Ben Thanh Market is the main market in Ho Chi Minh City and a hot spot for picking up souvenirs. In many ways, the market is not unlike the straw market in Nassau, Bahamas, with thin aisles jam-packed with products for you to purchase. The difference here is that you can pretty much buy anything your heart desires, and in typical Vietnamese fashion, the market is a field day for the senses.
Here are a few tips that Michelle, Linda, and I decided on for getting the best market experience:
1. Give yourself plenty of time. You are going to need time to soak in the experience and see what there is to offer. There’s a lot to take in, so make sure you’re prepared, as the smells and sounds are overwhelming. It can also get extremely hot inside the main market area, so bring, or buy, a bottle of water.
2. Around the perimeter of the market everything is set at a fixed price. While you may be more the bargaining type, use the prices in the fixed price area as a basis for your bargaining. Also when you bargain, offer half the price they give you. At least then you have some room to work with, and if you’re lucky, they’ll give it to you at that price.
3. Don’t bring a handbag or valuables to the market with you. Theft is no stranger to HCMC. The first couple we met were proof to that, and told us that their i-Pod had been wrestled right out of the husband’s hands by two men on motorbikes. This obviously made us uneasy, but at least we were aware. Michelle began to notice that none of the Vietnamese women we saw were wearing a purse, so the next day out we followed their lead. We immediately felt better, and were able to shop without worrying about being robbed.
4. Do not take a taxi directly from the market. A common scam in this area is for someone by the market to ask if you need a cab, and they put you in an unmarked car that will charge you an absurd amount of money. This actually happened to Caroline and Ciara on their way back to the hotel. Our advice is to walk up the street a bit toward city hall and the opera house. From here take either a Vinasun or Mai Linh cab, we found these two to be the most reasonably priced with friendly, helpful drivers.
5. Shop outside the market. Sounds silly since this is a post about the market, but in the immediate area there are plenty of stalls and shops that carry the same products that you can find inside. The only difference is, it’s a lot easier to get the price you want. If you’re up for some good bargaining, sometimes outside the market is the best place. Plus, it’s a lot less overwhelming.
Ho Chi Minh City and Ben Thanh can be a lot to take in, but don’t let it scare you off. Use these tips, and you may just need to buy an extra suitcase in the market to bring home all of your new goodies.