Built around the 18th century, Cholon has been an enduring symbol in the city and has had enormous influence on the city and how it turns out. Let’s dive into one of the quarter’s central areas: Binh Tay Market!
Saigon is an interesting city which blends together the old and the new in a giant melting pot. As you travel around the city, you might come across not only giant sprawling skyscrapers, but also quaint and petite corners where the scents of yore still lingered on the time-washed walls. Whether you are looking for wild adventures that you will cherish for a lifetime or a slow stroll through an ancient quarter filled with memories, Saigon has everything that will surprise you at every of its corners. And as you explore the city, don’t forget to visit Binh Tay Market, the epicenter of the largest Chinatown in Vietnam.
Overview of Binh Tay Market
Let’s clear up one big confusion first. Many locals often use the name Cholon (meaning “Big market” in Vietnamese) to refer to Binh Tay Market. But actually Cholon Quarter represents the whole Chinatown in Ho Chi Minh City, and Binh Tay Market is the most outstanding mark of this area.
Binh Tay Market is the center of the Cholon Quarter. Originally, it was not the designated central market of the region. That title belonged to another market on Nguyen Trai Street. Unfortunately, the market was burned down in a raging fire, and another market, Binh Tay Market, was chosen to be its successor.
Even before it was chosen to be the successor of the old Cholon, Binh Tay Market had already been quite famous in the region. Boasting a synthesis between French design and Chinese architecture, the market is the biggest of its kind in the city, occupying as many as four blocks. The market itself has quite an interesting history. It was not built by any officials or any governmental agencies, but rather by a man called Quach Dam, a rich Vietnamese-Chinese in the French-colonial days, and it was through his investment that the market came to be in 1928. Interestingly, Mr. Dam gave away the deed to the market to local officials, who officially inaugurated it in 1930. In return, he would only ask for a few plots of land and for his statue to be erected in the middle of the market. To this day, the statue of Mr. Quach Dam still stands proudly at Binh Tay Market.
Binh Tay Market is a wholesale market, so it’s extremely different from Ben Thanh Market, which has become a tourist attraction. Its shopkeepers will almost never pester you to buy their wares. In fact, most of them would not pay much attention to you unless you have asked them something! This makes the market the perfect spot to go on a stroll if you want to dig deeper into Cholon’s rich history and Chinese-Vietnamese’ cultural heritages.
Things to do in Binh Tay Market
Contrary to popular belief, there are actually quite a lot of things you can do when you are here. If you have already known awesome things to do in District 1 Ho Chi Minh City then here are some of the most exciting activities you can enjoy when wandering Binh Tay Market in the Chinatown.
♦ Appreciate fine architecture
It probably isn’t an exaggeration to say that the market’s architecture is a wonder to behold. The market has seen numerous renovations over the course of its existence, but the core French-Chinese architecture is still quite evident, especially on details such as the roof, the central clock tower, etc. If you are an aesthete who wants to understand Chinese influence on modern architecture, a stroll around the market is a must-have on your itinerary.
♦ Relish in local dishes
Though Binh Tay Market deals mostly with wholesale goods, you can definitely find a lot of culinary delights as you explore the area. The market specializes in Chinese dishes including different types of noodles, but there are also good Pho stalls in the area as well. If you have a sweet tooth, you should definitely not miss out on Che, which is a kind of local sweet soup.
Of course, every gourmet must savor one of the best delicacies to have originated from China: Dimsums. Dimsums are widely sold in the market, and there are so many types of Dimsums here that it can be difficult to eat everything in just one sitting. Special mentions will go to local Har Gow and Jiaoxi. Always order them when you try out Dimsums!
♦ Shop like a local at the wet market
For foreigners, the sight of a wet market might be an unfamiliar one, but it’s actually quite an interesting place to be if you are looking for an authentic local experience. Wet markets sell all sorts of animal products such as meat, seafood, fish, etc., and because some animals are still alive at the time you buy them, the meats in the market are guaranteed to be fresh ones. If you are looking to make the perfect local dinner for your traveler friends or local friends, Binh Tay Market is the best place to get fresh ingredients.
Insider tips when you are in Binh Tay Market
Exploring Binh Tay Market is an extremely rewarding experience, but you have to take notice of a few things so that your experience does not end up being ruined.
»» The market opens at 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM daily, but the wet market only opens from 5:00 AM to 9:00 AM
»» As a tourist, you should take the bus to the market to save costs. The bus lines you could take are No. 07, No. 145, No. 68, No. 94. See more here.
»» There have been cases of pickpockets in the area, so it’s important to take precautions
»» It’s best to go with your travel companions for the fullest experience
»» Remember to bargain, as you might get an amazing deal from the vendors
Among the most iconic areas in Saigon, Binh Tay Market will probably stand out as an awe-inspiring destination with its own characteristics. If you are interested in the city’s Chinese heritage, then it would be a great idea to include this amazing destination on your full-day Ho Chi Minh City tour!
© Viet Nguyen written for Maika Tours
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