Ho Chi Minh

Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City

Ben Thanh Market (Vietnamese spelling: chợ Bến Thành) is a popular symbol in the heart of Saigon. It has nearly 1 500 stalls with more than 6 000 small businesses selling wholesale and retail items from daily consumables to luxury goods. The market is also a popular stop-off on a number of different tours.

Ben Thanh Market is open from 7 AM to 7 PM and it’s a good place to browse for clothes, souvenirs, and sweet or savory treats. In the evening from 7 PM to 4 AM, the market goes outdoors where you can do night shopping and enjoy street food.

Things to See and Do in the Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh Day Market

Ben Thanh Day Market
[ by chee.hong from Flickr ]

Ben Thanh Market has four directional gates and each one corresponds to a category of merchandise. 

The east gate has dried edible goods like jerky, coffee and tea, herbs and spices. The west gate sells paintings, lacquerwares, and ceramics. The iconic main gate often seen in photos, the south gate, is where you go for garments, textiles, jewelry, and cosmetics. 

If you’re feeling peckish, then you had better head for the north gate for fresh produce. This is also where you can find common Vietnamese dishes, especially the ones mentioned in our article about Saigon food. Here, you can find ‘Bé Chè’ which is a Vietnamese sweet soup shop that’s been around for more than 40 years.

Ben Thanh Night Market

Ben Thanh Night Market
[ by Terrazzo from Flickr ]

From 7 PM, the inside of Ben Thanh Market closes and Ben Thanh Night Market outside comes to life. Until 4 AM, the streets of Phan Bội Châu and Phan Chu Trinh are filled with over 170 stalls selling clothes and souvenirs. This is also the best place to sample the delights of Saigon street food.

Interesting Facts about the Ben Thanh Market

Interesting Facts about the Ben Thanh Market
[ by Quinn Comendant from Flickr ]

1. Ben Thanh Market existed way before the French arrived in Saigon. Its first location, which is now Nguyen Hue Street, was by a river port near a citadel. Hence the origin of the name Bến Thành (bến means port, thành means citadel).

2. Ben Thanh Market is quite different from local Asian markets in some sense. Stall owners are often attractive ladies fluent in more than one language amongst English, French, Japanese, and Thai.

Shopping Tips for Ben Thanh Market 

Shopping Tips for Ben Thanh Market
[ by chee.hong from Flickr ]

1. Merchandise in Ben Thanh Market is usually overpriced, so don’t hesitate to bargain down to about half-price. Just remember to be calm, respectful, and even make light jokes. 

2. Some simple Vietnamese phrases can be quite useful when shopping, especially for making small talks. How much is it = bao nhiêu tiền; too expensive = đắt quá.

3. Some vendors will accept major currencies, but most prefer VND or Vietnam Dong. 

4. Local markets in Vietnam tend to be crowded and therefore also a hangout for snatchers and pickpockets. Be wary of your personal belongings and don’t wear valuable accessories.  

The History of the Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh Market in 1990s
Ben Thanh Market 1990
[ by Doi Kuro from Facebook ]

The Old Ben Thanh Market

The Old Ben Thanh Market (Chợ Cũ) comprised household stalls along a river even before the 1800s, during the feudal period. As mentioned above, the market was situated near a citadel. It went by the name Phoenix Citadel (Thành Phụng) or Bagua Citadel (Thành Bát Quái) from 1790 to 1935. 

It then became Gia Dinh Citadel (Thành Gia Định) under King Minh Mạng from 1836 to 1859. French colonialists took down Gia Dinh Citadel in 1859 and destroyed the first Ben Thanh Market in the process. In 1860, they rebuilt the market on the existing foundation.

In 1870, a part of the market was destroyed in a fire and the entire market was then reconstructed into a sturdier building. A part of the old river became the Big Canal (Kinh Lớn) or Charner Canal, giving the market a strategic location.

In 1887, the French covered up the canal and merged the two nearby streets into one Charner Boulevard. The market then became even busier with many Chinese, Indian, and French merchants. Around 1911, the market became rundown and the new location of today was chosen.

The New Ben Thanh Market

The New Ben Thanh Market (Chợ Mới) was built over a drained pond and construction lasted from 1912 to 1914. The official name of the market has always been Ben Thanh, but locals back then tended to call it Saigon Market or New Market to distinguish it from the Old Market. In 1985, the market went through a massive renovation.

The Architecture of the Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh Market in the 1920s
Ben Thanh Market in the 1920s
[ by Tommy Japan 79 from Flickr ]

Ben Thanh Market covers 13 000 m2 km and was specifically designed for natural air ventilation. In 1952, twelve ceramic reliefs were ordered from a reputable workshop in the city. The artists had to meticulously install the reliefs by hand. 

In total, there are three reliefs, one big and two small ones, for each gate. The theme of these reliefs is said to be signature produce and livestock of the Mekong Delta region.

Visiting the Ben Thanh Market

Visiting the Ben Thanh Market
[ by Marco Verch Professional Photographer from Flickr ]
  • Ben Thanh Market: 07:00 – 19:00
  • Ben Thanh Night Market: 19:00 – 04:00
  • Entrance fee: None
  • During Lunar New Year, Ben Thanh Market is less crowded but quite vibrant with the themed red and gold decoration. Some stores are closed, but others remain open selling goods and items for the season.

What’s Around the Ben Thanh Market

What’s Around the Ben Thanh Market
[ by Ludovic Lubeigt from Flickr ]

Ben Thanh Market and Surrounding Locations

One of the best ways to see the Ben Thanh Market is with a nice local guide. Tours often include a number of places in one day or one morning. If you’re planning your own itinerary, check out some of these best places: 

The Ben Thanh Street Food Market, Nguyen Hue Walking Street, Independence Palace, Saigon Notre Dame, War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts, and the Central Post Office are all close by.

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