Tucked away in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City, Ben Thanh Market is a symbol of Vietnam’s vibrant culture. With a rich history that dates back to the early 20th century, this famous market is more than just a business place – it’s a sensory experience that draws tourists from all over the world.
History of Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market is one of the oldest and most iconic structures in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It originated as a gathering of street vendors near the Saigon River in the 17th century and was formally established by the French colonial powers in 1859 after they took over the citadel and declared a formal market with a wooden structure and a thatched roof.
In 1870, the market was destroyed by fire and rebuilt with a metal structure to become the city’s largest central market. In 1912, the market was moved to a new location and a new building was constructed with a distinctive clock tower and a French Indochinese design. The market was completed in 1914 and renamed Ben Thanh Market, meaning “river wharf citadel”.
Ben Thanh is located in District 1, the central district of the city, and covers an area of over 13,000 square meters.
The layout of Ben Thanh Market features 12 side doors extending in 4 directions and 4 main doors encircling 4 roadsides. Numerous well-liked objects are available for guests to view or enjoy on-site at each main entrance.
- The South Gate (main gate) is located on Le Loi Street, where fabrics, clothes, and dry foods are sold. In particular, at the South Gate, there is also a 3-sided clock tower.
- The North Gate is located on Le Thanh Ton Street, leading to fresh food and fruit shops.
- The East Gate is located on Phan Boi Chau Street, a candy and cosmetics paradise.
- The West Gate is located on Phan Chu Trinh Street, with a concentration of shoe stalls, handicrafts, and souvenirs.
Day market (07:30 AM – 06:00 PM): Throughout the day, the market is filled with the vibrant energy of vendors and shoppers engaged in buying and selling a diverse array of products. The market’s ambience captures the essence of a traditional Asian market, reminiscent of the lively and familiar atmosphere you might experience in markets in India that make you feel familiar at home.
Night market (06:00 – 10:00 PM): As soon as the street lights illuminate Phan Chu Trinh and Phan Boi Chau streets, the Ben Thanh night market transforms into a lively scene featuring an array of seafood, grilled delicacies, cosy beer bars, and bustling water bars. Every night, both locals and tourists converge in this area to savour delectable, popular dishes and soak in the lively ambience of the “city that never sleeps”.
How to Get There
There are several ways to get to Ben Thanh Market from the city centre or other parts of the city.
- By bus: Many bus routes stop near the market, such as bus numbers 04, 36, 39, 45, 72 and 93. The bus fare is $0.3. You can check the bus schedule and route map on the website of Ho Chi Minh City Bus.
- By motorbike: You can either rent a motorbike from a local shop or use a ride-hailing service such as Grab, Be or Gojek. These services allow you to book a motorbike driver online and pay by cash or card. The price varies depending on the time, distance and demand, but it is usually cheaper than a taxi.
- By taxi: Many taxi companies are operating in Ho Chi Minh City, such as Mai Linh, Vinasun, Saigon Taxi and Grab Taxi. You can hail a taxi on the street or call one in advance. The average price is about $1 per km.
What to Buy
Ben Thanh Market is a great place where you can find a variety of goods, from souvenirs and handicrafts to local spices and textiles. Here are some of the best things to buy at Ben Thanh Market as a souvenir for your beloved:
- Traditional Ao Dai Dresses: These are the elegant and colourful dresses that Vietnamese women wear on special occasions. You can find ready-made or custom-made ao dai dresses at Ben Thanh Market, ranging from $10 to $50 depending on the quality and design.
- Conical hats: These are the iconic hats that Vietnamese farmers wear to protect themselves from the sun and rain. They are made of bamboo and palm leaves. It’s about $1 to $3.
- Handicrafts and Artwork: Ben Thanh market offers many unique and authentic souvenirs, handicrafts and artwork items such as wooden carvings, embroidery, paintings, lanterns… The prices vary depending on the quality, about $5 and $50 for most items.
- Local Spices and Condiments: Fish sauce, soy sauce, chilli sauce, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, star anise, cinnamon, and pepper are just a few of the spices and condiments that are used extensively in Vietnamese cuisine, which is well-known for well-suited for many Indian cuisines. The price is very cheap, just around $1 to $3 per pack.
- Silk Products and Textiles: Ben Thanh Market offers an extensive selection of silk goods and fabrics, including scarves, shawls, ties, purses… Prices range from $5 to $30, depending on the size and quality of the item.
- Bamboo Products: At Ben Thanh Market, you can find bamboo products such as baskets, trays, bowls, cups, chopsticks, fans, flutes, and more. The prices are very affordable, usually less than $5 per item.
- Handmade Jewelry: Ben Thanh Market has stalls selling handcrafted jewellery if you’re seeking something sparkling and shiny to adorn yourself or your loved ones. You can find silver, gold, pearls, gemstones, beads, bracelets, rings, necklaces, and more. The costs vary according to the design and material, from $2 to $20.
- Vietnamese Lacquerware: Lacquerware is a traditional art form in Vietnam that involves applying multiple layers of lacquer to wood or bamboo objects and then decorating them with various motifs. The prices vary depending on the size and quality of the product, but you can expect to pay between $10 and $50 for most items.
- Vietnamese Ceramics and Pottery: You can find ceramics and pottery products such as cups, mugs, teapots, dishes, pots, and figurines that are priced at about $2 – $10.
What to Eat
Here are some of the must-try foods at Ben Thanh Market:
- Crab noodles soup: A noodle soup with crab meat, and rice noodles, topped with fried shallots, cilantro and lime juice. It has a rich and tangy broth that is perfect for a rainy day. The price of this dish ranges from $2-3 per bowl.
- Vietnamese sweet soup: This is a Vietnamese dessert called “Che”, made with various ingredients such as beans, tapioca, jelly, coconut milk and fruit. A bowl of Che costs around $1.5.
- Goi Cuon (Spring roll): These are rice paper wrappers filled with shrimp, pork, vermicelli noodles, lettuce and mint. They are served with a peanut sauce or a fish sauce for dipping. Price: $1-2 per plate of 3-4 rolls.
Here are some tips to make your experience in Ben Thanh Market more memorable:
- Politely bargain for a better price. Learn some basic Vietnamese phrases to communicate with the vendors and locals. For example, “xin chao” (hello), “cam on” (thank you), “bao nhieu” (how much)
- Prepare cash and pay attention to your belongings
- Do not touch the item without any intention of purchasing
- For more local experience, stroll along Bui Vien and Nguyen Hue Street
- Register for a Sightseeing Bus tour to explore famous attractions nearby: Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post, Reunification Palace, and the War Remnants Museum
- Pack a Vietnam tour package at Vietnamtour.in to have a chance to know more about the market or Hanoi without any worry
Ben Thanh Market is a vibrant, dynamic microcosm of Vietnamese culture. This famous location offers an entire trip through the heart and spirit of Ho Chi Minh City, regardless of what draws you in – the dynamic daytime market, the captivating night market, or its historical significance. If you want to know more about Ho Chi Minh City, let’s refer to our blog about Ho Chi Minh City attractions.
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