Posted by: hoz49 | March 25, 2008

Ben Thanh MarKet

The last place on our Saigon tour was the famous Ben Thanh Market. We had short circuited our tour by visiting the market on our own the evening prior. Still, we had them drop us off and said we would catch a cab back to our hotel later. Our guide and driver, both named Tung, Tong or Thong (I never got it right, they are not related), graciously offered to take our bags of souvenirs back so that we wouldn’t have to carry them around the marketplace.

Ben Thanh is a crowded, busy place and the sales people are aggressive, if you just glance at something they descend, grab your arm and start selling. “You like shirt sir? Have many sizes sir, colors too! Come with me and we find what you like.”

Bargaining is part of the experience. DON’T PAY THE ASKING PRICE, unless you visit one of the “fixed price” stalls, and even then there may be some leeway. The idea is for you to pay just a little more than you want and the stall owner sell for less than they ask. Win win, eh? We were told a discount of 40% is standard in the haggling, but sometimes we got a little more, especially if Fe’s sister Lisa was negotiating. She is a master bargainer.

Lisa can work the hardest hearted stall owner and find the best price. I think buying in quantity has something to do with it as she usually starts out haggling for one item and then starts adding multiples (for a better price) until the price hits rock bottom. She isn’t above walking away, which will usually result in entreaty by the owner to come back for a lower price.

I was only interested in a few t shirts and maybe some odds and ends so much of my time was spent wandering around looking at the different stalls, hundreds of them. They are organized with clothes at the front, followed by souvenirs, and then food at the back. The whole market takes up a city block so it seems immense and confusing at first. Especially with all the Vietnamese shouting and pulling on your arm. “Bargain sir? I make lowest price for you. SPECIAL price sir. Come here!” I learned to say “cuam”, which I was told means “no” but often had to repeat it several times and just walk away before a salesperson gave up.

Some sellers had a neat trick of asking “Where you from?” To bring you closer and evolve a conversation. I started asking where THEY were from in return, acting surprised when they responded “I from Vietnam sir”. Sometimes I’d say I thought they were from Mexico, or the Philippines, or Malaysia and that always got a smile.

In the evening food stalls are set up on the streets alongside the Market. Starting at 5:00 open sided tents, tables and chairs are erected and the woks and grills are started. On our first visit we ate a delicious and fresh 5 course meal for under $6.00 US TOTAL. That’s for the 4 of us!

On this second night we were directed to a place called “Pho 2000” across the street from Ben Thanh. We were told former President Bill Clinton ate there on his visit to Vietnam. If it was good enough for Bill then why not us?

On entering sure enough, we saw many pictures of our Arkansas Bubba smiling down at a huge bowl of steaming Pho. Pho is sort of a Vietnamese national dish. A light beef broth is filled with green vegetables, onions and thinly sliced beef. On the side is a small platter of bean sprouts, lemon, and Thai basil. You add what you like to the soup and it is fantastic. Sometimes a bottle of “Nuc Mam” is served with. Nuc Mam has a distinctive smell, being a light juice from salted, fermented fish, but the salty taste goes great with Pho, and other dishes, just add a little at a time as you go.

After dinner we returned to the streets for some “night shopping” as Lisa believed better bargains could be found after the sun went down. We found many new stalls had sprung up on the surrounding side streets and the evening cacophony colorful lights, honking horns, hawkers spiels, and foreign languages (French, German, Korean, Filipino, even Arabic) all mix into an exotic savory stew, like a good Pho.

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Responses

  1. I would have loved to been on this trip!!!! Can’t wait to see the pictures… I find myself coming back and reading each story again and again… Your blog is great! Love you!

  2. I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme.

    Did you make this website yourself or did you

    hire someone to do it for you? Plz answer back as I’m looking to construct my own blog and

    would like to know where u got this from. thanks a lot

    • Thx Sandra. I made the blog myself. Stock WordPress theme. Just played with it until I got whay I wanted.


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