Shopping in Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ben Thanh Market Building at Night.
Ben Thanh Market Building at Night. | Source

One of the most popular and oldest shopping attraction in Ho Chi Minh City is Ben Thanh Market in District 1. Mainly visited by tourists the market is inherently a tourist trap with overpriced Vietnamese souvenirs. But you always haggle for that fake Louis Vuitton hand bag or Coach wallet or other high fashion luxury accessories to your hearts content. Because love it or hate it, Ben Thanh Market is the place to be when you're in Ho Chi Minh City.

The market opens 6am daily though not all shops are open at that time. Many of the businesses inside don't get into full swing until 9am. Shops start closing down around 6pm but don't fret if you haven't completed your shopping frenzy.

The sidewalk outside of Ben Thanh Market turns into a night market starting around 7pm. You'll find the same t-shirts, coffee beans, snack foods, fake brand name handbags and local handmade goods in the night market too.

The building is uniquely European in style. Built by the French in the 1870's it was originally called Les Halles Centrales until 1912.

Finding a hotel to stay near the Ben Thanh Market is a good choice for exploring further on in Ho Chi Minh City. There are many budget hotels near the market and I stayed in one and made a video review of the Truong Hai Saigon Hotel. It is strategically in the center of the city and within walking distance to the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame, War Remnants Musuem and the famous old Post Office.

And there are many boutique shops, restaurants and affordable massage parlors and spas which you will need after a long day of exploring the city.

Since Ben Thanh is also a wet market for the locals, many restaurants inside sell fresh foods daily. And you'll find many or your favorite Vietnamese dishes inside, such as the classic beef Pho, my personal favorite noodle dish.

Haggling in Ben Thanh Market

Walking through the market you will often hear shop keepers price items in US dollars. The US dollar is accepted in most of the tourist frequented sections of Ho Chi Minh, especially in Ben Thanh Market. For one thing the US dollar easier to understand compared to the large numbers that the Vietnamese Dong currency is assigned. Well at least it's easier for me.

So hearing a shop keeper say "It's only a few dollars" sounds much more easier to calculate then 60,000 Dong.

While wandering the stalls of the market you will notice that there are no prices on t-shirts and souvenir items in most of the shops inside. So the items that you see are open to haggling. While you are trying to get the best bargain be respectful and don't immediately offer out a low ball price. Think of the price that you are willing to pay but be realistic even if the shop keeper asks you how much you are willing to pay. Bear in mind the locals do not make a lot of money and they do know the value of a US dollar. And only ask for a price if you are sincerely interested in buying something.

Here's A Short List of What's For Sale In Bin Thanh Market

  • Local made souvenirs: lacquer-ware, beads, carved wood etc.
  • Vietnamese Coffee Beans: It's very famous in Vietnam, I bought a bunch myself. Try the Weasel coffee. Sounds unappetizing and it is. It's actually undigested coffee beans that has passed through an indigenous wild Vietnamese weasel.
  • Dry foods, nuts and snacks
  • Clothing: casual, sports, dresses etc.
  • Bags: Fake branded hand bags are sold at Ben Thanh Market.
  • Beauty supplies for women

There's no mistake Vietnam's manufacturers are not shy on producing a wide array of fake merchandise. But there are also many authorized Vietnamese run factories that produce name brand clothes and bags. And the defects from these factories can end up in Ben Thanh Market for sale. Some defects can be minute and undetectable and can be a real bargain.

A Wet Market For The Locals

Ben Thanh Market is not completely for foreign tourists. Parts of the outer courtyard of the complex has shops selling butchered meats, vegetables, groceries and all sorts of everyday needs for Vietnamese households.

Even though there is nothing in this section of the market that I would ever buy it's a good way to take a glimpse into what the locals eat and shop for. It's definitely not the way you'd shop at home in your local supermarket. I believe it's a great way to get the full travel experience. Just a little glimpse into the local life of a Vietnamese.

Ben Thanh Market has lots of fruits for sale too.
Ben Thanh Market has lots of fruits for sale too. | Source
Bowl of Pho Beef Noodle.
Bowl of Pho Beef Noodle. | Source

A Good Place To Sample Vietnamese Cuisine

If you've just dropped into Ho Chi Minh City and looking for something to fill your stomach, Ben Thanh Market is a decent place to start. Most of the people working at the food stalls inside can speak English and help you figure out what is what. Plus the picture menus in English help a lot too.

Nothing gets wasted. Organ meats are common in Vietnamese cuisine.
Nothing gets wasted. Organ meats are common in Vietnamese cuisine. | Source
There are many food stalls in Ben Thanh Market. English menus are available and staff can help you further in English.
There are many food stalls in Ben Thanh Market. English menus are available and staff can help you further in English. | Source
The restaurant I had a great seafood dinner at. The staff are hastily getting the restaurant ready for dinner service.
The restaurant I had a great seafood dinner at. The staff are hastily getting the restaurant ready for dinner service. | Source
A Vietnamese dessert consisting of sweet sticky rice and condiments.
A Vietnamese dessert consisting of sweet sticky rice and condiments. | Source

Ben Thanh Night Market

Around 7pm while the shops inside Ben Thanh Market shutter their doors and shop keepers tally their totals, a night market opens up just right outside the perimeter of the building. And you will find the same souvenirs and various other odds and ends at the night market as well.

There are also restaurants too and I tried out one particular seafood restaurant packed with locals and tourists. You can't go wrong with any restaurant where you see the locals enjoying their meal along with tourists. I recommend getting to the restaurants early because the tables fill up quickly and customers tend to hog up the tables for quite some time. So I suggest standing around a restaurant right when they are in the middle of setting up for dinner service.

There were not a lot of options for desserts in the restaurant but that doesn't mean you won't find any around. There are lots of hawker stands and stalls selling all types of desserts to satisfy your sweet tooth.

For a healthy alternative exotic fruits are widely available. You can either buy them whole or have someone cut it up and wrap it for you to go.

The video above was taken just right after 7pm. It was funny that just a minute before 7pm the sidewalk was quiet but you can see vendors all lined up neatly. I never really noticed it until I heard a sudden rush of of people pushing their tents towards me and heading for there assigne location. And I was right in the middle of the street and seeing all those people and equipment come barreling down the street towards me was a real rush.

Do be careful. Plenty of motorbikes crisscross the streets.
Do be careful. Plenty of motorbikes crisscross the streets. | Source
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Visit my hub on tips for taking street photography in Ho Chi Minh City.
Visit my hub on tips for taking street photography in Ho Chi Minh City. | Source
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