Markets are one of the top attractions to experience in Saigon. They are vibrant and noisy and while locals usually buy what they need, tourists are drawn in by the prospect of purchasing souvenirs at low prices. The price however is not fixed at markets, so your skills in appraisal and haggling are required if you want to get away without losing your hard earned and unprofitably exchanged Dong.
However, cheap prices are not the only advantage of shopping on the various markets in Saigon. The many traditional and some rather touristy marketplaces offer a wide range of fashion, jewellery, fresh produce and wholesale items to enthral even the most reserved shoppers. Saigon is a shopping wonderland, unknown to the Western world and only to be found in Asia.
The variety of goods alone can set your mind on fire and walking along the aisles where booth after booth offers more or less amazing goods, you may find the perfect souvenir you never knew you would need.
Ben Thanh Market
Let's start with the most famous and most touristy market of all: Ben Thanh Market. This place has everything you may or may not need to impress those poor devils who stayed at home while you travelled to Vietnam. You can buy various kinds of very local snacks, such as dried fruit, roasted lotus seeds and other less obvious delicacies like dried squid. They also have jewellery, shirts and souvenirs, watches of dubious origin and everything else you can imagine.
The market closes at 5 pm, however then the night market vendors are setting up their stalls around the building and you can get your fix on souvenirs and more or less authentic Vietnamese food.
There are two Saigon squares in the city and both are about the same. They are big fashion markets with all kinds of booths for shirts, dresses, jackets, shoes, accessories and other more or less interesting clothing items. Most brands here are fake, however there are some real quality items around. Shopping at Saigon Square is fun, just barter a bit and pay attention to quality where you can. We shed some more light at the place in another, dedicated article about Saigon Square.
Similar to Saigon Square, however a bit more hidden, you find Taka Plaza where you can get your fair share of souvenirs and clothing. This fashion market has two entrances, one from Le Loi street and one from Nam Ky Khoi Nghia street.
One more of these fashion and souvenir markets I mention because it's right in the city centre. Lucky Plaza can be entered from Dong Khoi street or Nguyen Hue Boulevard.
An Dong Market
While the basement of this big market in District 5 is dedicated to souvenirs and food - and a part of some of the more reliable city tours - the second floor is like Saigon Square in terms of cheap clothing. In recent time, An Dong Market became notorious for overcharging tourists, so pay attention to prices and haggle with the vendors.
The first floor however is Saigon's biggest fabric market and when you get your shirt custom tailored, you can choose your fabric here first and then bring it to your preferred tailor. At An Dong Market you get everything, from cheap plastic fabric over linen, cotton and - if you know how to identify it - real silk.
Binh Tay Market
Now that one is the heart of the former Cholon in today's District 5. Even if it's a wholesale market, you can find a vibrant and interesting market life here. Especially before traditional Vietnamese or Chinese holidays the area is most colourful, since vendors sell all the red and golden decorations. The market is part of most Cholon or Chinatown tours in Saigon, since it's right there and a bit more authentic than then the more centrally located Ben Thanh Market.
Dan Sinh Market
Also often called Yersin Market, located on Yersin street and named after the famous Alexandre Yersin, who is one of the few Frenchmen who's name has not been removed after the end of the war. Now when women are freaking out in places like Saigon Square when it comes to shoes and clothing, Dan Sinh Market is the manly alternative. Tools, screws, nails and spare parts. From jackhammers to cocktail glasses, from planetary mixers to hydraulic presses, from soldering irons to cast iron sprockets for the gods may know what type of machine. This is the place where I lose myself and dream of the workshop I left behind in Austria.
A small section of the market deals with ao dai fabric, but cannot compare to other places like An Dong Market. However the vintage section may be of interest: A couple booths offer antiquities and leftovers from the military, as well as new military clothing imported from overseas. Even boots. Some are real, others look rather like replicas. But whatever you are searching for, Dan Sinh Market is the place to buy a serious screwdriver.
For more cultural immersion into everyday Saigonese life, follow the locals to one of the many traditional markets around the city. Every district has its own market and some are fancier than others. Let me present two selected markets that are close enough to the centre to be reached on foot or by taxi or xe om (motorbike taxi):
Nguyen Tri Phuong Market
This market in District 10 is one of the traditional, local markets you should definitely visit if you want to know how Vietnamese really shop for their daily stuff. Not many tourists here and rarely a vendor speaks more English than hello. Here you get fresh fish, meat, vegetables, fruit, spices, local foods of all kinds and colour. Immerse yourself in real Saigonese market life.
Ban Co Market
Similar to Nguyen Tri Phuong Market, this place is catering to locals and their daily needs. We sometimes shop for groceries ourselves there and it is a bliss to wade through the stalls and encounter previously unknown, edible plants and animals.
Most traditional markets in Saigon open very early in the morning and this is also the best time to visit. Many products are only available then and fresh. The longer the meat and fish is exposed to the heat of the tropical sun, the less desirable they are - of course.
There are more places that may be worth a visit and we plan on covering them, but the markets here are the most interesting to know about. Often the borders between market and specialised street are fuzzy. So for example every evening a part of Nguyen Trai street turns into a vibrant stop&shop fashion nightmarket.
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