The best place to shop in Saigon, in terms of value and choice, is at the markets. Saigon’s markets are a treat for all the senses. Visiting these lively trading arenas is as much a social occasion, as a shopping trip.
At the southwest end of Le Loi, Ben Thanh Market, is easily spotted with its clock tower on the roundabout. This market is the city’s largest and has been divided into two sections: one side targeting tourist shoppers, and the other selling regular every-day goods. You can find everything from jeans and souvenirs, to flowers and fruit, in the warren of stalls. Always haggle in order to get a fair price.
Situated in the heart of Chinatown, Cho Binh Tay market is a more specialised affair. Here you can find Chinese medicine, spices, fermented fish and dried seafood. However, the best buy at this market is the vast array of silks and velvets.
The Night Market sets up each evening neat Ben Thanh Market, and is a great place to try different Vietnamese dishes. Stalls serve up food from all over Vietnam, and at very cheap prices. Once you have refuelled, you can browse the many market stalls selling everything imaginable.
The War Surplus Market is a maze of military style paraphernalia. Each stall is draped with combat clothing, cheap t-shirts and fake Marine Zippo lighters. The authenticity of much of the goods is questionable, but if you haggle you can usually get a good price.
Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market is not only a large market in the centre of Saigon, it is considered a symbol of the city. The market is one of the few structures dating back to the early 1900s which has survived. The market was heavily bombed during WWII, but was given new life in the fifties.
Ben Thanh enjoys a prime position in the city, unrivalled by any other market. It is situated on an area of more than 13,000 square metres, with four main gates and 12 side gates. The main gates are labelled according to their position – north, east, south and west.
The market encompasses around 1,500 stalls arranged in a complicated layout. You can find almost everything at the market, including more than 100 dishes from around Vietnam. Most vendors can speak English, and some can speak a variety of languages including French, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
The market receives around 15,000 visitors each day, many of which are tourists. Japanese travellers make up the majority of the foreign tourists. Not everyone visits the market with shopping in mind; many visit out of curiosity. The market has a lively atmosphere and is sometimes chaotic; however, it is well worth a visit.
Although all goods have a price tag, the figures are usually negotiable. Vendors are required to show a price, but shoppers should bargain to get a better deal. The market is well equipped with fire safety equipment and a 40 strong team of security guards patrol the market, in order to keep shoppers safe from theft.