Easily the most recognizable structure in Saigon, Ben Thanh Market (Le Loi and Tran Hung Dao, D1, tel. 08/3829-2096, 6am-6pm daily) is the original commercial heart of the city and a prime spot for souvenir shopping, with over 3,000 small businesses and an army of multilingual vendors. Using the city’s waterways to transport goods, Ben Thanh became the Vietnamese answer to Chinatown’s Binh Tay Market, with each attracting traders from both their local communities and neighboring states. When the French arrived and began to incorporate their architecture into Saigon’s landscape, the market was formalized as a large, thatched-roof building near the river. Ben Thanh’s present-day site is at the north edge of Quach Thi Trang roundabout. The building was completed in 1914 and dubbed the “New Ben Thanh Market.”
Since its inception, Ben Thanh has been a major commercial hub and the site of many historical events. During the tumultuous 1950s and ‘60s, several significant protests occurred outside its massive gates. The most notable of these occurred on August 25, 1963, when thousands of students and Buddhist monks gathered at the roundabout in front of the market to protest American forces and the presidency of Ngo Dinh Diem. As the protest grew in size and strength, shots were fired to subdue the crowd and one young protester, 15-year-old student Quach Thi Trang, was killed. Since then, the roundabout has been referred to as Quach Thi Trang roundabout.
Vendors begin setting up as early as 4am each day. The outer shops open their doors first, followed by the market’s main gates. Once the day market has closed its doors to the public, an equally popular night market sets up shop around the building on Phan Chu Trinh and Phan Boi Chau streets from 6pm until about midnight.