There’s much more beneath the pillbox-style clock tower of Ben Thanh Market than just the cattle and seafood pictured on its front wall. The city’s busiest market for almost a century, and known to the French as the Halles Centrales, Ben Thanh’s dense knot of trade has caused it to burst at the seams, disgorging stalls onto the surrounding pavements. Inside the main body of the market, a tight grid of aisles, demarcated according to produce, teems with shoppers, and, if it’s souvenirs you’re after, a reconnaissance here will reveal conical hats, basketware, bags, shoes, lacquerware, Da Lat coffee and Vietnam T-shirts. Sadly, all stalls are now designated ‘fixed price’, so there’s no more good-natured bargaining, and prices are generally a bit higher than elsewhere. Walk through to the wet market along the back of the complex, and you’ll find buckets of eels, clutches of live frogs tied together at the legs, heaps of pigs’ ears and snouts and baskets wedged full of hens, among other gruesome sights. If you can countenance the thought of eating after seeing – and smelling – this patch of the market, com, pho and baguette stalls proliferate towards the back of the main hall. In the evenings, foodstalls specializing in seafood set up along the sides of the market, attracting a mixed crowd of locals and tourists.
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