As the old saying goes, “Do as the locals do”; in Vietnam, that means spending time at your local market. Whether it’s perusing the fresh produce on offer, haggling for the best price on the catch of the day, browsing through beautiful silks, or enjoying a banh xeo (a rice pancake with pork or shrimp, onion, and bean sprouts) with a friend, Vietnam’s markets have it all. After all, where better to experience authentic Vietnamese culture than in the beating, bustling heart of its community? If a trip to Vietnam is in your future, make sure a visit to the local market is on your “must-do” list. Here is our list of the top six Vietnam markets to start you off.
1: Hoi An Central Market, Hoi An
Hours: Daily, 6:30am – 8:30pm
Location: Nguyen Hue and Tran Phu on the Thu Bon River
Hoi An sits close to the mouth of the Thu Bon River on Vietnam’s central coast. Thanks to well-preserved architecture dating back some 600 years, its Ancient City section is a UNESCO World Heritage Listed site, replete with Chinese, Japanese, and French colonial influences. Here you can find Hoi An’s famous central market.
Things get started quite early, starting at around 4 am or 5 am with the arrival of a fleet of fishing boats carrying the night’s catch. This is an exciting scene to witness; if you can get yourself out of bed, it’s well worth it to see all manner of fresh fish, sharks, crabs, and prawns unloaded on the docks in preparation for sale.
Meanwhile, other market vendors fill their stalls with fresh produce, meat, poultry (make sure you’re prepared for the live ducks and chickens), and loads of delicious street food. Try Hoi An’s signature dish, cao lau (rice noodles with marinated pork, vegetables, and soup), or mi quang (soup quail eggs, shrimp, and pork), each for the bargain price of about $1.50.
Bear in mind that the market can get quite crowded, messy, and fragrant. Be sure to wear closed-toe shoes that can tolerate a wet floor, and whether you go for the fishing boat arrival or not, a morning visit is preferable — your nose will thank you. If things get too smelly, head over to the east side for a browse through the large textile shed. Here, you will find a selection of beautiful silks and textiles to explore — a perfect way to complete a busy shopping excursion.
2: Old Quarter Weekend Night Market, Hanoi
Hours: Friday through Sunday, 7 pm – 11 pm
Location: Hang Dao Street, Old Quarter, Hanoi
Hanoi’s Weekend Night Market is a favorite with locals and tourists alike. Known for its decorative lights, great street food, and festive crowds, the market is as much a party as it is a shopping opportunity.
Local culinary treats include bun thang (rice vermicelli soup with shredded chicken, fried egg, and pork), cha ca la vong (turmeric-infused grilled fish), and bun cha (rice noodles served with grilled pork). Don’t forget that ice cold beer to go with. During holidays and festival times, the market also includes traditional Vietnamese music and dance performances, adding to the scene. Just be sure and look out for the motor scooters that the Vietnamese often use to get around; despite the crowds, they are everywhere.
While it’s possible to find authentic Vietnamese souvenirs here, it typically requires digging through the t-shirts, shoes, sunglasses, and various other touristy mementos that are also on offer. Best to savor the scene and entertainment and go elsewhere for gifts.
3: Dong Ba Market, Hue
Hours: Daily, 3 am – 8 pm
Location: Tran Hung Dao Street
Traditional Hue banh khoi (Source: Shutterstock / Aloha Abroad)
Once the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty, Hue has some of the most captivating historic attractions in Vietnam, including its market. Housed in a massive, low-slung grey building on the banks of the Perfume River, the market is shopping central for household items, clothing, fresh produce, and fish. This is another community, however, that likes to get a jump on its daily shopping with a slumber-jolting start time of 3 am. And while you don’t have to be there at the open, as with all Vietnamese markets, the earlier the better to avoid the large crowds.
Of course, a warm breakfast of traditional Vietnamese phô (noodle soup with beef or chicken) or banh khoi (a stuffed omelet, known as a “Hue pancake”) and spring rolls make the getting up well worth it.
4: Quang Ba Flower Market, Hanoi
Hours: Daily, 2 am – 12 pm
Location: Au Co Street, Tay Ho, Hanoi
After visiting the first two markets, you’re probably used to getting up early. For this one, we almost recommend not going to bed at all. The staggeringly aromatic Quang Ba Flower Market opens up at 2 am and closes at a relatively early noon. It offers the perfect transition to lunch and a nap, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
At Quang Ba, you will find row upon row of daisies, cherry blossoms, roses, orchids, and sunflowers sourced from local villages such as Dong Ahn, Soc Son, Me Linh, Dalat, and Nhat Tan. Flowers can be sold separately or arrayed in bouquets for very reasonable prices. Expect the market to be busy, especially during Vietnam’s annual Tet Festival, marking the lunar new year. Ready for lunch? Adjacent to the market there are a variety of stalls with great lunch options. How about a bit of banh xeo (pork, shrimp, and vegetables wrapped in a warm rice pancake), washed down with a cup of vanilla-tinged lotus tea? Ahh.
5: Cholon Chinatown Market (Binh Tay Market), Ho Chi Min City
Hours: Daily, 7 am – 6 pm
Location: 57 Thap Muoi, District 6, Ho Chi Min City
Built by the French in the center of Vietnam’s largest Chinatown district, the Binh Tay Market is housed in a massive Chinese/French-influenced building with a lotus flower-styled roof, a belfry, and a handful of clocks. With two floors, 12 entrances, and over 2,000 stalls, this one can keep you busy for a while. Aside from fresh meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables, this market is known for its handicrafts – especially lacquerware and an extensive array of textiles.
Ho Chi Min City is known for its high humidity and large crowds – generally not a great combination. No worries. Head out to the central open air courtyard for a respite and a bit of a snack. Try the banh bao (a Vietnamese version of dim sum that contains pork or chicken, onions, egg, mushroom, and other vegetables) or Chinese smoked pork sausages. Yum.
6: Phan Thiet Central Market, Mui Ne, Phan Thiet
Hours: Daily, 5 am – 6 pm
Location: Ly Thong Kiet and Nguyen Hue Streets
Down south, the area around Mui Ne is known for its fishing villages and amazing fish, shrimp, squid, snails, clams, and crab. It follows, then, that the Mui Ne’s Phan Thiet Central Market is known for its pescatarian delights. Fishing boats arrive on shore before dawn with the day’s fresh catch, then head to the market which opens at 5 am.
Aside from Nemo and his friends, the market offers hundreds of stalls selling household items, fresh produce, and local delicacies of both the sweet and savory kind: coconut candies, spices, and nuts, among other offerings. Souvenirs abound, including ceramic items, textiles, and our favorite, nuoc mam cham, a traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce. Take home a jar or two. As is the case with the south in general, the heat and humidity can be fierce — best to wear loose, comfortable clothes and stop for breaks along the way.