Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ben Thanh Market

After twelve odd hours of bus journey, stuck in a seat large enough only to allow room for the knees and with a toilet built perhaps for the dwarfs from Snow White (amazingly enough there is a toilet on the bus albeit it being really tiny and curtainless!!), we finally crossed border and arrived at Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). As mentioned earlier, the first thing that struck us was the obvious crazy and noisy traffic. It was raining most of the time while we were at HCMC and the first day of our arrival was no exception. Perhaps that was part of the contributing factor of why I didn't enjoy backpacking HCMC as much as Cambodia. I just hate it when it rains especially when I'm traveling a lot on foot. 

At the Vietnam border
Our first destination in HCMC was the Ben Thanh market aka Cho Ben Thanh, the most popular market and landmark in the center of the city. At the Ben Thanh market, you can find all sorts of extremely gorgeous local handicrafts mostly hand-drewn or make up of egg shells and seashells, souvenirs, textiles, bags, apparels, footwear, the ao dai (traditional Vietnamnese costume) and local food. The market opens until about 7-8pm daily which then after, taken over by the night market just right beside the main building. From our guesthouse, it was about 15-20 minutes walk to the market.

It is said that the stall keepers at Ben Thanh market actually colour code their customers. Depending on what kind of shopper one is (the hardcore bargainer, the extremely difficult or the easy ones), different plastic bags colour are actually indicative of the type of shopper you are so they can forewarn their fellow colleagues at the market about you and perhaps they will then deal with you in a different manner.

As with most markets in this world especially one that is famous among tourists, the rule of thumb is always to bargain. The initial quoted prices are always mark up so the usual practice will be to bargain until an agreeable amount is reach between both party. None the less, the practice that is more common in HCMC will be for customers to offer their final prices and as long as it's reasonable (the stall onwer still profits while the customer happy with the prices), the deal will be on. And since most of the stalls are pretty repetitive and can also be found at the night market when the day one closes, one can compare the prices between stalls and make your deal with the stall that is most humble and willing to negotiate a good price. Honestly, I find most stall owners at the Ben Thanh market quite arrogant. Well since the market is not that huge itself (can finish it in like 3-4 hours unless you are an extremely slow shopper), it is easy to compare and return to any stall anytime.

The vantage point of getting the perfect shot of the market is from the roundabout opposite the market
Interior of the market
Vietnamnese hats anyone?
Local handicrafts that are just so quaint
The Saigon lady statues
Hand drewn and egg shells wooden bracelet
Pretty hand drewn jewellery/ multi purpose boxes. I find them so beautiful I actually bought a few home
The array of hand drewn, egg shells and sea shells handicrafts. I find them really pretty and irresistable that I had strong impulsed to grab just one of each especially the egg and apple shape ones (which I had no idea what to use them for seriously)
They also come in the form of bowls and plates. So appetizing already just looking at their lovely apperance
Old school paintings
Vintage, classic souvenirs
Aside from the varieties of well-known Vietnam coffee, they also sells a whole other varieties of coffee such as the Blue Mountain coffee

While the day market do have hawker stalls, I find the hawker stalls at the night market more attractive. They are always bustling with people and I think we were there almost every other night for supper (as we always had dinner elsewhere first) trying out different stalls each time. A lot of stalls looks and smells good so we were really spoilt for choice. The night market is significantly smaller than the day one and most items can also be found inside Ben Thanh but the prices offered were surely cheaper. Besides, the stall owners of the night market were more approachable and friendly.
The busy night market
Jewelleries and clothes makes up the bulk of the night market. However, I'm not really interested in the clothes (girls apparels) in Vietnam because they were mainly imported look-alikes from China or Taiwan and sold at pretty expensive prices (Imagine a dress from the night market still needs RM 50 even after bargaining, so not worth imho)
On the contrary, I find myself absolutely attracted by their various hand drewn, egg shells and sea shells handicrafts - from bracelets to tissue boxes to jewellery boxes to lamps to vases to plates and bowls to wine holders and paintings. They are all just so delicate, stunning and unique I'm madly in love with them
We couldn't resist the beauty of the paintings that we ended up buying 2 sets of the paintings home
The cute 'Good Morning Vietnam, Same Same But Different, Tin Tin, Saigon' and beer T-shirts that can be get at a best price of 3 for RM 15 :)
The Vietnamnese spring rolls that are a refreshing option from the usual fried ones. Wrapped in rice paper, they are made up of either boiled or grilled pork, fresh shrimps, rice vermicelli and vegetable; served cold and to be eaten together with a mixture of sauces and peanut. Well to be honest though, I don't quite fancy the Vietnamnese spring rolls, just not my roll of popiah I guess
BBq-ed pork balls and pork meat
Grilled beef baguette
Grilled slipper lobster that was fresh and cheap at the night market
Mini fried spring rolls
Egg wrapover - something similar to pattaya except inside are boiled pork slices, shrimps and bean sprouts
At the Ben Thanh night hawker
The Ben Thanh market (both day and night) were one of our most frequented place during our trip to HCMC because despite some of their arrogant attitude, they are really one of the best places to look for souvenirs and local stuff. And you can still get very good prices if you did your survey and know how to bargain your way through. Just don't offer an overly low price as remember, they too need to make a living so as long as it's something reasonable, you can strike a deal. But be beware of people shoving services to you (such as shoe polishing) despite your refusal. You can refused their sevices but they would insist on doing their thing haphazardly and worst part was, upon completion of the service, demanded exaggerated fees. If you refused to pay, you might earn a scowl or as much as a scolding! So rude and dishonest imho. It's as good as being a cheat to me. It's people like that that ruin the image of a place. Otherwise, have fun shopping for those gorgeous handicrafts and souvenirs and sampling local cuisine at the Cho Ben Thanh while at Ho Chi Minh City. :)

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2 fondue dips :

OMG! So many nice stuffs there! Feel like going there too! =)

btw, do u mind checking out a video? its for my group assignment one. also, its my first time acting. Do hit 'LIKE' and Comment on the video itself as it will affect the final marks please support!