Chợ Bến Thành, or popularly known as Ben Thanh Market to tourists, was our first stop when we got into Ho Chi Minh city. It is a mere 10 minutes walk from where we stayed (Hoang Hai Long Hotel).
The market developed from informal markets created by early 17th century street vendors gathering together near the Saigon River. The market was formally established by the French colonial powers after taking over the Gia Định citadel in 1859 (see Citadel of Saigon). This market was destroyed by fire in 1870 and rebuilt to become Saigon’s largest market. In 1912 the market was moved to a new building and called the New Bến Thành Market to distinguish over its predecessor. The building was renovated in 1985. – Wikipedia
View of Ben Thanh market from side
While Ben Thanh Market is distinctively a landmark in the city, many tourists have been put off by the lack of courtesy from the traders at the market. I have read so many stories of visitors relating their experience while strolling at the market and they almost made me change my mind about visiting it. Nevertheless, I visited it and in the end, even made few more trips down to the market.
It was very humid and hot when I first stepped in and that’s my first impression of the market. Since we made our entry from the side of the building, the first thing we saw was stalls selling different types of food. For the first few minutes, I was too dazed as I was getting bombarded by the “richness” of the market – that is when everything seems to be an eye opener to you.
Making my steps slowly, I took an overall swipe of the surroundings. It is a single storey building, food stalls at the centre of the market, and everything else spread nicely in grid. It looks packed with narrow aisles, and with the never ending sound from the traders bargaining with potential buyers, it completes the character of the market.
We were pretty aimless in the first place, so we just walked along one of the aisles while feasting our eyes on the potential items that attracts us. It didn’t take us long before we started to make purchase upon purchase, and being the money dispenser, it was kinda depressing seeing your money getting lesser and lesser. Not to mention the satisfying grin on the seller’s face as if he/she made a large catch.
Things that generally most visitors buy – cloths (headscarf/neck scarf/cheongsam/etc), Vietnamese coffee (roasted bean/grounded), dried seafood (sea cucumber/dried scallops/dried shrimps/etc), local tidbits, T-shirts (branded imitation/printed/etc), decorative items (paintings/handcrafts/etc), jewelries and finally souvenirs (keychains/fridge magnets/etc).
Don’t get me wrong, though. I love Ben Thanh market more than anything else. It has the right charm and never fail to lure visitors like me. I’m not a good shopper and my bargaining skills still suck, but still at the end of the day, I still be able to make few purchases and I am more than happy with the price. I wouldn’t say some are very good deals but, so long you are happy and you think it’s worth the amount, then just go for it and don’t even look back. 🙂
There is a section that sells fixed price items and you will be able to see them near the entrances. It’s a good place to survey for the price before you head deeper in the market and get your bargaining skills honed. Trust me, it will be fun!