The largest wholesale market
Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinese settlement was named Cho Lon—literally “big market”—due to its importance as an economic, mercantile powerhouse. And the big market’s big market is Binh Tay (Cho Binh Tay), a photographer’s and curious traveller’s dream.
Binh Tay market was first established in the 1870s. It was then rebuilt, expanded and reopened in September 1928, garnering it the nickname “new market”, a moniker that has stubbornly stuck to this day. Whatever you call it, it’s now one of the biggest wholesale markets in Ho Chi Minh City.
The pale yellow building with clocktower and striking Chinese features is an architectural treasure. Unfortunately, the building is in desperate need of repairs. When we saw it in June 2017, it had been closed for renovations/fenced off for a stretch through there were no signs of any work being done. Vendors now sprawl outside in all directions, radiating from the old building. It makes the experience of squeezing through stalls, navigating the labyrinthian alleys, checking what’s slimy underfoot all the more atmospheric and head-spinning.
There are no “I Heart Pho” t-shirts here like in touristy Ben Thanh market. There’s only stuff locals are interested in and lots of it—things are meant to be sold in bulk. In fact, many Vietnamese who operate stalls or shops in the city come here to buy wholesale.
Goods of a feather are clumped together—traditional medicine in one area, shoes in another. Wander around further and find entire streets devoted to one thing only: aquarium fish, wedding supplies, fishing gear, cigarettes, pollution face masks, lanterns, mysterious chemicals just to name a few.
A visit to Cholon is a must and Binh Tay will be a highlight. It’s easy to wander the market yourself, especially now that motorbike taxis are easier than ever with GrabBike and UberMOTO. Or hop on any local bus headed to “ben xe Cho Lon” station.
It’s best to go in the morning, watch your valuables and try not to get in the way. However, a guided tour will be invaluable in helping to identify what you’re looking at, and include stops at Thien Hau temple and some delicious eats.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you'll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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