On our first day in Vietnam, we were armed with a map provided by the hotel and a Google map marked with destinations in District 1, Ho Chi Minh.
It was pretty lucky that on our first morning, while availing of the breakfast provided by our hostel, Bich Duyen, an Australian conversed with us about the city (among other things). He warned us about the motorists and his advice turned out to be extremely helpful during our four day stay in the city.
There aren’t a lot of cars in Vietnam but there are a ton of motorcycles. And quite a lot of these cyclists seem to not know what the red traffic light means. We were advised to keep walking at the same pace when crossing the street, even if a biker is coming at you. They actually avoid you. In the Philippines, it’s better to walk faster because cars will either belatedly try to stop for you (and fail), keep going so you’ll have to stay in the middle of the road (even when you’re on the pedestrian lane) or just run you over. In HCM, they mostly avoid the pedestrians if you’re walking at the same pace. I learned not to use my peripheral vision there because I’d panic and walk faster if I did, haha. Not that it works for everyone though, since my friend had a couple of close calls.
Over the course of the trip, my friend and I did see a lot of Caucasian tourists having a hard time crossing, even if they were in big groups. I guess it also pays if you come from another developing country in regards to traffic and street-crossing. We have more practice in jaywalking and are used to the blatant disregard of cars for pedestrians waiting at pedestrian lanes. 😐
Anyway, now that I’ve discussed motors, let’s get on with our city tour! With the help of Google Maps and street signs, we walked to the Mariamman Hindu Temple.
This temple was made for the Hindu Goddess, Mariamman. It was built in the late 19th century by traders from Tamil Nadu. Funnily enough, I didn’t see any Hindus in the temple–I saw more Chinese there.
According to wikipedia: The main feature of the temple are the various statues of Mariamman, which surround the outer walls of the temple. These include Nataraja, Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu, Kali, Biramasakthi, Samundi, Thirumagal, Mageswari, Meenadchi, Valambigai, Andal, Kamadchiamman, Karumari-amman, Sivagami and Parvathy who has Murugan in her lap.
After the temple visit, we headed over to the Ben Tanh Market.
This is the Ben Tanh Market. If it was made of paper and sold in the Post Office, I mean.
Ben Tanh is a vast marketplace in District 1 of Saigon. This is one of the earliest surviving structures in the city and is a popular tourist attraction and market. Here, you can find local handicrafts, textiles, cuisine and souvenirs.
Here are some things you can find in Ben Tanh:
We didn’t buy anything on our first day but we ended up coming back here everyday. Once to check out the night market (and this time I bought a bamboo bookmark for 5,000VND and a magnet for 8,000 VND), once to eat at the night market (and I ended up buying two Barbie-sized traditional Vietnamese hats for 10,000VND each), and once to check the main place more at daytime.
Since I won’t be talking about Ben Tanh in my other Viet Nam entries anymore, let me fast forward: It was on our last day in HCM that we bought from the main market during the daytime and wow, I met the most rude salespeople I’ve ever encountered. I’m very much familiar with haggling (being that I love shopping in flea markets and tiangges in my home country) and I’ve tried haggling in China (which is my favorite place to haggle because you can go down as low as half the price and they will agree. I have hearts in my eyes right now) and I had already haggled in the night market in Ben Tanh and when we went shopping in District 5 earlier on in that last day. Anyway, I was looking for a shirt and trying to decide on the size to get for my dad and brother, so naturally, I asked if I could see their shirt sizes. So they showed the sizes to me and I wasn’t sure which to get. So I texted home to ask my mom for confirmation and all the while the saleslady kept asking if I was ready to pay. I repeatedly told her I was waiting for a message. They had three ladies at the stall and the other two weren’t doing anything since there were no other customers, so it wasn’t like I was blocking a queue of customers they had to entertain. When I finally got the message, I asked for two sizes of one design and asked for a discount (around 10,000 VND off per shirt; each one costs 50,000 VND) since I was getting two. (The price of the shirts is the same as buying a shirt here in the Philippines in one of the higher-priced markets, if not a little more, so I knew a discount was reasonable.) My friend was getting a shirt as well, so we were buying three shirts from them. The lady refused. My friend wanted to get the shirt, so she asked for 5,000 VND off instead of our initial 10,000. The lady still refused. Then the lady told me loudly and angrily that they showed me the sizes and all, why was I still asking for a discount? And I was seriously flabbergasted, because showing a customer the merchandise (which includes the different sizes!) is part of her job. So we walked away. And she kept yelling about that, that they entertained us for thirty minutes (it was not thirty minutes) and they took out the sizes for us, etc. When we were a couple of booths away, she finally yelled at us to come back and that she’d give us the discount. 😐
Anyway, it’s one thing to say that they can’t give a discount anymore because the price is fixed or it’s the lowest they can go or it’s already the cheapest you’lll find anywhere (like a very friendly saleslady told me when I was shopping in District 5. I knew this was true, since the price of the top I was buying from her was already half of what it goes for in the higher-end markets in Philippines) but to complain loudly that they took out sizes so a customer could check them is downright rude. No love for you, shirt stand at Ben Tanh day market.
In the middle of Ben Tanh are food stalls. The food there is very cheap.
We didn’t eat inside Ben Tanh since my friend had a list of recommended restaurants to eat in (both of which were actually in the higher end price range and were just so-so in the taste department). We headed to lunch after looking around one part of Ben Tanh.
More city tour posts later, ciao!