.
Whether you are out for cheap electronic items from one of these noisy bargain stores, bread from a variety of bakeries, fresh fruit and many other items for your daily needs, you can find them at Xô Viết Nghệ Tĩnh street and its surrounding alleys. But don’t expect any specialized stores or the highest quality.
The best thing about this street is the abundance of roadside kitchens. Eat a bowl of phở to replenish your energy or sip some nước mía (fresh sugarcane juice) while taking in the hustle and bustle. However, if you don’t like the chaotic Vietnamese traffic, this street is not for you. Especially during rush hour, traffic jams occur frequently.
Top Tip: At the beginning of the street, next to the bridge that leads to District 1, is a market street that turns into a massive street food joint in the evening.
Nguyễn Trãi Street
What is it for? Fashion and gifts
It’s not a mall but it may as well be - for the best deals, a pleasant experience and a range of merchandise all in one convenient location, Ho Chi Minh City’s Fashion Street has you covered. I tend to visit this strip whenever I need to top up my closet, which I will be honest is not often - I’m definitely not a shopaholic. But when I do need that new pair of jeans, those ‘big-size’ heels for work, I come to Fashion Street every time.
I have honestly yet to find a spot in this city that has such a comprehensive collection of stuff all in one place. From cheap and cheerful tops to the finest of luxury brands and international labels, from shoes to bras, suits to bicycles, phones to sun-hats! Though Nguyễn Trãi Street is known as a fashion hot-spot it also has a number of shops selling gadgets, stationery and gifts.
There are a number of bank outlets along this strip, and even an ABC bakery for when you’ve had enough of buying and want to do some eating. Like I said, it’s like the mall that isn’t a mall but may as well be. Everything in one place.
I’m one of those strange individuals who likes to wear jeans even when it’s so hot that the air sticks to you, and since I’m also that stick-like combination of long and thin it is always very hard to find jeans that fit me here. Ok I will be honest, it’s hard to find them anywhere. Stick insects aren’t meant to wear jeans, period. But here on fashion street I have found not one, not two, but countless little boutiques that sell quality jeans at low prices, which fit me! Oh happiness.
A number of shoe shops also sell size 40 heels, which makes me equally happy. Countless boutiques offer unique pieces and cute jewelry, which makes me happier, and a collection of makeshift stalls selling helmets and t-shirts line the pavements at one end. You need to bargain at these stalls, but most of the shops themselves have fixed prices, ranging from VND 100,000 for a pair of pants to USD $100 for a designer dress.
Parking is either in front of the shops or inside an alleyway at 8 Nguyễn Trãi, and you will be charged VND 4,000 to leave your motorbike there, or VND 2,000 for a bicycle.
Top Tip: To fully absorb the bustle and energy of this street, leave your vehicle in the parking area at number 8 and browse on foot.
What is it for? Personal style
This one is more of a concept than a location. Do you like niche fashion? I’m not talking weird fluffy hats and bright red blazers (sorry, fellow artsy types) - I’m talking about those cute tops and unique cuts, those self-defining looks that you invest in when you want to wear your identity on your sleeve. Literally.
So, are you into that? I think most of us are to some degree - what we wear will always reflect who we are. And for those of you who love to be unique, trendy and stylish, Saigon is dotted with cute little shops selling just that. Two of my favourite spots are on Pasteur and Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa Street.
If you travel up Pasteur Street from District 1 until it meets Trần Quốc Toản, there will be a number of little boutiques on your right. Surrounding them are some super cute cafes and tea shops, and my very favourite coffee chain Urban Station Coffee has an outlet up the road on Trần Quốc Toản! Perfect.
Make a visit to this little style haven, browse the vintage skirts, leather sandals and clean cut jackets, sip on a latte and embrace a bit of shades-on cafe culture. The average cost for clothes at these shops is a little higher than usual - expect to pay about VND 500,000 for a pair of super cute, totally unique jeans, and VND 300,000 for a lovely soft sweater. I myself tend to get stuck on the scarves...
Top Tip: Sizes at these shops are typically smaller and tailored to Vietnamese bodies. That being said, t-shirts, jumpers, sweaters and skirts tend to be a nice fit even for my broad, British shoulders!
The Student Market
What is it for? Flea market!
If you want off the beaten track, authentic, colorful, cheap and stimulating, do not miss the student night market at 6th quarter, Linh Trung ward, Thủ Đức District. If you are a foreigner you will, without doubt, be the only foreigner there. This is no traditional marketplace, but more of a flea-market. A spot of student nightlife for those students who live too far out of town to get to the real nightlife, and to be honest I would way rather wander this semi-rural playground than sit in a city bar.
The Linh Trung student market caters to university students in Thủ Đức District. It is a wonderland of street foods, from spring rolls to these bizarre flappy yellow pancake things which, I am told, are called ‘ram bắp’. ‘Bắp’ means ‘corn’, and this snack is made of corn, shrimp and a number of delicious things, rolled in rice paper and fried. You eat it with herbs and dip it in sauce. Yum!
To get to Linh Trung the best and cheapest option is a local bus. You can take number 19 bus from Lê Lai Street, behind the 23/9 Park in District 1, and watch the city go by from your air conditioned local bus. Ask the driver or a fellow passenger to let you know when you hit Linh Trung.
I went the first time with my good friend Trang, and when I asked her for some clear directions to use if I ever came again (which I have, many times!) she told me ‘after seeing two big horns of the elephant you will hear the bus driver cry "Suối Tiên" in a BIG voice! Wait for him to turn left, ignore two stones, and jump off at the second stop’... As much as I love the Lord of the Rings, maybe skip the quest and just ask a local.
To get home the last bus is at 7:30 p.m., and we would advise getting to the bus stop by 7:15 p.m. to make sure you don’t miss it. The bus stop to get home is on the opposite side of the street to where you arrived, and a little way up. If in doubt ask a student - many speak English, and they’re bound to want to practice!
Top Tip: Take a walk down to Hồ Đá Lake and watch the sun set over its beautiful blue waters. Buy some snacks from a vendor as you near the shore!
What is it for? Fashion, souvenirs, phones, and people watching!
Famous Saigon Square is a key player in Ho Chi Minh City’s top 10 places to shop, and for good reason! This strange mix of shopping mall and traditional market is centrally located, air conditioned and has its own toilets. There are now three outlets, but the main one is at Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa Street in District 1. The Square is known for its good prices and a far more pleasant browsing experience than nearby Bến Thành Market, for its wide range of merchandise and for the high quality of that merchandise.
And it’s fun! People from all over the world visit Ho Chi Minh City and almost every single one of those bubbly tourists goes to Saigon Square at some point during their stay. The Square is the perfect spot for people watching. Actually if I’m honest I don’t really go there to shop - if you stand on the second floor balcony and look down you can spend hours just wondering about the people you see milling about beneath you. Arabs in their beautiful long robes asking the price for that Gucci knock-off handbag, the typical sun-bleached Aussie giggling in a Saigon Beer singlet, those impossibly blond Swiss kids flitting between the clothes racks… Call me Hitchcock, but voyeurism is fascinating.
From cheap synthetic t-shirts to local designs and boutique fashion pieces, some of the best shopping in Ho Chi Minh City is available in Saigon Square. Shoes, glasses, jewelry, swimwear, ski-wear, phones and handbags - the Square is a wonderland for the shopaholic! I personally like to buy my work clothes here since there are so many little shops selling cute tops and pencil-skirts, but my colleague insists it’s got the last word on raincoats and ski-jackets. Each to his own. I guess you could call this market a kind of ‘Room of Requirement’.
Top Tip: ATMs are at the Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa entrance, and there are toilets inside on the second floor.
Tân Định, District 1
What is it for? Filling your stomach
At the far corner of District 1, over the rainbow and beyond the pot of gold, there is a street that makes my stomach smile. Heck, it makes it leap about! But in excitement, not discomfort.
I only found it because I work in Phú Nhuận and decided to cycle home an adventurous way one day, but it’s by no means a secret. A lot of expats live around there, and for good reason. At night time, when all daytime clutter is packed away and Saigon’s equally chaotic nighttime clutter is set up, this places becomes a haven of food. I myself have to recommend an evening visit to three main places:
First, on the corner of Hai Bà Trưng and Trần Quang Khải Street there is a market. Here you will find all sorts of snacks, drinks and meals from snails to noodle soup! I usually go by the mantra “if you don’t know what it is, try it and then you will,” which is exciting but, admittedly, sometimes ill-advised...
Another recommendation is Trần Khắc Chân Street. All along here people sell different foods. There is a bakery about half way along, and so many noodle stalls you start seeing strings of yellow and white everywhere you look! Ok not quite, but noodles are good and this street has many.
Finally, for beers and BBQ or maybe a spot of late-night sushi, hit up the corner of Trần Khắc Chân and Hoàng Sa Street. I came here with a new business partner of mine to celebrate the opening of our company. We sat in the bar on the corner and ate beef and grilled okra while we sipped 333 beer and watched the night. Street singers and street dancers performed on the street, and lovely ladies sold those giant crackers that you’re meant to eat with beer but taste amazing just on their own.
I also ate sushi at a restaurant a little further down another night, and apart from being one of the cheapest spots for sushi that I have found in Saigon, the food was also delicious. Apart from anything else you’re right next to the river! How can anything seem bad when the moon is glinting on silver water and everything smells a bit salty?
Top Tip: Skip lunch so that you’ve got plenty of room to try EVERYTHING.