When I was sitting in the back of the taxi on the way to visit Binh Tay Market, I had a fleeting feeling that I was being taken to the wrong market.
The reason I thought this is that Binh Tay Market is located in Saigon’s Chinatown (Cholon), and I had expected the surrounding streets to look a little bit more like a stereotypical Chinatown, more “Chinese,” if you will.
As it turned out, Chinatown in Saigon is a large area, and is more integrated into the cityscape than in other cities. In subsequent visits though, I have been witness to the Chinese influence through temples, distinct Chinese architecture, and, of course, plenty of Chinese restaurants.
After getting out of the taxi, I immediately knew I was at the right market by the sight of the impressive clock tower that lords over the market’s entrance. The clock tower, along with the rest of the market, has been here since 1930, and has been an important trading hub for the Vietnamese and Chinese alike.
Binh Tay Market
Binh Tay Market is the central market in Chinatown and also acts as a wholesale market, with many stalls selling in bulk, and therefore at lower prices than the better known Ben Thanh Market in District 1.
Given it isn’t really within walking distance of District 1, you won’t find many other tourists here, and although I’ve read it’s popular with some tour groups, I didn’t see any on the day I was there.
I started my visit with a walk around the perimeter of the market, where there is a throng of motorbikes, either dropping off cartons of goods to the stalls or being loaded up with goods ready for delivery elsewhere. It’s quite an organised chaos and I had to be careful not to get in the way of some of the motorbikes.
After walking around outside for a while, I needed to escape the sunshine so headed inside and straight into the “wet” section of the market, where meats and fish are sold. The stalls there are typical of all Vietnamese markets, selling all parts of the animals and leaving nothing to waste.
The food stalls are located close to the “wet” section, so I took the chance to have a late breakfast and coffee. There are plenty of options to choose from, and I chose a stall that served a prawn and rice dish that was delicious.
After finishing breakfast, I took off to explore the remainder of the market. The market is laid out in sections and there is a map at the front of the market to help navigate, but I was just happy to wander around for a while without taking too much notice of where I was.
There are many stalls selling a large array of foods, and although I can’t name them all here, they included nuts, sweets, rices, noodles, and dried mushrooms, as well as pre-prepared salads and pickled vegetables.
I headed upstairs to where most of the clothing stalls are located. The walkways there are very tight, where many ladies, young and old, are cramped into tight spaces, with the only chance of being cooled down coming from strategically placed oscillating fans.
This part of the market is quite a contrast from the busier ground floor. The heat is, in places, quite oppressive. There is very little noise, the pace is very slow, and in some sections, I didn’t see any customers.
Needing a rest and some fresh air, I found myself a shady spot sitting in the market’s central courtyard. Here, interestingly, there is an alter to Quach Dam, also known as Thong Diep, who provided the financing for the market when it was built. You can read an interesting story on Quach Dam’s life here.
I enjoyed my time at Binh Tay Market immensely. There is a large variety of goods on offer, and it has a terrific eating section and a nice courtyard to visit when you need a rest.
If you’re interested in seeing a large market in Saigon, without the accompanying hassle of Ben Thanh Market, then I highly recommend visiting Binh Tay Market.
Where: Binh Tay is located on the edge of District 6, about a 15-minute taxi ride from central District 1.
Opening hours: As with all markets of this type, the “wet” sections open very early and the rest of the market is open throughout the day.
P.S. Did you enjoy this post? As I post on an irregular basis, sign up to my monthly email to be notified of more awesome posts like this!