The 5 Best Markets in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
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.
Accessibility & Audience:Family Friendly
Atmosphere:Local, Crowded, Touristy
Southern Vietnam is dominated by the Mekong Delta, a tangled web of tributaries, rivers and swampland that has been central to its people’s way of life for millennia. Its floating markets are the primary medium of trade in the area and an illuminating glimpse into the local way of life.The floating market in Cai Be is the closest of these markets to Ho Chi Minh, and while it’s still a two-hour drive from the centre of the city, it’s well worth the trip. Local fishers and traders make their way along the riverbanks, hawking their wares from wooden sampans (traditional Vietnamese rowing boats). The Cai Be Floating Market is one of the best places in the country to buy freshly caught fish, and taste fruit picked in the deltas. The mangoes are highly recommended.The Cai Be Floating Market is open later than most, so you can still make it down from Ho Chi Minh in the morning and spend a full day investigating its riches.
Located in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown, the Binh Tay Market is one of the largest and oldest of its kind in the city. Established in the 1880s and rebuilt in the 1920s, today, it’s home to more than 2,300 stalls selling spices, preserves, baked goods, clothes, shoes, bags, household items, jewellery, silver, gold and so much more.You could come back every day for a week and still find treasure tucked away in the depths of Binh Tay. If you make it to the centre, there’s even a small park with a shrine in the middle – an oasis of contemplative tranquillity in the midst of a whirlwind of haggling merchants and unhappy chickens.At the back of the market, there’s a huge food court packed with vendors selling some of the most snackable street food in the city.
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.
Accessibility & Audience:Family Friendly
Atmosphere:Local, Photo Opportunity, Crowded
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.