A Saigon landmark
One of Saigon's most famous landmarks, Ben Thanh market has occupied its present location in the heart of District 1 since 1914. To this day it bustles with activity from early morning until late at night.
The market has existed since pre-colonial days in different locations. The original market was destroyed by fire in 1869 while the second iteration eventually needed major repairs, making way for construction of a third and final, Ben Thanh’s current location.
It has obviously grown and evolved since the days when the French called it Les Halles Centrales; it underwent major renovations in 1985. Today it is mainly for tourist consumption, everything you can think of and then some: souvenirs, trinkets, t-shirts, hats, coffee, coffee filters, tea, shoes, purses, snacks, fresh fruit, lanterns, lacquerware, art, dodgy electronics, toys, jewellery, nodding golden cats and bags, so you can haul all your purchases home. Note that most of the clothes and shoes are petite (relative to Western sizing).
There’s also an eating section where you can try local eats like bun rieu cua, a tomato-based crab noodle soup with a kind of dumpling made of crab and shrimp paste, hu tieu, a popular noodle soup of the south, with pork broth and usually seafood. Adventurous folks can give hot vit lon—boiled duck embryo—a try.
The market closes around 17:00 and after a brief lull, the mad dash begins to set up the night market outside and from 19:00 on, there’s more browsing and nibbling to do.
It’s overwhelmingly touristy and you won’t be rubbing elbows with many locals. Many Saigonese eschew it for any other market.
The markets and wholesale alleyways in Cholon are authentic and we think far more interesting, lively and photogenic. Cholon is also great for evening street food. Head to any street food hotspot outside of District 1 and you’ll likely have a better experience dining amongst the locals.
Ben Thanh is still worth taking a look at and those who have limited time in Saigon may appreciate the atmosphere and being able to try many different foods in one go, though a street food tour like Back of the Bike does the same job and will take you to some of the best.
Before gluing your eyes on the many bright and shiny things, beware, beware, beware of pickpockets and bag/jewellery snatchers: secure your valuables and don’t wear expensive watches or jewellery.
Ben Thanh used to have a vital bus station but with metro construction underway immediately south of the building, the buses now operate from Ham Nghi Blvd.
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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