Unlike Ben Thanh Market in downtown Saigon where you’ll see mostly tourists, Binh Tay Market pulsates with local energy. It’s a great place to immerse yourself in the daily life of Cholon, Vietnam’s largest Chinatown.
Chợ Bình Tây – or ‘big market’ – is at the heart of this bustling and vibrant district. One of the largest markets in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), it’s a sprawling two-storey place with thousands of vendors. You can get anything and everything here – and I mean everything!
We visited in the morning, when the atmosphere was frenetic. People were navigating the narrow aisles with trolleys piled high with goods, motorcyclists pushed their way through the crowds of traders and shoppers in the outside laneways, and people were delivering trays of steaming hot dishes to vendors in the age-old version of Uber Eats. In short — organized chaos!
The whole area is a sensory feast of sights, sounds and flavours. In the laneway at the back of the market, there is an outdoor wet market (along Phan Van Khoe Street if you’re looking for it on a map). There’s also a great food court where you can buy food to take away including Vietnamese staples such as pho, spring rolls and broken rice, as well as Chinese food such as banh bao (steamed buns).
The main entry to the indoor market is in Thap Moui Street, and although it initially looks like a rabbit warren that you could very easily get lost in, if you look above each stall you’ll see a number in large type that can be referenced against a directory showing the entire layout of the market. The numbers go up to more than 1400, although in reality (especially if you count the outdoor traders) there are many more.
Unlike Ben Thanh Market in District 1, Binh Tay mainly serves the local population. Much of the trade is wholesale or people buying in large quantities. There’s an extensive range of fresh produce including fruit, vegetables, poultry, meat and seafood from across Vietnam. Indoors you’ll find a lot of dried and preserved foods, nuts, spices, sweets, tea and coffee.
There are entire sections selling clothes, textiles, fabric, handcrafts, lacquerware, homewares, candles and incense, plastic goods, scissors, knives, aluminium. You’ll find every type of cookware imaginable, from pots and pans to utensils and dishes. There’s even a section for zinc screws!
The courtyard in the middle of the market is a perfect place to catch a breath of fresh air and get your bearings. Here you’ll see a stone altar commemorating Guangdong-born philanthropist Quach Dam (1863 – 1927), who founded the market in its present incarnation.
There’s long been a market on this site, including one constructed by the French in the 1880s, but it was Quach Dam who in the 1920s built Binh Tay Market to replace the Cho Lon Cu (‘old market’). He made his fortune from trading in rice and by the 1900s he had become one of the most successful merchants in Saigon. The altar with Quach Dam’s bust is surrounded by statues of lions and dragons. People still come here to pray for their business.
Binh Tay Market is about a 15-minute trip from downtown Ho Chi Minh City. You can get there cheaply by taxi. The best time to visit is in the morning as that’s when the locals come for breakfast and shop for fresh produce and household supplies.
The market is open from around 8am to 5pm daily, although the wet market is busy before 8am and closes earlier than the indoor traders.
When you’ve finished at the market, explore other parts of Cholon such as the Thien Hau Pagoda and the herbal medicine shops in Hai Thuong Lan Ong. They’ll give you a great insight into life in this colourful neighbourhood.
Just a few examples of what you’ll find in Binh Tay Market:
If you go:
Binh Tay Market
57 Thap Muoi, Ward 2, District 6
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Christine and Maurie visited the Binh Tay Market on a Saigon excursion courtesy of Croisi Europe and CFMekong Cruises. We travelled on the Toum Tiou II, a boutique ship with just 14 cabins. Its new Discovery itinerary includes immersive walking tours, biking, kayaking, sampan/rowing boat/motorboat experiences and optional vespa tours.