Let’s face it. Despite the fact that it’s a total tourist trap filled with over enthusiastic vendors who won’t take no for an answer, Ben Thanh Market is (almost) the center of the universe when it comes to Saigon. Most visitors usually end up around this vicinity sometime on their visit, and once they’ve been overwhelmed by the whole experience, many aren’t brave enough to venture much further.
Well, we’ve decided to come to the rescue by providing a list of 11 places you really must visit around Ben Thanh Market, that doesn’t actually involve entering the market itself. There’s probably a few more, but the Christina’s team voted these as our top 10 favorites:
Antique Street (300 m) – Le Cong Kieu Street, District 1
Le Cong Kieu Street, otherwise known as Antique Street, is on the other side of the roundabout and a few streets up. The street is short, so everything is packed into a small area. Shop after shop is crammed with art, antiques, furniture, memorabilia, books and more. Are they real? We’re not sure. But if you’re a bit of a treasure hunter you’ll have fun finding out.
The House of Saigon (400m) – 258 Le Thanh Ton, District 1
House of Saigon sells some seriously, super quality, handcrafted clothes, jewelry, accessories, and homewares. The amount of work that goes into some of their pieces is astounding. They’ve recently moved to this new location and offer a tranquil shopping experience in gorgeous surrounds….in stark contrast to the roughhouse tactics of the Ben Thanh crowd!! The prices are very reasonable when you consider the quality you’re getting.
Mekong Quilts (270 m) 68 Le Loi, 1st floor, D1
Mekong Quilts doesn’t only incredible handmade products but also does amazing work creating sustainable employment for underprivileged women in remote and rural regions of Vietnam and Cambodia. All profits from sales are funneled into broader community initiatives, meaning it’s not just the women themselves that benefit. But even if that doesn’t have you feeling good about your purchase, the products are quite simply beautiful. Quilts are their specialty, but they also produce bags, scarves, paper mache decorations and, wait for it …..ingenious bamboo bikes.
Hatvala Tea and Coffee – 52 Le Thanh Ton, D1 (1km)
If you’re after specialist tea and coffee from Vietnam, Hatvala is the place to shop. Hatvala sources all its teas directly from farmers, many of them ethnic hill tribe families. They visit each location at least once a year and work hand in hand with them to continuously improve crops in a sustainable manner. They also stock a good range of 100% pure, freshly roasted coffees from throughout Vietnam. A small cafe allows you to take the weight off and sample some of the products before you buy. You can find Hatvala Tea and Coffee here.
Saigon Kitsch – 43 Ton That Thiep, Dist 1, Ho Chi Minh City
If you’re looking for a few souvenirs that are a little unusual and won’t break the bank, Saigon Kitsch might just be the place you seek. Specializing in reproduction propaganda items, they emblazon distinctive designs on all manner of items: T-shirts, coffee mugs, coasters, jigsaws, books, and of course a huge range of propaganda posters themselves. Click here to go to Saigon Kitsch Facebook page.
Mariamman Temple – 45 Truong Dinh
The exterior of this atmospheric Hindu complex presents awesome photo opportunities but don’t be afraid to step inside as well. Provided you’re modestly dressed and take off your shoes before you step on the raised platform, the folks here are more than happy for you to take a look around and take pictures of the intricate interior.
Fine Arts Museum (300 m) – 97 Phó Đức Chính, Nguyễn Thái Bình, District 1
The Fine Art Museum on the corner of Phu Duc Chinh and Le Thi Hong Gam is one of Saigon’s most beautiful colonial buildings and houses an impressive collection of artwork. Even if you don’t have the time, energy, or interest to view all the exhibits, it’s worth the 10 000 VND (50 cents) to get inside the building and take a few pictures of the grand spiral staircase and interior courtyard.
Unfortunately, it’s closed on Mondays, but you can still get a glimpse of the impressive exterior.
Eats and Drinks
ID Cafe (400 m) – 34D Thu Khoa Huan Street, District 1
There are hundreds of cool cafes around the city. So many of us tend to find one we love and just keep going back. ID Cafe is one of those. Set in one of the older buildings in the center of town, the unique decor in the air conditioned upstairs area creates a laid back atmosphere where you can escape from the madness outside. Good food, great coffee, and reasonable prices mean we’re happy to recommend it to our guests, knowing they won’t be disappointed.
Cafe Apartments (1.1 km) 42 Nguyễn Huệ, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
We’re in shock. We’ve heard that the government is going to shut this complex down. Aaaaahhhh! This multi-storey apartment block right on Nguyen Hue (Walking Street) is full of super cool cafes and restaurants. Our advice is to get in a visit before this Saigon institution disappears forever. Find the stairwell to the beside the large bookshop on the ground floor and wind your way up the stairs til you find something you like. The Christina’s team votes Saigon Oi, Boo Cafe, and Mango Tree as three of the best.
Bitexco Helibar Bar (800m) for the highest view in town
OK, this one’s a bit cheeky. Bitexco has a Skydeck and viewing area on the 49th floor, which they’ll hit you up 200 000 VND just for the entry. If you make your way up to the Heli Bar on the 52nd floor, however, you get an outrageously priced drink for around that or less, plus a view from three levels higher and a squiz at the helipad. To get there, head up the first set of escalators from the ground floor and look for the uniformed staff at the gates straight ahead. They’ll take you around the side to the elevators. You can only go up so far before getting out and using a second lift for the final few floors. Once in the bar, staff will pressure you to buy a drink. However, we’ve had friends who managed to lead them a merry chase, get pictures, and escape for free. Personally, I think it’s worth paying for a beer and having the freedom to hang out in the relative peace with one of the best views in town. They do have a happy hour of sorts at from 1-4 pm.
Bitexco has a Skydeck and viewing area on the 49th floor.
5 Guys Smoothies. (850 m)
Well, the Christina’s team reckon these guys have the best smoothies in Saigon. All the usual fruits are available plus a few tropical specialties – Mangosteen, Soursop and Dragon fruit. They brag that it’s 100% fruit with no extra water or sweeteners buuuuut….. we’ve seen them add a sneaky dollop of condensed milk before. Who cares? It tastes great, and for less than two bucks, you’ll get enough vitamins to fight off the flu for a decade. But don’t be expecting any swanky cafe with exemplary service. This set up is in an alley with a few plastic chairs and the attitude from the elderly staff can be downright ornery. It all adds to the atmosphere I guess, and you can always take away.
So, if the thought of entering Ben Thanh Market unescorted by an armored guard terrifies you to your toes, you now have some awesome alternative to fill in your time.
We’re happy to admit we’re not always 100% right. We’ve put the team’s reputation on the line by publishing their favs, so we want to hear your feedback. What did we miss? Where else should we be sending our guests around Ben Thanh Market? Let us know in the comments below.
But you know what? If you still do wanna check out Ben Thanh Market, then here is an ultimate guide 😉
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