History of Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh has become one of the earliest surviving structures of Saigon with its long history. In the early 17th century, there were just a few little stalls run by casual street vendors who gather together near the Saigon River. In 1859, French Imperialists overthrown the neighboring Gia Dinh Citadel, the market was built properly and established. Its name was changed from Les Halles Centrales (initial name) to Ben Thanh, or “wharf citadel” after it was destroyed in a fire and restored
In 1914, the market was relocated to another location near the My Tho railway station (Saigon bus station today) and renamed as the “New Ben Thanh Market” to distinguish from the former market. It was renovated to keep up with Saigon’s progress in 1985. However, the famous clock tower on the south entrance remained unchanged.
Architecture and Layout of Ben Thanh Market
Constructed by the Brossard et Maupin Construction Company in 1912, Ben Thanh Market is well known for its special architecture and also the symbol of Saigon. The architectural experts consider it a historical monument that has some traits of a 100-year-old market. Though built a long time ago, it doesn’t bring the feeling of irrelevance when looking out the busy city life around. The President of the city Architects’ Association, Mr Khuong Van Muoi, said: “When we talk about the market, the first thing people remember is the clock tower, but there are also banners surrounding the clock tower extending over market to provide shade and the market building, designed specifically for natural air-conditioning.”
Ben Thanh Market has 4 main gates and 12 entrances.
The main front gate or the south gate is on Le Loi Street, the North on Le Thanh Ton street, the East on Phan Boi Chau street, and the West on Phan Chau Trinh street. The main entrance is famous for the big clock tower which is the iconic symbol of Ben Thanh market.
Entering this entrance, you can find rows of colorful textiles and clothing. The east side of the market has 6 gates and you can buy a lot of Vietnamese packaged food and specialties here such as coffee beans, tea, fish sauces, and dried goods. The north side sells fresh food with a variety of fishes and meat. You also see flowers, processed foods, and fruits here. The West side gate is the paradise for souvenirs with many stalls for gifts, ceramics, and art.
What to Buy in Ben Thanh Market
You may find almost everything you need to buy at Ben Thanh Market. Fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and flowers are sold in the stalls first up outside in the north gate. Like many other traditional markets in Vietnam, they sell all of the body parts of animals that may scare you such as Intestines, brains, feet, and stomachs,… The beautiful flowers near there can put away these images. The wet market only lasts from the early hours of the day to midday.
Ben Thanh Market has approximately 3.000 stalls and brings a whole new universe to you at around 8 am. You will be surely surprised at piles and piles of colorful items as you walk around. They sell everything from electronics, clothes, jewelry, shoes, handicraft to food. Every day, Ben Thanh attracts about 15.000 customers a day and receives a huge interest of foreigners.
If you are looking for a gift to friends, unique Vietnamese traditional handicrafts are the best. Especially, the country is famous for lacquerware and coconut dinnerware. Bowls, spoons, plates, chopsticks are always great gifts for friends and family. At Ben Thanh, you also can find fabulous fabric creations with threadwork embroidery and patchwork. If you prefer wood items, you can think of buying the handcrafted wooden boats and figurines here. Generally, you can find the best choices for fabric and wood crafts at Ben Thanh market. These handicrafts will be the best souvenirs to your friends and also the memory of Saigon, the most dynamic city in Vietnam.
What to Eat in Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market is a famous traditional market not only for the small souvenirs but also for interesting food courts inside. Now, let’s go on a food tour in Ben Thanh Market with must-try dishes.
1. Bun Rieu Ganh (or Crab paste vermicelli soup)
Price: VND 50.000
Bun Rieu Ganh is one of the most favorite dishes in Vietnam. Compared to other regions, Bun Rieu Ganh in Saigon is a bit sweeter. The soup includes many ingredients: crab paste, fried tofu, big blood curd, tomato, and vermicelli. They put many kinds of herbs inside also that make the dishes smell really good. To increase flavors, you can add to your bowl some types of sauce like shrimp paste, tamarind sauce, and some chili.
2. Banh Beo Hue (or Hue Bloating Fern-shaped Cake)
Price: VND 20.000 – VND 25.000
Even staying at Saigon, you still can try the traditional rice cake from Central Vietnam, called Bloating Fern-shaped Cake. It is made from rice flour and then steamed. When the guests order, the seller will add some shrimp powder, crispy fried bread, spring onion, pickled vegetables, sweet fish sauce, and a piece of Vietnamese sausage over the cake.
Normally, the guests also order some other kinds of cake such as rice dumpling cake and sticky rice cake for a plate. And, if you want your dish spicy, you can ask the seller to add chili to your dish.
3. Summer Rolls
Price: VND 30.000/ 3 rolls
Summer Roll is so famous that you can find a lot of summer roll stores inside Ben Thanh market. A roll includes many ingredients such as shrimp, a slice of pork, bean sprouts, vermicelli, chives, and herbs. Diners roll and wrap all of them inside a piece of rice paper.
Especially, the dipping sauce is the soul of this dish which decides it is delicious or not. It is the hoisin sauce which is added some pickled carrot and beet, and some peanuts.
4. Broken rice (Cơm tấm)
Price: VND 50.000
It is a miss if you travel to Saigon without trying a plate of broken rice. Many people see it as the symbol of Saigon cuisine. A plate often includes rice, egg paste, grilled pork chop, and shredded pork skin. You can taste it with onion oil, pickled vegetables, and sweet fish sauce. You can find the store named Phung Kieu to try this dish. The owners are friendly and ready to serve the guests. They also provide with a lot of other dishes such as Nam Vang noodle soup and crab noodle soup.
5. Be Che (or Sweet Soup)
Price: VND 20.000 – VND 35.000
After the main dishes, sweet soup is a great choice as a popular and familiar dessert in Vietnamese cuisine. Be Che is one of the oldest stores which has opened from 1968. It serves a wide range of sweet soup, from hot soups such as tofu, rice ball sweet soup, and sweet taro with coconut milk to iced soups like sweet black bean soup and sweet lotus seed soup. Though the store is not very big, it is always crowded with a lot of customers eating and taking away.
Nearby Ben Thanh market
1. Attractions nearby Ben Thanh market
- Statue of Tran Nguyen Han
Just outside the front entrance of the market, there is a statue of Tran Nguyen Han – a general in the Later Le Dynasty (1428 – 1527). Who helps Emperor Le Loi to defeat the Ming army.
Go a few blocks to the north of the market, you can find the Independence Palace. It is an important building for explaining the American War and witnessing how it ended with the fall of Saigon when VietCong tanks breached the gates of the palace.
It takes 10 minutes to walk to the War Remnant Museum. It stores many materials that were leftover from the American War, both in photographs, descriptions and in actual. The museum is open every day from 7:30 am.
How to Get to Ben Thanh market
1. Bus from Airport to Ben Thanh Market
Nowadays, public transportation is more preferred in the south of Vietnam. It is one of the most convenient and cheapest ways for you to get from Tan Son Nhat Airport to Ben Thanh Market. From the airport, you can find the Bus 109 in yellow which travels between the airport and the city center. The information on the bus is written in both Vietnamese and English. The staff also can speak English. So, you can ask the staff to stop at Ben Thanh Market. You need to pay VND 20.000 for 1 ticket. And, it takes about 45 minutes to go from the airport to the market.
2. Other Transportation
- Taxi: Taxi is easily booked online or you can pick one outside of the airport. It is the fastest way to go to the market from the airport. However, it takes around VND 300.000 ~ VND 400.000.
- Motorbike: Motorbike helps you to move around more convenient. The price is about VND 150.000/ 1 day.
- Walking: If you are staying near backpacker street Bui Vien, you can walk to the market. The walking distance is 1 km so you need around 15 minutes to get there.
Ben Thanh Market Bargaining
To bargain like a pro, you should follow these tips: Always smile; Speak the Lingo (such as: Bao nhieu? – How much?, Dat qua! – So expensive!,…); Don’t look like you want it; Browse before you bargain; Know when to quit; and Practice!
Tips and Tricks
- It is easier to acquire more bargains in the morning than in the afternoon. Some traders offer a “morning price” for their first customers to bring them good luck.
- Do not buy the first thing you see. There are many other fairly similar things in the market and you can compare the price before buying.
- Smile, laugh and be friendly. It will create a pleasant and enjoyable experience for both you and the sellers.
- Think about your luggage restrictions. The market is too crowded. It will be difficult to go around if you bring a lot of luggage. Maybe you can put them in your hotel.
- Walk away from a deal. In most cases, the seller will call you back and accept the “lowest offered price”.