May 2018. They say Ben Thanh Market is not only the most famous shopping area in Ho Chi Minh, but also probably the most impressive covered market in all of Vietnam. Dating back to the 17th century this is the city’s definitive daily life focal point, with just about everything locals eat, wear and use more often than not originating from here. For the first time in my Vietnam travels I was actually in need of something, a pair of running shoes, so off I went to Ben Thanh to see how it compared to my favorite markets around Asia.
May 2018. With thirteen thousand square meters of retail space on offer Ben Thanh Market is massive and the frantic buzz starts as soon as you approach from the surrounding streets. Travellers take selfies, Vietnamese families pose for group photographs in the middle of the road as cars and motos whizz by honking their horns and bikes, vans and trailers speed in and out picking up and dropping off boxes of goods.
May 2018. If Vietnam had been my first Asian country perhaps I’d have been wowed by Ben Thanh Market. But from all my travels I’ve learned that there are basically two types of market vibe. You’ve got the ones that charm you with a relaxed and friendly approach that allows you to breathe and take everything in. And then there are those markets where the entire experience a relentless, bloodthirsty attack that doesn’t let up until you exit the building. Unfortunately Ben Thanh is very much in the latter camp. Every time you pause to check something out expect to be told over and over again what it is that you’re looking at. Any genuine questions you may have never get answered as the hawker in question just continues to spout out tedious presets.
“Yes, I can see that”.
“You wanna buy? Yes? Buy now? Sir?”
May 2018. In any case the sellers I spoke to quickly cut to the chase of whether I was buying or not, even though I’d barely had time to properly survey the products in question. I also found the prices here to be severely inflated, even by Asian market standards, with much less wiggle room than I’ve been accustomed to. Unimpressed by what basically amounted to western price tags, I found that stall owners were happy for me to walk off, presumably safe in the knowledge that there’s a Billy Joe Trump from Texas just around the corner who’ll pay silly amounts of money for a pair of knock off Nike Airs. In some cases I was waved away in annoyance as the vendor in question clearly had no patience with the fact that I wasn’t going to blindly buy something without looking at it properly/trying it on/haggling a bit.
May 2018. Interestingly, I found the traders that line the building’s outer façade to be much less aggressive. Here you’ll find mostly souvenir booths, a few florists and some fruit and veg sellers. In the end I found the trainers I wanted for a reasonable price range in a market street just across the road.
Ben Thanh Market is located right in the heart of town opposite Saigon Bus Station at the intersection of Le Loi, Le Lai, Ham Nghi and Tran Hung Dao. Opening hours are from 06:00-22:00.
For more on my experiences in this Vietnamese city, wade through my many articles on Ho Chi Minh.
Like these? Then why not check out more pieces from all across Vietnam.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001, so why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.