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Officially opened in 1859, and re-renovated after a major fire in 1870, the Ben Thanh market or Cho (pronounced as ‘Jer’) Ben Thanh as it is known locally, has evolved to become somewhat of an icon in Saigon. This area was originally a swamp called Marais Boresse which was filled in by the French. The front side or the South was called Place Cuniac while the North, East and West were Rue d'Espagne, rue Viénot and rue Schroeder respectively. In 1955, the streets were changed again to be named Le Thanh Ton, Phan Boi Chau and Phan Chau Trinh.
As you step into the main entrance of the grand clock tower, you are immediately greeted by a maze of stalls peddling goods from apparels and souvenirs, to interesting local foods and kitchenware. It’s time to put your bargaining power to the test and off your go – for a ball of a time. Prices here can go as low as 70% off the original price quoted.
For a first time tourist to Ben Thanh market, this is shoppers’ paradise. The most popular items sold here are T-shirts and handicrafts. As a gauge, you should not be paying more than VND150,000 (approx. 8USD) for handicrafts, no matter how exquisite the stall owners make the pieces out to be. T-shirts and other apparel are priced from VND50,000 up. Do not be surprised to see a ‘Polo Ralph Lauren’ or ‘Valentino’ going for as low as 10USD. Do buy at your own risk.
Traditional food, drinks, and snacks are aplenty at Ben Thanh market. The most recommended food here is the “banh beo”, a traditional dish made from rice, going at only VND10,000 (approx. 0.50USD). Another is “bun suong”, a kind of noodles which is very popular in the market. If you want to buy something as souvenirs for friends, the try picking out the local sweets made from banana, mango, custard-apple, etc.
The rear area inside the market belongs to COOP Mart Corporation, a credibly fixed price outlet selling anything from clothes to souvenirs. For bargaining addicts, this place is off limits to price negotiations. You may still snatch a good deal here, but do take a walk around the other places first.