Ho Chi Minh City is a place with something distinct and spellbinding at every turn.
Throughout the city’s countless woven alleyways, backstreet markets, and strewn out sidewalk vendors, we are left awestruck amidst the immense density of the market shopping scene. In order to circumvent this boggling market interface, follow our guide to unlock some of Saigon’s most interesting specialty markets for both locals and travellers alike.
Lantern Street (Luong Nhu Hoc, D5)
Chinatown’s lantern street is a visual spectacle for any visitor, as bright colours rupture from every stall, wall and ceiling, giving pedestrians a true glimpse of Chinese heritage. With photographers abound, beautiful women in Ao Dai’s pose amongst the vast display of kaleidoscopic lanterns and hanging mobiles creating an immersive cultural presentation. Saigon’s most poignant lanterns are exhibited during the Mid-Autumn Festival that occurs within 15 days of the autumn equinox, during the month of September. While perusing lantern street, which wraps around the perimeter of a traditional Chinese temple, skilled craftsman can be spotted hunkered down behind the stalls hand making each item before putting them on display.
As you make your way through this market space, you will notice a wide range of styles and designs. Some pricier lanterns contain wooden frames with golden Chinese inscriptions, while others are cheap and factory produced, bearing famous characters like Doraemon and Pikachu. It’s hard not to feel a connection to some of Vietnam and China’s mutual cultural history while you take in the timeless shapes and patterns of this fun and ceremonious block of lanterns.
Antique Street (Le Cong Kieu, D1)
Just a quick hobble from Ben Thanh Market, you can stumble upon another one of Saigon’s lesser known speciality strips. This one is laden with Pan-Asian antique treasures. Containing about 10-20 shops, an astonishing amount of antique items are on display stacked deep into the back corners of the old concrete stores. Dusty floor-to-ceiling glass encasements house endless heaps of ceramics and statuettes, heavy copper and brass Buddhist relics, clocks, gas lamps and religious medallions.
As you cautiously manoeuvre around bygone objects, be sure to meticulously inspect each potential purchase as many items here are counterfeit. Regardless of your knowledge of real or fake antiques, taking a slow stroll down this street is quite an enchanting experience as you take in the rich and dateless objects. From 60+ year-old phones, typewriters and phonographs, massive Mandarin scrolls, boisterous elephant statues and bull-horned objects, this is an ideal place to get lost in Asian history.
Musical Instrument Street (Nguyen Thien Thuat, D3)
Not only is this road well known by both expats and local musicians for its broad selection of musical instruments, but it’s also a buzzing market area with mounds of delicious street food. While walking down this street, it’s quickly evident that many of the shop owners here are not only selling instruments, but are actually handcrafting each instrument themselves right on the spot. With sawdust strewn floors, and bits of metal guitar string and tuning keys about, I was very impressed with the craftsmanship of many of the shop’s products.
From traditional Vietnamese flutes and bamboo instruments, to mandolins, ukuleles, violins, harmonicas, stomp boxes, electric and bass guitars, the experience of watching your instrument being made right in front of you is a charming one. One particular young artisan however, named Hien, at 127 Nguyen Thien Thuat, really got my attention. As he sat down working, surrounded by thousands of tiny metal pieces and shreds of stripped wood, he nonchalantly discussed his traditional acoustic guitar-making style, and how his products are “simple, good and homemade the traditional way”. Regardless if you’re seeking Eastern or Western instruments, or just accessories like monochromatic tuners, strings, cables, capos or pickups, have a peak as you make your way around the endless piles of guitars flowing out the sides of the shops.
Bike Street (Bui Huu Nghia, Binh Thanh)
Bike street is a frantic black market hotspot overflowing with any bicycle or motorbike accessory imaginable. Bits and pieces of all shapes and sizes dangle above the low ceilings as you cower through the overloaded strip wafting of petrol, oil and rubber. Even If you’re not there to purchase anything bike related, it’s worth a trip just to observe as the workers scurry around clanking tools, ripping off tires, and hand cranking bikes up and down to perform their hasty mechanical maintenance.
With glistening displays of chrome spokes, handlebars, bike frames and chains, this road is no stranger to the hustle, so be sure to purchase with caution and thoroughly check the products before you buy them. For small repairs it’s a very accessible place to get your tire or tube changed, tighten your brakes, grease the chain or even have an old bike rebuilt.
Yersin Market (Nguyen Thai Binh and Yersin, D1)
Yersin Market is a dusty scrapyard style market hunkering behind a street full of small scale industrial hardware outlets. After dodging scampering, shouting workers loading and unloading oversized packages into beat up box trucks, you can wind your way into the dingy likes of Yersin Market; a musty tin roof market housing an overwhelming number of items. If you’re looking to renovate your apartment, repair an appliance, or acquire some power tools for a project, Yersin Market sells everything from electronics to hardware, camping gear, kitchenware and a vast array of mechanical accessories needed to fix or build anything imaginable. This complex also offers an extensive collection of war surplus gear, while providing a mostly hassle-free, shopping experience without the maddening crowds or overzealous vendors of many of HCMC’s more well-known markets.
An Dong Plaza (An Duong Vuong, D5)
An Dong market in District 5 is home to Saigon’s elbow-to-elbow Chinatown market. In contrast to the aggressive selling methods of Ben Thanh Market, the retailers here are more interested in wholesale prices and prefer to sell in bulk. As a whole, you will find much more local-friendly prices instead of the jacked up price tags of the more tourist-dominated markets. If you’re interested in jewellery, particularly fine pearls, gold and silver, than this is a much better shopping option. Quality cannot always be guaranteed, so shop with caution and be careful when selecting your pieces. While making your way through this lively and swarming area, don’t forget to take in the authenticity of this market as if offers visitors a true taste of Vietnamese style market shopping, unlike the jaded nature of Ben Thanh market.
Photo by: Dinh Thinh