Shopping in Saigon - A Brave New World

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Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City
July 4th 2005
Published: August 9th 2005EDIT THIS ENTRY

Ben Thanh Night MarketBen Thanh Night MarketBen Thanh Night Market

Great place to walk around and check out the diff. outdoor night cafes/food stalls
This entry is dedicated to shopping in Vietnam's most cosmopolitan city.
To my consternation, every travel blog/book I've skim on HCMC cops out
on giving me the skinny on where to go for the good stuff.
It's like all the writing assignments on shopping were assigned to grizzly, fifty-year-old men.
I don't want to be directed to stores that my grandmother would love!

My passion? Shoes. Bags. Food. Shoes. Bags. Sense the pattern here?
I'm here to shop till I drop, take advantage of the dong, and go where the natives are.

Just beware if you're looking for a guide on luxe-brand shopping here, you've come to the wrong place. I'm not that kinda girl.
This entry is dedicated to bargain shoppers around the world who don't mind hustlin' through some Indiana-Jones shenanigans to get their hands on a pretty object. Expect sweat, blood, some tears (croc, of course), and alotta negotiating.


Another thing about shopping in markets, be certain of your purchase because
there are NO RETURNS. So inspect the seams, zippers, check for marks/stains on
the fabric, etc. You might be surprised by what you find.
One out
Rush Hour TrafficRush Hour TrafficRush Hour Traffic

In District 1, everyone rushes home after 5 o'clock
of three times, I catch shoddy workmanship and either ask for another copy or a different item.
In Vietnam and in Hong Kong, I know that in polite shopping ettiquette, when one requests to see an item that implies to the vendor that the shopper intends to buy it.
Now, that's not me telling you to buy everything you inspect.
But, please don't be a bitch and insist to try everything on when you didn't have any urge to seriously buy one thing.
Just be considerate.
Rarely in the marketplace can you try on an item. You have to ask and sometimes the shopclerk can hold a sheet to shield you but often not.
Be prepared to strip to your skivvies to try on some jeans, skirts, etc. So wear something you can slip on-off. Don't be like me and wear jeans that clam to you when the temp. hits 90deg.

Here are some good shop rules to abide by:
1) Know your size.
In Vietnam, they use European measurements for pants, shorts, etc.
I'm a size 4-5 US but here I'm a 31. Oftentimes, some shops don't carry sizes over 30.

2) Never settle for the first

It is necessary to rest often and replenish your body's energy. Shopping in Saigon can be exhausting.
A lot of the times, nearby stalls carry the identical items and are willing to bargain with you since they know their competitors are a few feet away. And most times, you might find something better down the line. Trust me on this. If you follow this rule, you can avoid buyer's remorse.

3) Don't buy the asking price.
Rule for bargaining is give yourself a hefty discount, start at like 40% off. Start low, go up from there. Walk away if you have to. Or come back a day later if its an item you really want.
Tip: Negotiating leverage can be easier to achieve if you buy in bulk, say in pairs, threes.
Note: This is not to be heartless. You can afford to haggle with the busy city vendors since they see a busy stream of traffic. If they won't get a big score off you, then somebody else. Otherwise, lay off haggling from those who really need the money, like the single mother selling fruit on the street.

4) Don't trust prices given in US dollars.
Some vendors who know you're a tourist jack up their prices by giving you the “dollar equivalent”

Courtesy of EBAY, here's an example of a fake LV pochette. There's alotta knockoffs in Saigon. Notice the fake tag.
of the product's price in dong. Insist on knowing the dong price. To calculate the conversion, just divide the product's price by 15,000 (1 $USD = $15,000d roughly.
Ex: A lacquer tray that costs 50,000d is slightly more then $4 .
My mom caught this poor helpless American tourist trying to buy jewelry at Ben Thanh. The vendor named all his prices in dollars and the guy had no way of knowing he was being ripped off till my mom intervened for him.

5) When buying shoes in the marketplace, don't sit down.
Me being a shoe aficionado, I love inspecting the wares. However, one manuever that vendors do is if they see you eyeing a pair, they'll politely insist for you to sit on their stool so you can be comfortable. A nice gesture but a cunning way for them to keep you awkwardly glued to their spot while they do a fast sales pitch to you.
Be vigilant, stand. Its easier to bargain eye-to-eye and make a polite getaway versus doing so while awkwardly balanced on a stool, surrounded by shopclerks.

6) Smile.
Friendliness is a universal language understood by everyone. Politeness goes a long way
Dance OffDance OffDance Off

My cousin, so psyched to play Pump It Up, a Korean dance game similar to Dance Dance Revolution (DDR). This miniarcade is located inside Anh Dong Plaza, the ritzy cousin to Anh Dong Market.
and vendors have a long memory when it comes to tourists who visit their stalls. If you're in town for awhile and like a particular stall, you may be able to score future discounts by befriending the market vendors if you keep bringing repeat business.


Ben Thanh Marketplace
The ground zero of shopping in Saigon.
It didn't hurt that Ben Thanh (sometimes seen spelled as Binh Thanh) was blocks away from my hotel. Located in District 1, Ben Thanh is a short taxi-cab away from the main tour sites in Saigon. Housed in a huge, cavernous open-air building, this place bustles with people all day, everyday. If you can, avoid this place during the mid-afternoon on weekends, where the sun is hottest and sweaty people are cramming through aisles.
Ben Thanh is great for stocking up on souvenier gifts.
Ladies, if you love silk purses, ethnic print coinpurses, embroidered bags, satin slippers, throws, carved figurines, etc. you will feel at home here.
Ben Thanh also carries women and men's clothes but you have to carry a very good eye for fashion. Vietnamese street fashion isn't up to par yet to Hong Kong's scene or
Somewhere NearbySomewhere NearbySomewhere Nearby

This cathedral is a really, really nice shopping mall. A/C, escalators, and most importantly, really nice and free restrooms. Plus, a foodcourt.
There is some good stuff but you have to hunt for it. But compared to other marketplaces, Ben Thanh has better stock.
Ben Thanh is also great for stocking on dishware: bamboo-pressed display bowls, wooden bowls, lacquer trays, yadda yadda. Luggage is also heavily sold here whether they be backpacks to duffold bags to liner trunks.
Best score: Shoes.
Ben Thanh was the It Place when it came to shoe-shopping.
Don't expect Mahnolo Blahnik high heels here. For whatever reason, Vietnamese women don't wear pumps. Instead, you'll find a lot of decorated flipflops, sandals, slip-ons, mules, platforms, and slingbacks, among others.
I found the best pair of silk kitty-heel slippers with silk/sequined embroidery on them for $10. Back home, these type of fashionable slippers go around $40. Here, I got 2 of them.

Surprise score:
The last thing I expected to buy in Vietnam were baby clothes for my one-year-old niece. But lo-and-behold, I found a few vendors carrying lovely sets of baby clothing from newborns to toddlers. I'm a picky person so I was only going to pick clothes that would meet up to my standards (ie, can I let my niece be seen wearing this outside

Or...consumerism. The people have made it clear that they prefer to vote with their pockets. The only political things I saw here were either propaganda posters and uniformed traffic officers.
her house?). To our delight, we scored with lotsa cute sundresses that would have cost a bundle back home.

Food Court: Ben Thanh also has a decent foodcourt in its midst. To sip on a cool drink and rest your feet, stop by a drink stall to get an icy fruit shake called “sinh to”
(pronounced sin-toe). Delicious stuff that comes in various fruits like strawberries (sinh to dau - pronounced sin-toe yow), pineapple, durian, mango, etc.
Every night around 6:30pm, Ben Thanh closes but just outside it, a block of food stalls/outdoor cafes open up along with a smaller nightmarket. Keep an eye out for scooter traffic but you can score decent dinners at these al fresco places.

Anh Dong Marketplace
The second best marketplace in Saigon located in District 3. While Ben Thanh gets all the attention from tourists, Anh Dong is a great place if you want to get away from the constant hustle-bustle of Ben Thanh. I personally found it a less hassling experience. Anh Dong is located near District 5 and a lot of its vendors are ethnic Chinese, like my family.We went to Anh Dong to see if we can score off better selection of clothes and jewelry as oftentimes, Chinese vendors can get merchandise through connections in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. We were not disappointed.
Anh Dong has about 3 different floors dedicated to various items. The second floor housed clothing.
Best Score: My mom and I scored with these faux-silk embroidered pajamas/negligees sets: silk spaghetti-top tanks including bottoms. These are the best PJs I've owned ever and they are beautiful, they make me feel glamorous compared to the usual cotton boxers I wear to sleep.
Surprise Score: Winterwear.
In a tropical climate, nonetheless. On the third floor, one can find a section dedicated to heavy wool coats, windbreakers, motorcycle jackets, warm-up jackets, etc. I actually found some stylish feminine lightweight motorcycle jackets that you would expect to find at Bebe or Urban Outfitters. These are a hit among young 20somethingyearold Vietnamese girls—you'll see them clad in them as they whizz by on scooters.

Anh Dong also has a good selection on denims. My cousin scored imitation Citizens for Humanity jeans here. I scored with imitation D&G and Express jeans. I don't think Vietnam has any local jean brands, all the ones I've seen carried knockoff labels.

Anh Dong Plaza
Right next to Anh Dong is a slightly more upscale indoor mall with glass doors and most importantly, A/C! This marketplace mall carries better selection on somethings, like watches, but also has slightly higher prices for its wares.
Good selection of denims here also. I recommend people to stop by even if its just a break from the heat. Also, one of the better knockoff stores is located here.

Knockoffs Galore

What is a trip into Asia worth witout a sidenote on knockoffs?
From personal experience in New York's Chinatown, I've seen my fair share of good and bad designer knockoffs and their prices but I didn't know what to expect in Saigon. Right now, I am obsessed with certain brands, right now its Louis Vuitton and Gucci (insert groan here). I heard somewhere that Vietnam has not signed the international copyright treaty that most countries, including Europe and the US, have. Therefore, all designer items are up-for-grabs for copycatting.
What I've found is knockoffs everywhere in marketplaces. Unlike Chinatown, these places display their wares openly and without shame. For handbags, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Gucci, Chanel, and Fendi were the most common I saw, occasionally I saw Coach, Prada and Kate Spade. For men's belts and wallets, I saw Armani and Versace also.
For the most part, here I've seen really, really bad knockoffs to average. I must say that New York's Chinatown has the best selection and copycat consistency to the original design.
However, if you keep an open eye and know your design stuff, you can score some good deals. In New York, most knockoff bags go around $40USD but here, you can score a bag for at least $20, so if you favor a designer name, go online, look at the latest season designs so you know what to look out for.
The absolute worst thing you can do here is buy a “designer” bag from a place that insists its real. Some wannabe upscale boutiques post up designer logos on their storefronts and say they are authentic vendors of Gucci, Fendi, Prada, etc. However, more times then not, they're carrying knockoffs from China. One way to know? Designer bags never, never never put tags on their bags, they also brand their serial numbers inside.
Yet, there are good fakes that also include serial numbers and provide dustbags. The only way you can guarantee its a real is if you bought it from the actual designer store.
Here's a site that can tell how you can spot a Fake Louis Vuitton: Fake Louis Vuittons
My Poupette
It has great comments and photos of actual fakes.

Diamond Plaza
In the Central Business District, this indoor mall carries designer and western brand goods such as Esprit, Lacoste, Calvin Klein and more. The mall has several floors and one can find an Internet kiosk here if you need one. I found it hard to find any Internet cafes along the main streets of the CBD so Diamond Plaza is your best shot.
On the first floor, there is a cosmetics section that carries American and European names with makeup counters and attentive salesgirls on call. Recalling, I think I saw Chanel, Lancome, and even Cover Girl and Maybelline (which is hilarious since CG and M are drugstore brands).
For souveniers, the quality of handicrafts are nicer if you want to take a look.

In the CBD, there's another shopping mall, not as nice as Diamond Plaza, but I believe its called Tax Mall (not to be confused with the one near Rex Hotel), I don't know why its called Tax Mall since taxes aren't mentioned anywhere but it carries clothing goods, watches, souveniers, and also knockoff DVDs.

Mall across from Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office - It might be called Zen Plaza? (District 1)
Can't recall the name of this spot but its pretty large and carries large department store posters on it. However, this is the nicest and cleanest shopping mall in Saigon and could rival to ones back home. Carries designer goods such as perfumes, handbags, clothing, and has a mall foodcourt. The place is expensive but if you want to peek around, find a clean restroom break, and/or take a break for a drink, this is an easy place to spot.


18th November 2008

Thank you for your info
We are going to Saigon on Friday for a week. Thank you for your great info. I'll check out the shopping places you recommended.

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