Chinatown, Ho Chi Minh City
Cholon's main market, a Chinese-style architectural masterpiece with a great clock tower in the centre.
Much of the business here is wholesale. If you are buying in bulk, this is the place to do your shopping. It is cheaper than Ben Thanh market and there are less tourist too. If not, you can always ask your friends if they are buying and split the cost after you buy in bulk.
I will be covering more under the shopping tips.
We went to the Cho Binh Tay at 11:30am and left at the Main Bus Stop about 300metres away from Cho Binh Tay at 2pm.
It was big...there were 2 floors but we visited only the ground floor as I was having trouble climbing and descending staircase after my trip to CuChi Tunnel 2 days earlier(another tip, for those who are not fit or not used to exercise, like me, try to schedule your trip to CuChi Tunnel on the last day of your trip to HCMC in case of any injury or just simple thigh muscle pain).
It took us one hour(without shopping) to walk through approximately half.....errrr...error, it should be 20%(updated) of the ground floor at leisurely speed. (a.k.a. window shopping)
It was not as hot or humid as I expected. I didn't even use the mini electric fan that I brought along. Perhaps, it was cloudy on that day. It was quite a leisurely walk although we have to stop often to give way to workers carrying goods.
We bought 4 bamboo lamps at 70,000VND each (about SGD5) with approximately 25cm diameter (screw type) (without plug, just a wire hanging out which I have to fix a new one with my country's 3-pin plug).
Bought some Lotus Seed snacks at 180,000VND per kilogram for the sweetened type and 240,000VND per kilogram for the unsweetened type. (Co-op supermarket and Tax Centre supermarket are selling at 60,000VND for 200grams). Taste differs slightly for all 3 types(sweetened, unsweetened, supermarket) and to first-timer like me, I like all 3 tastes. You may try them before you buy. We sampled many stalls before we settled for one stall who gave us a small discount. Tastes & Prices differ slighly among the stalls so, if you're particular about them, try all before you decide.
There were one long row of hot food stalls where a lot of locals are buying food from.
We did not eat there as the row behind the food stalls were selling fresh meats and seafood.
And, we were reluctant to try the hot food in the front row even though it looked acceptably clean.
If you are lucky to get a taxi driver that speaks your language or English and are talkative,
he can tell you about where the Chinese mostly lives in Ho Chi Minh City and show you along the taxi ride the various landmarks/town and the story behind it. Our driver were a Chinese who can speak Cantonese just like us.
Taxi from Cho Ben Thanh(Le Loi Street side) in District 1 to Cho Binh Tay in District 6(bordering 5) was about 125,000VND in a Vinasun Taxi.
Taxi back to Cho Ben Thanh(Le Loi Street side) in District 1 was between 95,000VND to 100,000VND(i've forgotten the exact amount) in a Vinasun Taxi.
Exchange rate during my visit was approximately USD 1 = 19,000 VND.
Below is the official website that I saw written on the market main signage inside the building above the escalator. You can get an idea of the size and market shape from here http://www.chobinhtay.gov.vn/View.aspx?id=17
There are some photos of the market front and garden and also how it looks like many years ago in a black and white photo.
They even show the prices of some of the main goods in that website.
Hope these info help some of the future visitors.
District 5 of HCMC is known as the Chinatown. I didn't explore through it though, just around Windsor Plaza Hotel, An Duong Plaza, and small restaurants along the road. If you prefer to walk around Chinatown, please make sure you are traveling in a minimum group of three since District 5 is not as safe as District 1.
There is a temple in the area called Thien Hau, but I didn't get a chance to visit it.
Cho Binh Tay is the main market of Cho Lon (Chinatown). This huge complex sells a mixture of goods and fresh products. You can get vegetables, poultry, bags, fruits etc. The market is chaotic and noisy. Beware of pick pockets.
The Cho Lon area itself is the Chinatown of Saigon and home to Vietnamese Chinese. The area is busy with its markets, restaurants and is abuzz with all kinds of activities. As it is normal for most Chinatowns worldwide, the area is dirty and chaotic. But it makes an interesting walk.
The western part of Ho Chi Minh city is dominated by Cholon (Chinatown), a thickly settled district rife with teahouses and pagodas and the famous Binh Tay Market. Cholon spans across, and consists of, Districts 5 & 6 of Ho Chi Minh City. Incorporated in 1879 as a city 11 km from Saigon, it had expanded and became coterminous with Saigon by the 1930s. On April 27, 1931, the two cities were merged to form Saigon-Cholon by the French colonial government. By 1956, the name Cholon was dropped from the city name and the city was known primarily as Saigon. During the Vietnam War, soldiers and deserters from the United States Army maintianed a thriving black market at Cholon, trading in various American and especially army-issue items.
Cholon is a sizable district bordered by Hung Vuong to the north, Nguyen Van Cu to the east, the Ben Nghe Chanel to the south, and Nguyen Thi Nho to the west. Cholon is the predominately Chinese district of Saigon and probably the largest Chinatown in the world. Cholon exists in many ways as a city quite apart from Saigon. The Chinese began to settle the area in the early 1900s and never quite assimilated with the rest of Saigon, which causes a bit of resentment among the greater Vietnamese community. You'll sense the different environment immediately, and not only because of the Chinese-language signs. Cholon is where you might have found dark, exotic opium dens and brothels in the French colonial time, the same opium dens and brothels that greeted American troops.
start with a motorbike or taxi ride to the Binh Tay Market, on Phan Van Khoe Street, which is even more crowded than Ben Thanh and has much the same goods, but with a Chinese flavor. From Binh Tay, head up to Nguyen Trai, the district's main artery, to see Thien Hau pagoda then Quan Am, on Lao Tu Street off Luong Nhu Hoc. Finally, as you follow Nguyen Trai Street past Ly Thuong Kiet, you'll see the Cholon Mosque, the one indication of Cholon's small Muslim community.
After visiting Ben Thanh and An Dong, going to Binh Tay Market should not be a neccessity at all if you're looking to buy more local discounted items. Of course you should visit the place to see it's architecture, and also to experience how the Vietnamese people go through their daily lives.
There are also nice little shops surrounding the market. But looking from the other side of the spectrum, Binh Tay Market is more chaotic than An Dong Market, and the shopholders are not too desperate for your business and thus would not try to court you to buy their items. Some may even display signs to say that their items are all fixed price. No chance for discount.
We went to this market in the Cholon (Pronounced as Gou lon) area. This is where there's alot of Chinese stuff and even a supermarket.
This particular market we went to was in a building, and they sell mainly textiles, shoes, clothes and accessories. Not my taste though. Feels like the People Park centre in Chinatown SG.
From Bui Vein street (backpacker area), we took a cab down to Binh Tay (with full of expectation to get cheaper goods than Ben Thanh Market). It costs us 46000 dong (about USD 3). According to the taxi driver, it is the biggest market in Ho Chi Minh.
Yes, it is big, but it is not a good place for you if you intend to buy only small volume ( 1 dozen for example) of items. People overthere are selling items in bulks. They will not entertain you as tourist as you are not their main customer. If you need to buy something, you need to make an effort to ask. They will still sell you small quantity if you request. Price is cheaper compare to outside market.
Basically it sells all items except souvenirs (which were what we looked for). We were looking for key chains, egg shell lacquer paintings and wood carving. They do not have that.
You can see people carrying boxes of goods running around. I think this place is a reseller center rather than normal open market.
100,000 chinese live in Saigon, 80,000 of these live in Chinatown. Visited Bin Tay markets with our guide but it was a quick walk through. Alot of locals not many tourists and everything seemed to be sold in bulk
Cholon is in District 5 and is a maze of narrow streets, bustling with people. Most of Vietnam’s ethnic Chinese live here and they are the largest single ethnic minority group in the country. Merchants began to settle in Cholon in the 1770s, although many ethnic Chinese fled the country in 1975.
The Thien Hau Pagoda is one of Cholon’s must-sees. It is dedicated to the goddess Thien Hau, protector of the sea. Photographers are spoilt for choice with the ornate decoration inside the pagoda and the statues of Thien Hau. It is popular with worshippers (the air is always heavy with the smell of incense) and there are regular festivals during the lunar calendar.
Binh Tay Market throngs with people from early morning and the gloomy, narrow walkways are crammed with consumer items and exotic foodstuffs. The sound of bargaining, quite often in Chinese rather than Vietnamese, and the calls of the vendors constantly fill the air. This is one of the best places to see the locals going about their daily lives.
It was here that President Diem and his brother took refuge in during the coup d'etat in 1963. An armoured personnel carrier was sent to the church to take custody of the two. The soldiers killed Diem and his brother before they reached the center of the city.
The church was built around the turn of the 19th century. It is somewhat unique in that it's decorated with horizontal lacquer boards and wood panels with inscriptions much like the surrounding Chinese style temples. Masses are held in both Vietnamese and Chinese (Mandarin).
I'm basically a market fanatic; would not miss the opportunity to check out the markets in all the cities that i visited.
In fact, during my recent trip to Ho Chi Minh, i went to 2 markets; Ben Thanh (you can read abt my review of Ben Thanh market in my travel pages) and Binh Tay. Recollecting my experience abt the latter, i only have this to say: HOT (as in the temperature)!
PS: Check out more Binh Tay market writeup in my Tips pages.
SETTING THE EXPECTATIONS: Go to Binh Tay market for the experience rather than the shopping and you will not be disappointed. and who knows, you might be pleasantly surprised if you manage to pick up something that you like.
SURVIVAL KIT: handheld battery operated fan, a bottle of mineral water, dress light and tie up your hair (for those with long hair like me).
AVOID: Going there with pampered companion travellers who are grouchy and whinny as they will definitely complain abt everything in the market...and this will affect your mood too.
GETTING THERE: By Taxi, of course! The taxi fare from District 3 (where i had beef noodles - read abt it in my Restaurants pages) to Binh Tay market costs about US$12-13. Not sure if i got ripped off (the taxi meter was jumping really fast compared to the other taxis that i've taken). Just to put things into perspective: taxi fare from Binh Tay market back to District 1 was about US$7-8; and from airport to my hotel (Renaissance) only cost about US$5. Not sure if the different taxi companies have different rates but i do know that they have different flag down fare (some start with 14,000 vnd and some with 12,000 vnd). But honestly, dont be fool by the flag down fare as it is peanuts compared to how fast the meter jumps. If anyone knows the math, pls share so that fellow travellers can look out for this.
It doesnt help that i was there on an extremely hot day; when i was inside the market, my body temperature just soar. The aisles were packed with goods that are waiting to be packed/shipped out. I didnt really get the chance to stop and look at things as I was pushed around by workers who are loading and unloading inventories. On the hindsight, it was pretty amazing for me to be able to squeeze myself through these aisles as they were hardly any walking space. After a while, you begin to feel that all the bag stalls look alike and sell the similar stuff and the same goes for all the shoes, textile and food stalls. Coupled with the still air inside the market, this place is definitely not for the faint hearted. Perhaps i went at the wrong hour (between 12-2pm) or it may be like that all day...i dont know.
If you are expecting to buy nice stuff from here, you might be disappointed (well, at least for me, i didnt manage to buy anything). Although they do have some of the embriodery bags and handicrafts that you would find in Dong Khoi street or Ben Thanh market, I certainly didnt enjoy the shopping experience in this place. and FYI: the fake products in Shanghai and Korea have better quality than the ones in Vietnam.
If there is anything worthwhile buying, i would give my vote to the food stalls. You will see bags and bags of pistachio nuts, cashew nuts etc. and the good news is, these stalls are located on the inside perimeters of the market, where there is a compound/airwell for light and air to come in ie not so hot and crowded.
Besides the food stalls, you can also choose to walk along the external perimeters of the market, which is more breathable or try the stores outside the market. In my case, i didnt as i was almost dehydrated by the time i stepped out of Binh Tay Market (yes, always have your water ready). However, i do remember seeing some interesting shops whilst in the taxi. Well, you check it out and let me know.
Thien Hao Pagoda is in cholon area, just a short walk from Binh Tai market. When we arrived there, the pagoda was occupied by some enterntainment group i guess, some pretty young vietnamese model is posting to get their picture snapped. I dunno who are them, i also join the team snapping pictures hehe.
Binh Tay market is in cholon, which is more to local customer than Ben Thanh market. For the same item, you can get cheaper price in Binh Tay market. Thus, you still can bargain but the price is not much adjusted.
Initially I thought since I am in china town, speaking mandarin will have an advantage.. oppss.. but i am wrong because most of them only know vietnamese... haha.