Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ben Thanh Market

The market developed from informal markets created by early 17th Century street vendors gathering together near the Saigon River. The market was formally established by the French colonial powers after taking over the Gia Dinh citadel in 1859. This market was destroyed by fire in 1870 and rebuilt to become Saigon's largest market. In 1912 the market was moved to a new building and called the New Ben Thanh Market to distinguish over its predecessor. The building was renovated in 1985.

The clock tower over the main entrance to what was formerly known as Les Halles Centrale is the symbol of Saigon, and the market might as well be, too. Opened first in 1914, it's crowded, a boon for pickpockets with its narrow, one-way aisles, and loaded with people clamoring to sell you cheap goods (T-shirts, aluminum wares, silk, bamboo, and lacquer) and postcards. There are so many people calling out to you that you'll feel like the belle of the ball or a wallet with legs. Watch for pickpockets. Out front, near the main entrance, find lots of knockoff brand-name clothes, and farther in a number of small souvenir stands. Toward the back are a few small cafes serving local cuisine or coffee and che, a popular Vietnamese dessert. The wet market at the far back, with its selection of meat, fish, produce, and flowers, is interesting and hassle-free; no one will foist a fish on you. In open-air stalls surrounding the market are some nice little eateries that open just as the market itself starts closing down, and this is in fact one of the best place to try authentic local cuisine. The adventurous can sample good local specialties like rice dishes, noodle soup, bun dishes of vermicelli noodles, or ice cream and dessert for next to nothing.

When visiting a foreign country, one of the things I enjoy more visiting are the local markets. Vietnam was no exception. I really enjoyed the markets. You can learn a lot about local people: what they eat, what they wear. You can also see how people bargain, how they deal with each other. A real lesson about local customs. Of course I am not the only tourist that likes local markets. For this reason, some of the markets are overcrowded with tourists in lousy T-shirts

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