Ho Chi Minh City is a churning, vibrant cauldron of sights, sounds and (usually) delicious smells. Its markets are possibly the best example of the city’s frenetic atmosphere. Here’s Culture Trip’s guide to the most interesting, expansive and downright cool markets in Vietnam’s largest metropolis.
From dawn until the small hours of the morning, Saigon’s citizens come to markets to shop for delectable sweets and pastries, sumptuous fabrics and fresh produce. On land, underground or floating on the water, Ho Chi Minh City’s markets are an unmissable example of Vietnamese daily life, and well worth paying a visit, whether you’re shopping for beautiful flowers, freshwater crabs or just taking in the sights.
Ben Thanh Market is among the largest and most historic markets in the country, and one of the oldest surviving structures in Ho Chi Minh City. People have been trading on its grounds since the 17th century.Under French colonial rule, the market building was first constructed and opened under the name Les Halles Centrales. Following a fire in the early-20th century, it was renamed Ben Thanh, which roughly translates to “Wharf Citadel”. Its famous southern entrance is watched over by a soaring white clock tower that has remained unchanged for over a century. For a city that saw the ravages of colonial rule and a decade-long war, there aren’t many better places to get a glimpse of the old Saigon.Inside, its vaulted halls are home to hundreds upon hundreds of stalls, with vendors selling everything from school uniforms and umbrellas to green tea and engine oil. Ben Thanh Market covers an impressive 13,000 square meters (139,931 square feet) in the heart of District 1.The great production that is a day at the market begins at around 4am when the first traders start to arrive. If you’re at the southern gate around that time, you can see traders praying at a small temple for prosperity and success in the day’s dealings.If you get to the market later in the day, from 6pm onwards, the main halls shut down, and three thriving night markets open up at the building’s northern, eastern and western gates.
Amid the jumbled streets of District 10, there’s a little riot of colour. The Ho Thi Ky Flower Market is the biggest of its kind in the region, with entire fields of roses in every shade from ruby red to pale white, shockingly yellow chrysanthemums and voluptuous, sweet-scented orchids on display.Most of the flowers are grown either in the Mekong Delta to the south or near the mountain town of Dalat to the north; however, some are imported from Cambodia. The market opens up ridiculously early in the morning, and if you’re not a fan of crowds, avoid visiting in the lead up to Tết (Vietnamese New Year), when the place is packed with shoppers loudly arguing the price of tulips.Deep within the market, there’s a Cambodian market where you can buy a traditional sweet soup from a sweet old Cambodian lady; she’s been serving it for over 40 years.
Along with Thailand, Vietnam is the most popular holiday destination for Russians, with almost half a million descending on the country each year. They also make up a significant portion of the nation’s immigrant community.Catering to these folks is one of the most interesting shopping institutions in District 1. The Russian Market opened in 2000, in response to the growing trade between the countries following the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.Inside this glorious Soviet-style building, you can find some of the most heavily discounted brand-name clothing in all of Vietnam – if you’re willing to do a little digging. Goods are piled up everywhere, so be prepared to spend some time sifting through about a billion knock-off North Face jackets and pairs of Gucci trainers. If you love the hunt for a bargain and want to see a side of Ho Chi Minh that most tourists don’t see, this is a great way to spend a day. Davai!
This article was originally written by Piumi Rapajashka and has since been updated.
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