Ho Chi Minh City is still known as Saigon, even though the name was changed in 1975 after the fall of Saigon. Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam – one of the three most popular destinations in Vietnam – and it is the former capital of South Vietnam. This is the place where both the old world and the new world co-exist; and it’s a city with lots of people, lots of noise, and lots of energy. Surprisingly, though, it’s getting a reputation for being known as a shopping destination, where you can get some great value pricing and a good experience as well. Here are a few tips and suggestions for making the most of Hi Chi Minh shopping.
First Up: Duty Free
Once you have found your a place to stay and dropped off your bags, head out for the duty-free shopping center downtown, because you only have the Ho Chi Minh shopping duty-free privilege within the first five days of your stay. Carry your passport with you so the shops can verify the date you arrived. Of course, there are duty-free shops at the airport, too, but there’s a better selection downtown at the Tax Department Store on Le Loi and Nguyen Hue, in District 1. You can find traditional handcrafted silk items, here, plus CDs and t-shirts. It’s like a Western shopping mall inside, with air conditioning and an escalator.
Meet Me at the Markets
Another Hi Chi Minh shopping experience are the markets, great for people watching and deal making. The Binh Tay Market, in Thap Muoi St. in District 6, carries household items, and it’s a very laid back atmosphere. Another market with a similar sounding name is the Ben Thanh market on Le Loi. This is a very busy and crowded indoor marketplace, much more touristy, and sells everything from tourist items like t-shirts, scarves, embroidered bags, and figurines to meats, fruits, and spices. You can get some great deals, but be prepared to bargain, clarify the exact amount of your purchase and exchange rate for each item before you pay, and know how to calculate the exchange rate for your own records.
You can find upscale Hi Chi Minh shopping as well. The Saigon Tourist Plaza on Le Thanh Ton St. has five floors up upscale shops. Gaya, on Ton That Thiep, carries designer clothing, plus home décor and furniture. The Diamond Department Store on Le Duan St. in the Diamond Plaza carries cosmetics, clothing, and other luxury brand items westerners would easily recognize, plus has a bowling alley and movie theatre which are fun on rainy days.
Check out the smaller shops on Le Duan, Dong Khoi, Hai Ba Trung, Le Thanh Ton and Le Loi. Look for souvenirs such as beautiful Asian silk clothing and scarves, hand-woven and embroidered tablecloths and napkins, lacquer items, marble figurines, spices, baskets, and bamboo.
Tips and Recommendations
Finding the best souvenirs and hidden treasures during your Ho Chi Mihn shopping excursion will be partly about knowing where to look and partly by luck – if you see an interesting shop or market, then stop; serendipity will reward you. A few other more practical matters:
- Most shops are open seven days a week.
- It’s much easier to carry local currency. More useful for haggling.
- Speaking of which, haggling does happen, though moreso in the markets than the touristy department stores. It’s always worth a try – if you don’t ask you don’t get.
- Lastly, I suggest you bring a backpack or shopping bag to keep all your purchases in.
Enjoy your Ho Chi Minh shopping experience – don’t forget to buy something me too!