Photo: Burning incense at a Cholon pagoda.

Shopping in Saigon

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Saigon offers plenty of great reasons to visit: every corner you turn on the street can lead you to great food, there are some cool pagodas and theme parks, and it’s a great spot to start a new adventure into other parts of the country. Decent shopping can also be done in my city — here’s a round up of the key spots for a spot of mainstream market shopping for things like clothes, watches, bags and shoes.

Inside the belly of the beast.

Inside the belly of the beast.

The most famous place to shop in the city is the Ben Thanh Market. You can find pretty much anything here — clothes, bags, wallets, shoes and so on. If you’re claustrophobic, this may not be the best shopping experience for you because booths are packed tightly together.

Over the past year, the well lit outside ring of the market has become increasingly fixed price, meaning the price you see is the non-negotiable price you pay. Within the darker interior, however, it is a different story. You should expect to bargain hard for the items you want. A trick of the trade that I have learned at Ben Thanh is to cruise the fixed-price shops on the outside for the items I want to buy. Once I see the item’s price here I know the highest price to pay on the inside.

So much stuff inside that it's spilling out the front doors!

So much stuff it's spilling out the front doors!

If you like the bargaining but are looking for a cleaner and brighter atmosphere, head down Le Loi to the corner of Nam Ky Khoi Nghia to visit Saigon Square. Here things are a little classier than the market, with air-con and more room to walk between booths, but in style and product it’s similar to the market. Things are still divided into stalls, many of the stalls stock the same exact things, and there are some pretty tight spaces to pass through. Stallholders are also eager to bargain and deals can be had but prices will be a bit higher than at Ben Thanh.

That being said, I think the quality of the product is also a little better and the clothes look cuter. The store is mostly clothing but you can find handbags, shoes, and watches — there are just fewer spots than at the market. Saigon Square is also one of the better places in Saigon to shop for coats as several booths stock them.

The escalators mean harder bargaining!

The escalators mean harder bargaining.

There are actually two Saigon Squares! Saigon Square 2 is on the shaded corner of Ton Duc Thang. This Saigon Square is by far the most browse friendly of the three places I mention here because, unlike the tight corridors of Ben Thanh or the slightly more manageable aisles of Saigon Square 1, here you have plenty of room to manoeuvre between stalls.

Average stall size is also bigger, making each more like a tiny store. Besides knockoff designer goods, you’ll also find quite a few independent boutiques selling original items. This luxury of space does come at a price; asking and selling prices are going to be higher. In fact, if you’re looking for an intense round of bargaining this probably isn’t your place as it may be hard to shave more than a dollar or two off a price. Although it is mostly clothing, Saigon Square 2 is my go to spot if I’m looking for a handbag or wallet.

A visit to one of these three spots should be a good start in a quest of gift shopping or having every colour of polo shirt imaginable. Prices can vary on all goods; bargaining is a frustrating art form and just when you think you’re good somebody will tell you that you overpaid. And remember, if you don’t find anything you like, you can always head to a tailor and get something made just the way you want.

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What next?

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