11:22 02/11/2013 The 45 minutes journey with bus 152 undeniably gave us a good preface of Saigon. But it doesn’t just end there. Right after disembarking from the bus terminal, armed with overnight backpacks and incessant craving for Pho Bo. We bravely crossed and took a refuge at the roundabout where a hero in equestrian (Tran Nguyen) mounted on a pedestal sheltered us against the Vietnamese Sun. We’re both entangled on the brick field while figuring out how to outsmart those hundreds of motorcycles plying the road endlessly. At the time being we shifted our attention to the cream facade structure and waited for a miracle to happen.
We may deem it as life threatening ordeal but overcoming it gave us a sense of achievement. Crossing and keeping thyself one piece in Saigon wasn’t an easy feat. No matter how experience we are. Still, Saigon made us a newbie, and embrace this mantra “how to stay alive crossing the roads of Ho Chi Minh”.
|Facade of Ben Thanh Market Saigon
Sheer of joy emanates from our faces gazing that facade of Ben Thanh Market at an oblique view. Constantly we felt belongingness and the force to come through. Universe brought us here and shall pocket emptying ritual begin.
We only trade 100 ringgit at the airport just for miscellaneous expenses, knowing the exchange rate was on the losing end. We change the remaining bills at the left wing entrance of Ben Thanh Market. We forgot the name but their rates was relatively high, quite a steal. Just beware of the beggars though, they’re so persistent and can be annoying. Please check the map below for exact location.
Shop Shop and Shop
After converting our hard earned ringgits to Million Dongs, we’re ready to hunt and bargain. Inside Ben Thanh Market was a lane of shop, stalls and eateries.
Just we get in from main entrance an array of textile shops welcomed us. It offers high class silk cloth, custom tailored dresses, intricately designed wears and of course souvenir shirts.
We roam around inside the market for at least 10 minutes to familiar the place and shortlisting some stalls as well. Then we found some interesting shops that are worth spending with.
With Dongs on hand, it’s quite challenging not to mentally calculate the prices in RM or in Pesos. The best way to ask price would be in USD. This avoid confusion and miscalculation.
Compare it to SEA standard, most of the prices at Ben Thanh are inflated two or three times which put our haggling skills into test. Normally we asked 50% drop of the regular price, not because we’re cheapskate. But it’s one way of testing on how much a real price should be.
After navigating the market couple of times, we found out there are two different type of shops in Ben Market. One that sells Fixed Price and no way you can bargain. While other one was the regular stalls which you can bargain.
To test which one have a better run to our Dongs. On a regular shop, a souvenir shirt costs around 3.75USD (80,000 Dong) while on Fixed price shop it’s only 2.35USD (50,000 Dong). Obviously a 60% marked up. But fixed price shops mostly sells Traditional Saigon Dresses and souvenir stuff.
We got Non la (traditional Vietnamese hat) for 30,000 Dong at Fixed price shop and some souvenir items on discounted price.
|Coffee Dung Bean from Civet
If your’e a coffee lover then you’ll already know that Vietnam is the second largest producer in the world after Brazil. Being the forefront of coffee producer in Asia, undoubtedly they have the finest collections of different beans. Most of them can be found in Ben Thanh Market.
We’re both in ecstasy after seeing all kind of coffee beans on different stall. Not just the regular one but also to the expensive Luwak or Civet Coffees.
|Summer haggling to get good price for Civet Coffee beans
There are dozen of stalls that specializes coffee inside Ben Thanh market. Most of them had standardized the price but still it’s better to scout and compare them. We committed a mistake by purchasing a pricey civet coffee at the first stall we bump.
Good thing we didn’t spend a lot on the first purchase, so we still have few Dongs to buy another quarter kilo of Civet Coffee. We’d find the second store more reliable compare to the former. Since we got to chance to sniff and inspected the beans prior being grounded. We’re able to save at least 3 USD compare to the first. It also comes with a free Vietnamese stainless steel single coffee filter. Hooray!
The incessant craving didn’t fade and it keeps lingering every time we passed by on those noodle shops. After tiring ourselves from bargain hunting, it’s time to reward our tummy with Pho Bo.
Pho Bo is a famous Vitnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs and beef meat. We’d been anticipating to try this dish even before we fly to Vietnam. But lo and behold, the noodle soup didn’t go well with our taste bud. It was so-so and felt like we’re eating an instant noodle soup. It was disappointing, sigh!
We tried the flavorful looking Fried pork noodles which turn as an average. Maybe we’d set high expectation on these foods or we’re not just on the right mood to eat. This first Vietnamese cuisine encounter doesn’t lose our proclivity though.
After emptying our pockets and let downed with noodle dishes at Ben Thanh Market. We found something that we knew we’ll be coming back. Teehee. That’s for now.
Sky and Summer