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Binh Tay Market in Chinatown, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam

Who else loves visiting markets?

When I was in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), I heard and read a lot about the famous Ben Thanh Market.

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And as good, and worthwhile, as Ben Thanh Market was to explore, there’s another market, a little further out of the touristy area of town, within Saigon’s Chinatown, that I liked even better.

Binh Tay Market (known in Vietnamese as Chợ Bình Tây) is one of the major markets in Saigon. It’s the dominant business hub and attraction in Cholon, Saigon’s Chinatown.

Visiting markets, because it directly relates to food (and eating), is always one of the top things I look forward to doing when I travel, so I was extremely excited to visit Binh Tay Market one day when I was in Saigon… and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

This post is about everything I did and saw at the market, and some of the temples I visited as well.


Exploring Cholon (Chợ Lớn) – Chinatown in SaigonCholon (Chợ Lớn) – Chinatown in Saigon

Unlike Chinatown in Bangkok or Manila, or even in other places around the world like Honolulu or London, Chinatown in Saigon isn’t all that praised, or recognized as a real main area of Saigon to visit.

One of the reasons I guess, is because Cholon is actually so huge, that it takes up half of District 5 – it’s not one of those cute and condensed little Chinatowns, with flashing lights and Chinese signs, like in some other cities – and it doesn’t even have a real main “Chinatown looking,” street.

Instead Cholon (Chợ Lớn) is a sprawling section of Saigon, where life rapidly flows, and because all of Saigon has so much Chinese influence already, it really sort of blends into other parts of the city.

While there are many markets within Cholon, Binh Tay is the central market – the largest and distribution hub for all things food and clothes in the area.

The market, along with a few scattered temples, are the main draws for visiting Chinatown in Saigon.


Binh Tay Market store layout chartSections of the Binh Tay Market

There are a few different parts to visiting Binh Tay Market: the outside wet market street, and the inside section of the market.

If you look at map layout closely (see photo above), you’ll see that the numbers, which are stalls in the market, go up the 600’s!

I’m not sure if all numbers starting at 1 are included, but I can say there are hundreds of stalls in the markets – it’s literally a maze of clothes and fabric, and there’s even a park and shrine in the center.

But before I get started with the inside of the market, I’ll begin with some photos of the outdoor market street, located to the side and behind the market. That’s where I began my exploration of Binh Tay as soon as I arrived in the morning.


The outdoor wet market was one of my favorite partsOutdoor wet market

If you’re a lover of fresh wet markets, like I certainly am, the lanes outside of the back of Binh Tay Market, mostly along Phan Van Khoe street, will fulfill all your senses.

I got the tip to visit the wet market in the morning from Robyn Eckhardt over at Eating Asia.


Vietnamese markets are always exciting

The market, which I believe is only open in the morning, from probably 5 am or so until it wraps up around 8 or 9 am, is filled with all fresh ingredients you can imagine used to cook Vietnamese and Chinese food.


Selling meat along Phan Van Khoe street

I arrived at about 8 am, so I honestly was a little on the late side, but luckily the market was still thriving, and though it was still chaotic and energetic, I would guess it to be even busier a little earlier – like from 6 am – 7 am or so.


Seeing loads on motorbikes never gets old

As soon as I stepped onto Phan Van Khoe street, that beautiful organized chaos of Vietnamese markets overwhelmed me, and made feel right at home.

Other than sitting down to eat, there’s nothing I enjoy more than visiting wet fresh markets – it’s not only an opportunity to see what ingredients go into cooking, but also to observe the local culture.


Some fresh fish behind Binh Tay MarketI ended up walking back and forth a number of times, taking lots of photos and videos, and stopping every now and then to see unique ingredients or say hello to one of the many friendly vendors.


Vietnam’s colorful producd

The market included a mixture of meat and seafood of all kinds, plus plenty of fruit and vegetable vendors scattered along the street, some selling off tables, others just selling off tarps on the ground.


A lady selling mackerel – one of my favorites

The market, with its eclectic mix of ingredients and energy, reminded me of both the amazing street food markets in Yangon and in also the interesting Chinese morning market in Kolkata.


Some deep fried fish cakes for takeaway

Along with all the fresh colorful assortment of ingredients, there were also stalls selling pre-cooked food, most of which was for takeaway eating.


A friendly lady in Saigon

I’m not a big desserts eater, in fact, I barely ever seek out sweet things to eat.

But while walking around and stopping to take photos, a lady caught my attention, smiled at me, and asked me to take her photo.


A small bag of a dessert called bap

After taking her photo, I was just peeking around at what she was selling, and though everything she sold was Vietnamese desserts, I decided to purchase a little bag of something she called “bap.”

The bag of dessert cost just 5,000 Vietnamese Dong ($0.19), and after buying for takeaway I sampled it when we sat down for breakfast a little while later.

It tasted very similar to something you’d find in Thailand – later found out it was corn with sticky rice, combined with thick coconut cream.


Cruising through Saigon’s Binh Tay MarketBinh Tay Market food court

After exploring the outside wet market for at least an hour, I was hot and sweaty, and I all I wanted to do was take a break and sit down for some food and drink.


Chinese roast meat is always tempting

Luckily, positioned at the back end of Binh Tay Market, is a beautiful food court, which includes a long line of vendors.

Many sell takeaway food, or food to deliver to other markets sellers, but most have a few small tables, or bar countertops, where you can slurp down some delicious food on spot.


There were also many fresh meat vendors near the food court

Within the same food court section, there were also some fresh meat vendors, and some Chinese sausage vendors as well. I guess the meat served at the food court was nice and fresh.


I chose to sit down for breakfast here

After making multiple loops around the food court, contemplating what delicious Vietnamese food I wanted to eat, I finally settled on a stall that was one of busiest, located on the far right hand side (while facing the food court entrance).


Delicious plate of noodles and beef at Binh Tay Market

Breakfast – mì gói xào bò

I ordered up the special, a plate of curly noodles topped with stir fried beef mixed with a few onions, peppers, and bean sprouts, and finally topped with a sprinkle of black pepper and cilantro.

I’m not a huge fan of instant noodles, and I actually didn’t know I was ordering stir fried instant noodles when I ordered this, but since I ordered it, I decided to enjoy it anyways.

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Though they were instant noodles, I have to admit, they were very tasty. And the beef, which was sautéed in oil and soy sauce, was tender, and delicious.


View of the market from the coutryardIndoor section of Binh Tay Market

After a great breakfast at the food court, and a cup of coffee to wash it down, I was ready to start walking around the indoor section of Binh Tay Market.

The small courtyard in the middle of the market is a great place to get your bearings and proceed in a desired direction. It’s also a nice place to catch a breath of fresh air from the tightly packed stalls and alleys of the market.


Snack station within the market

Within the lanes of Binh Tay Market, it was surprisingly quiet and peaceful – though I’m sure when it’s really busy it can be a bit hectic with other shoppers and people delivering this and that.

But compared to the outside fresh wet market, inside was calm and sleepy, and many vendors just sort of hung out and waited for customers.


Dried squid for sale in Saigon

You’ll find just about everything food-wise you can imagine within the market, but mostly the dried and preserved types of ingredients, rather than fresh ingredients (which are available at the market outside).

I was amazed at the vast quantity of nuts and dried fruits available. Being a lover of nuts, I was highly tempted to buy a few kilos of cashews and almonds, but ended up not getting anything.


Cheaper than Ben Thanh Market

There were all sorts of interesting Vietnamese and Chinese ingredients, from spices to dried seafood to herbs and snacks.

From what I saw, the prices seemed to be quite a bit lower than the prices I noticed at Ben Thanh Market for the same things.

So if you plan on doing a lot of food shopping when you’re in Saigon, you’ll probably want to make it a point to get to Binh Tay Market.


What type of face mask would you like?

Along with dried food and spices, the markets was well stocked with hundreds of vendors selling every type of Vietnamese clothing you could ever want.

If you’re looking for face masks, with everything from polka dots to Burberry, you’re in luck.

There were also numerous stores stashed high with every type of Vietnamese cookware imaginable, from pots and pans to dishes and utensils. If I had more space, I would have definitely purchased some cookware to bring back to Thailand with me.


After the market, we did a bit of exploringAround Cholon (Chợ Lớn)

After spending a few hours wandering though the colorful packed lanes of Binh Tay Market, and cruising through both floors and countless little passageways, I was ready to move on and explore a few of the other attractions in Cholon.

Because Saigon’s Chinatown is so spread out, and since the city doesn’t exactly have nice wide pedestrian sidewalk system, it’s not all that convenient to walk around.

But I like to walk, so I decided to walk to some of the famous temples and churches in Cholon – but you could alternatively jump in a taxi or on the back of a motorbike.


Cha Tam Church (Nhà thờ Cha Tam)Cha Tam Church (Nhà thờ Cha Tam)

Located within Cholon, is Cha Tam Church, and it took me about 15 minutes to walk there from the market.

The Catholic church is famous for being the place where Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of South Vietnam, was arrested.


Peeking inside Cha Tam church in Saigon, Vietnam

According to the article by Lonely Planet, the church is still used frequently, and has a congregation of both Vietnamese and Chinese, with services held daily.

It’s not the most fascinating church to visit, but if you happen to be exploring Cholon, it’s not a bad place to take a rest from the busy streets outside.


Phuoc An Hoi QuanPhuoc An Hoi Quan

Moving on, I continued walking to Phuoc An Hoi Quan, a Chinese Taoist temple, located right along the busy Hong Bang street.

The view from the street made it looks like just an average temple with an old entrance, and it really didn’t look like there was going to be much inside – it actually almost looked like someone’s home.


Ornate decorations inside the templ

But as soon as I stepped inside, the room opened into an incredibly ornate and decorated hall, with red and gold Chinese characters filling the pillars and walls.


The main shrine inside the temple

The Phuoc An Hoi Quan temple was quiet, and peaceful, and it made another good off-the-beaten-path stop off.


Outside Thien Hau Temple (Chùa Bà Thiên Hậu) in Saigon, VietnamThien Hau Temple (Chùa Bà Thiên Hậu)

For my final stop in Saigon’s Chinatown, I headed over to the well known Thien Hau Temple, another Taoist temple in Saigon. There are many Thien Hau temples around the world, I actually visited one in Kuala Lumpur as well.

From the outside, the temple looked incredibly old and dark from years of being weathered.


Shrine to the Toaist goddess Mazu

Inside, it was much larger than Phuoc An Hoi Quan, and not nearly as ornate with gold, although it was still well decorated.

At the front of the temple was the main shrine, dedicated to the Taoist goddess Mazu.


Inside Thien Hau temple in Saigon, Vietnam

In front of the main shrine at Thien Hau Temple was a courtyard filled with burning incense, and dozens of incense coils hanging from the ceiling, slowly burning and smoking.

The entire temple seemed to be rising in smoke.


Incense burning at Thien Hau temple

Some people that visited the temple offered sticks of incense, while others purchased the big coils, lit them, and hung them from the ceiling.


Sculptures in the facades

Another part of Thien Hau Temple that was interesting to see were the intricately carved sculptures within the top facades of the building.

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The colorful scenes had been black-washed by years of incense smoke.


Visting Cholon and Binh Tay Market is one of the best things to do when you’re in Saigon!

If you have a few minutes, make sure you watch the full video exploring Binh Tay Market – it was one of the highlights of my trip to Saigon!

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