Going to the market at night? This concept sounded very strange for me back then; when I was only a little girl and night markets weren’t those popular tourist destinations like nowadays. I remember how thrilled I was to go to the night market for the first time. There was an enormous variety of foods on offer such as clothing, souvenirs, jewelry, accessories, drawings… I was fascinated by everything, even by the simple fact that it was a market under the stars.
Night markets in Saigon were originally established to sell goods for students and workers at more affordable prices, such as Ky Hoa or Ba Chieu night market. In night markets, you won’t be able to find stores, but hundreds of tents and booths, and even mobile carts selling all sorts of goods. Since each vendor’s selling area is small and thus sellers pay less for the rent, goods are generally cheaper than what are offered in stores or supermarkets.
Unlike other night markets, Ben Thanh night market was formed only in the last decade, primarily as a tourism site to boost up the city’s tourism industry. It is located on both left and right side of the Ben Thanh building. If you take a walk to Ben Thanh market at around 6pm in the evening, you will be able to watch the mad dash of vendors setting up their stalls for the market. At 7pm, shopkeepers and restaurant workers are ready to start shouting out and invite travellers to come to their stores. Here they sell mostly clothes, Vietnamese souvenirs, handicrafts, coffee, tea, bags, footwear, etc. While there is not as much variety of goods that are sold here as compared to the day markets, I found that the booths are set up to be very eye-catching, or maybe everything just looks better at night. Of course because this market is popular amongst foreigners, the prices are, unfortunately, much more expensive. If you have a local friend or tour guide, great! Make sure to bring him/her/them along because in my experience, locals always bargain better. If you don’t have such friend, after reading post, you better make one! Just kidding. If you don’t have a local companion, it’s best to go around the market and ask for prices of stuffs you want to buy as there will be lots of booths selling similar items, and you will be able to roughly decide which store to choose.
The second important thing is don’t forget to bargain. Follow these steps: Start at 50 – 60% of the offered price (that’s the unwritten principle for shopping here), bargain for a little, walk away, and wait for them to call you back; if not, go to other shops and repeat the process. Yeah, you just have to be a little thick-faced, but that’s ok, we Saigonese always joke that bargaining is an art that takes practice.
Besides plenty of goods to look at, there is always a great variety of foods in Ben Thanh night market, from pho to delicious seafood and barbecue meat. Dozens of pop-up restaurants are located inside and around the markets, offering an array of authentic food and beverage choices. Don’t get too picky at what to eat, with such great choices, you can’t go wrong with anything!
With that thought in mind, we stopped by at a Streetfood Market which was opened very recently just besides Ben Thanh Market. From there you can find any of the most popular street food in Sai Gon, the smoky satay beef skewers (Bo xien nuong), the sizzling mung bean coconut milk crepe (Banh xeo), the grilled-to-perfection chicken thigh served with sticky rice that is lathered with juicy chicken fat, the silky tofu in sweet and creamy coconut sauce, … and the list goes on! We settled down with a bowl of rice porridge with pork intestines (Chao long), a dish that just proves that with Vietnamese cuisine, nothing goes to waste. Rice is long-shimmered in a flavorful pork bone broth until it is soften; then various intestinal parts and congealed blood (huyet) are thrown in for hearty and exotic flavors. It is served with scallions, fresh ground pepper, lime wedges, and for spice-lover, a decent spoon of crushed chili. Nothing is more satisfying than to end a night with a bowl of hearty and soothing rice porridge. Saigon was still as alive as ever, but being content at heart and happy in the tummy, we decided to head back home and call it a day.