No matter which city I travel to in Asia each and every single one has it’s own special vibe. Ho Chi Minh City – formerly Saigon in Vietnam certainly has its own special soul. The sight of hundreds of motorbikes whizzing through narrow streets. The sounds of grilling meats coming from the sidewalks.
And the lively chatter from locals sitting low on boxes sipping the finest Vietnamese coffee after finishing their early morning deliveries. Ho Chi Minh is a charged city with an old world charm.
One of HCMC’s most famous tourist area is Ben Thanh Market. For those planning to explore HCMC Ben Thanh Market is the usual first stop. Though some would say the area is too touristy. But that’s the price to pay for a city progressing at light speed.
Ben Thanh Market is still where locals come to shop for groceries to take home or even where small restaurants buy stock. Fresh meats and fresh fruits line the outer sections as a wet market. While in the inside you can find whole fresh coffee beans, local snacks, a section on authentic Vietnamese food. So the place is not a total tourist trap.
You can also find many local handmade goods. Lacquer with mother of pearl designs seem to be very popular. Be prepared to brush up on your haggling skills as nearly everything is priced high. Ben Thanh Market is also the place to find fake brand name handbags and all sorts of branded pseudo luxury leather goods and watches reside.
But that’s not all this little neck of the woods has to offer. Just walk right outside around the area and you’ll find more restaurants and local activities. Since the area is heavily visited by tourists many shops mainly restaurants are open with English menus. One thing that I always keep an eye out for are the Ban Mi shops. But I never just duck into any ol’ Ban Mi sandwich shop. I made it my mission around the afternoon lunch rush to look for a shop that had a line of customers out the door.
There are lots of shops selling the quintessential Vietnamese sandwich all over HCMC. And even if it took a little while to search one out it is so worth it. And seemingly guided by instinct I succeeded. Just past a roundabout, weaving and dodging mopeds, past a row of mechanics welding metal I saw a line of Vietnamese waiting patiently. As I came closer I hit pay dirt.
It is so good. After sinking your teeth into that awesome goodness of salty pate – mixture of cold cuts with tangy carrots and radish wrapped with that warm crusty but soft in the inside baguette and I bet you my life’s savings you can’t help it but order one more to take back to your hotel room.
And as I recall, everyone who stood on line ordered more than one. As the saying goes, when in Rome, you eat like the Roman’s do so go buy a dozen or so. The name of the shop is Banh Mi Huynh Hoa. Go there, you won’t regret it.
After scarfing down your sandwiches take a stroll through the lanes and side streets are a real treat. A part of traveling should involve taking in the scenery. Checking out what the locals do and what they’re up to.
So what else is there to do? Starting around 5pm Ben Thanh market’s side street’s are filled with street vendors selling pretty much everything you saw inside, except for the wet market items. You’ve got plenty of chances to buy those t-shirts, odds and ends and knick knacks for souvenir hand outs. It’ also quite the popular place for seafood too.
You still have plenty of chances to gorge on fresh fruit and specialty Vietnamese sweets Xôi Ngọt. These colorful sticky rice treats are sold throughout the day. But are perfect with as an after meal dessert with a fine cup of Vietnamese coffee.
To recap, Ben Thanh Market area is located in district 1, Ho Chi Minh City – though many locals still call the city Saigon. There are plenty of hotels near the market and most of them are priced from $50USD to $100USD. So if you’re plan is to stop off and check out this area I recommend booking hotels around Ben Thanh Market.
It’s a wonderful city holding onto old world charm. Though not too far off you’ll see a changing landscape of tall skyscrapers amidst rows of shops selling high end luxury goods. I much prefer the old but progress if done correctly and with much respect to the old is always a good thing.