Best Night Market, Saigon

We knew we were getting closer to the Ben Thanh area when the neon signs started to get brighter and the advertisements started to be for Tiger Beer and Budweiser rather than banks and motorbike repair shops.

We were not visiting the famous Ben Thanh Market itself, but this area also happens to be the site of the best night market in Saigon. And it is the night market that this post is about.

Where to exchange money in Saigon

Our taxi dropped us off at the entrance to the Ben Thanh Market, right outside the jewellery shop where we wanted to be. Not that we wanted to buy jewellery, you understand. No, this place had been recommended to us by the helpful man (boy? He looked about 14) at our hotel reception as the best place to exchange money. I was quite anxious to get some local currency as I only had just enough to pay this taxi and a return taxi, plus a tiny amount for a bite to eat in the night market.

It was 18:30 and our first evening in Vietnam. I wasn’t sure what time businesses closed in HCMC but I was pleased to see the jewellers/money exchange place was well and truly open for business, in fact there was a small crowd of people clamouring to hand over foreign currency in exchange for a few million dong.

We joined the throng and found that it was true what our receptionist had told us – this place offered a good rate: 26,950VND for 1EUR as opposed to the 26,432 we had got at the airport.

So if you want to change money in Saigon, that’s where you want to head. There are two jewellery shops opposite the main entrance to the Ben Thanh Market. Either will give you a good rate.

Armed with 10 million dong I suddenly felt a lot more aware of my purse than I had with the 400€ I had been carrying when I’d emerged from the taxi. It also felt a little excessive for a street market!

Ben Thanh Market

We went inside Ben Thanh Market itself just for a quick look.

It was quiet as the stalls were shutting up after a hard day’s trading, so we were able to look around without too many sellers being interested in clamouring for our attention.

It being six years since I was last here, I had completely forgotten what a treasure trove the Ben Thanh Market is. There were amazing trinkets at every turn. I made a mental note of so many things to buy on our way back through Saigon that there’s no way I would ever fit them into my backpack. Well, I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.

We had one full day in Saigon at the end of our trip and I had just decided that we were spending it and our leftover dong at the Ben Thanh Market!

Top Night Market in Saigon

We made our way outside and went for a stroll around the adjacent streets. Toni was after a pair of flip flops to take to Phu Quoc. He came away with a pair of New Balance trainers instead. But he was happy, in which case, so was I.

As we returned to the vicinity of the market, we could hear clanging and banging sounds in addition to the usual relentless beeping of cars and hum of motorbikes. These were the sounds of the night market being set up. In fact, they were almost ready to trade.

In just the space of time we were in the shoe shop, scores of stalls had popped up in the streets all around the market and were already starting to look promising.

Makeshift Restaurants

We stood a while watching as whole kitchens were put together from a few makeshift stainless steel trolleys. Elaborate lighting was strung up that could rival a Times Square Christmas tree. Young lads on motorbikes expertly guided steel cabinets on wheels the wrong way down the road dodging a sea of oncoming motorbikes, and weaved themselves and their cargo through the bikes like in an intricate dance.

best night market saigon motorbike

Ho Chi Minh City night market pedestrian street

Barriers were set up to close the streets to traffic and policemen parked themselves on chairs resolutely in front of each one, giving the motorbikes another obstacle to dodge as they zoomed around them and continued up and down the closed roads.

We watched the whole scene as if in a trance. There were so many things happening all around us. Because as well as all this, there was the usual cacophony of three family members plus chickens on a bike, bikes transporting wide loads of beer crates, loaded up with more weight than the bike itself, and occasionally we got to see the crossing the road show as some unfortunate soul decided to risk it all just to get to the other side.

By the time we’d finished gawping, the market was set up and was in full flow. We strolled around, browsing the usual tat, chatting to vendors and enjoying the atmosphere.

Toni bought a couple of t-shirts and then later, we suddenly found ourselves the proud owners of a ceramic teapot and six tiny cups. Just what we needed to pack in our bags and take around Phu Quoc!

Street food at the night market in Saigon

We were ready for a beer and a bite so we sat down at one of the makeshift kitchens/restaurants and ordered our first Saigon Red [Spoiler: first of many!]. We sat on plastic chairs at plastic tables watching the market people trying to drum up business with the constant stream of passing potential customers.

best night market saigon spring rolls

Making spring rolls

It was hard to believe that only 40 minutes earlier there had been nothing there.

We were sitting at a long table, lit well by a string of electric lights above our heads. There was a woman making spring rolls, a man frying fish and someone putting long pieces of sugarcane through a mill to make juices and cocktails.

It seemed to be a family-run business. The older kids were waiting tables and the teenagers, along with granny, were on the street thrusting their menu under every passer-by’s nose and dragging them in. Granny was winning.

As food started to be taken from the cook’s station to the tables we realised we needed to try those fresh spring rolls. Apart from the ones I make at home, we hadn’t had them since the last time we were in Vietnam.

best night market saigon spring rolls and beer

First night in Vietnam: fresh spring rolls and Saigon Red – start as you mean to go on!

At the next place we were even more impressed: the beer was colder and cheaper, the meat in the spring rolls was better and they did some fantastic fried spring rolls too, where the casing was rice noodles instead of rice paper.

Spoilt for choice

For food at the night market, this is where we recommend. Look for the red chairs, not the green ones.

On the other side of the night market there is an eating place too where the women cook meat and prawn skewers around a big sizzling grill. But we didn’t eat there because it looked a little posh for us – I mean the waiters were all in uniform, come on!

At the end of the streets you also find fruit vendors selling sliced up exotic fruits ready to eat. There are also carts with sky-high piles of different coloured and flavoured rice. I don’t know what that was about but it looked delicious. I didn’t try it though because well, it was essentially just rice.

As I mentioned in Day 2 of the Phu Quoc Diaries, we were jetlagged and exhausted so we were back at the hotel by 9.30pm. But we were well satisfied: we had been to a night market, eaten fresh street food and had a few Saigon beers. This was going to be a great holiday!

Filed Under: asiafeaturedMarketsSaigonvietnam

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