Ducking low-hanging baskets and dodging rushing men pushing carts overflowing with wholesale goods, a multitude of smells and stenches came at us from every direction; merchants barked sale orders over SIM-card fuelled cellphones; and the bright colors of a wide array of products for sale leaped out from their dimly-lit stalls.
We were in Binh Tay Market, the largest market in Ho Chi Minh City (“HCMC”). It’s a busy time of year at the market, but we put Jude in the backpack and braved the crowds to take a look. Binh Tay is in the heart of the city’s Chinatown, known as Cholon, literally meaning: “big markets,” a huge commercial center for the Vietnamese and the Chinese (of which there are roughly half a million) in HCMC.
Binh Tay Market sells mainly wholesale goods, and contains approximately 1,800 stalls. Each stall is fairly specialized – some sold only doormats (mostly prickly and plastic). Others sell exclusively pottery, or shoes, or pickled vegetables, or plastic-y fabric (like the kind picnic tablecloths are made of), in all different designs.
One stall was selling dried seahorses (apparently used for “energy drinks”) along with other varieties of dried fish. Peeled water chestnuts sat out on large blocks of ice, next to crates of root vegetables, dried mushrooms and dried beans. One stall specialized in pottery for ancestor veneration. With this collection of goods for sale, there were unsurprisingly not many tourists around (we saw only one inside). Most of the market was indoors, and very crowded.
There are other specialized markets and clusters of shops just outside the perimeter of Binh Tay, which we didn’t have the chance to visit on this trip, including those for traditional medicine (pharmacies), cloth (textiles), and the rice and bean market. The chicken and duck market moved further afield as an Avian Bird Flu precautionary measure.
Navigating through the market provided people watching at its best. Without being too intrusive, I took a few pictures: