Beyond Ben Thanh: Saigon’s Specialty Markets
Vietnam’s markets are more than just places to do shopping: they are where social exchanges happen, where people meet and greet. Every market has something special to offer, be it in terms of products or atmosphere – a counterpoint to the anonymous, often generic shopping malls with their repetitive stores. Markets allows tourists and expats to delve into Vietnamese culture by strolling through rows of stalls offering anything one could think of.
Vietnam’s best-known market remains Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City, where travellers find anything from local snacks or fruits to fabrics and souvenirs. There’s even a fixed-price area around the market for those who shy away from haggling. However, this market provides less of an authentic local experience: vendors are more aggressive, prices are higher and the product range is tailored to foreigners. Vietnamese do their shopping elsewhere, at one of the hundreds of markets around the city.
A Market for Every Occasion
Do you collect antiques? Then visit the antique collectors market in Binh Thanh District every Sunday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Or arere you interested in the lifestyle of Vietnam’s hip urban youth? Then keep an eye out for the next The New District flea market in D1.
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When it comes to specialty markets, it is often difficult to distinguish between full-blown markets and the many shopping streets that specialise in particular kinds of goods.
The following selection, however, focuses on some of Saigon’s best specialty markets located in a proper market hall. They all offer products that are hard to find elsewhere. Have a stroll, soak in the atmosphere and do your shopping the Vietnamese way.
Yersin Market (Dan Sinh Market)
104 Yersin, D1
7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Dan Sinh Market, or Yersin Market, named after the street where it’s located, is less of an insider tip, but when you talk about specialty markets, it just has to be on the list. Only minutes from downtown, it offers some goods that you’ll have a hard time finding anywhere else in the city – mostly army gear and camping utilities, apart from electronics, kitchenware and all kinds of mechanical accessories.
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Entering the bunker-like building from Yersin Street, you’ll find military items and war surplus on your right, while the stalls on your left offer household utilities and electric goods. Straight ahead are the tools and car accessories sections. Admittedly, not everybody might need a gas mask or military regalia like dog tags or mostly fake Zippo lighters from the American War, but if you’re up for a camping trip, Yersin Market is one of the rare spots providing all the outdoor clothing, tents, sleeping bags and mosquito nets you will need.
Mostly hassle-free and without the maddening crowds of many of Ho Chi Minh City’s more well-known markets, it is definitely worth a visit. Remember to bargain.
Nguyen Gian Thanh, D10
7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Chinese medicine can best be found at what is called Saigon Chinese Medicine Market around Hai Thuong Lan Ong in D5, but the functional building on Nguyen Gian Thanh in D10 houses Ho Chi Minh City’s largest market for Western medicine.
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Crammed with boxes, motorbikes and hundreds of pharmacies, this is your best bet to find rare medications and medical equipment that other pharmacies don’t offer. Expats and tourists are likely to be the only foreigners around, and note that this is essentially a wholesale market, so if you want to purchase something, it’ll have to be a whole box of it. Prices are cheaper than at regular pharmacies.
Bargaining is unnecessary. Dealers don’t speak English but if you show them a prescription, they will give you what you need.
Soai Kinh Lam Fabric Market
545 Tran Hung Dao, D5
8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Many markets in HCMC sell fabrics. Soai Kinh Lam Fabric Market, however, is the city’s biggest fabric market with nearly 500 stalls. A special feature is that each shop sells only one kind of fabric in numerous colours, textures and designs. You can find pretty much every type of textile here, including rare ones such as velvet.
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Prices are generally affordable but this is yet another wholesale market, though the stalls outside do sell retail. Foreigners are not among the usual visitors, so count on a limited level of English.
Dai Quang Minh Decorations Market
31-33-35 Chau Van Liem, D5
8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Dai Quang Minh Market is located in Chinatown as well, and it is a paradise for all those who love crafts and decoration. A plethora of shops selling accessories like strings, artificial flowers and ribbons awaits creative minds who are into embroidery, sewing, jewellery making, or simply need some nice strings for gift wrapping.
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Strolling around here is not always pleasant as the market is often crowded and not air-conditioned. However, fashion designers will find lots of stylish accessories like leather strings, buttons or beads, zippers, lace fabrics and studs, and the prices are, as one would guess, highly affordable.
Some shops offer fixed prices. As always in Chinatown, English is limited.
Ba Hoa Food Market
30CH Tran Mai Ninh, Tan Binh District
8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Ba Hoa Market is not located in a market hall, but it shows another facet of what Saigon’s specialty markets can offer, as specialty foods from central Quang Nam Province are sold here.
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Close by Tan Son Nhat International Airport, Ba Hoa Market is the culinary home of the Quang people, which makes it the perfect destination for an authentic Vietnamese food experience. The adventurous might want to try the fried intestines with turmeric and grilled rice paper. For all the rest, we recommend the well-known central Vietnamese noodle soup, mi quang. As all products, such as fresh dairy, vegetables, meat, seafood and fruits, are imported, the prices are naturally higher than they would be for local products. Bargaining is recommended. Count on very basic English skills.
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