Asian cities are famous for their markets, Saigon is no different and the biggest, best and most well known is Ben Thanh Market. Half way along Le Loi in the heart of district 1 is a large and very busy roundabout. Called Trung Tran Nguyen Han, it is named after a famous general and used to carry a statue of him on horseback. The market sits on this roundabout and is one of the focal points of the whole city.
Ben Thanh Market: a place in Saigon’s History
It was started on the banks of the Saigon River as early as the 17th century. Initially it was more a collection of small informal markets, these were formally amalgamated into one large market by the French colonists around 1860. This original one was destroyed by fire in 1870 and rebuilt to become the largest in the city.
In 1912 the French built the new building on the site on which it stands today. It was renovated in 1985 and is a fascinating glimpse into French colonial life. Little has changed since it first opened. Inside tourists will find a vibrant bustling market, with hundreds of stalls separated by the narrowest of aisles. They sell just about everything here and this is aimed more at locals than tourists trying to hunt down souvenirs. That is not to say that souvenirs are not available, just about everything is!
The building itself is yet another fine example of French colonial architecture. It’s facade is interesting and welcoming. It’s tall clock tower dominates the roundabout and it’s intricate roof structure provides a large internal retail space. At night it is illuminated and really looks fabulous.
The food section is a thriving hub of local life as hundreds pour in at meals time to enjoy the local street food on offer. The sights sounds and smells assault the senses as vendors shout out to advertise their produce. Vegetables, tobacco, coffee, scorpions in alcohol, dried fruit and meat products are everywhere. Even if markets are not your thing, this is well worth a visit. It provides a true picture of Saigon life and seemingly goes on none stop all day.
At night Ben Thanh Market and its surrounding area takes on a whole different look. The myriad of streets around the market have developed into an extension of the market over the years. This is certainly the place in Saigon to find just about anything that you need.