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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Markets and Saigon are two words that are bound to go together (this probably applies to the rest of Vietnam as well). Although traditional Vietnamese wet markets are being replaced by high-end shopping malls or massive supermarkets, they are still alive and kicking. For foreigners (like myself), visiting these lively places always turns out to be an experience that blows my mind and gets my senses back.
For those who may not know, a wet market is a traditional open air food market and it receives this name because the floors are normally washed with water. Live animals, fresh produce and anything that you can imagine are all sold at these joints, where many Vietnamese do their daily shopping.
If life in Vietnam is vibrant, bustling and captivating, wet markets reflect just that. Visit them in the early morning (6AM-9AM) where all the products will be freshest and the enchanting atmosphere (sights, aromas and people all blended in) is at its peak. Glance through the following snapshots that try to capture all the energy and life contained at these entertaining markets. If you visit them, enjoy the ride and let the scenes woe you.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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