Southeast Asia travel · Travel · Vietnam travel

Ho Chi Minh City at night

Pham Ngu Lao St is HCMC’s backpacker/tourist district, supposedly the local equivalent of Bangkok’s Khaosan Road. Hopefully Pham Ngu Lao never becomes as loud, seedy or notorious. While it’s great that hotels, restaurants, and travel agencies fill Pham Ngu Lao, one of the best things is that a major market and some fine historical buildings are just minutes away.

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Ben Thanh Market is HCMC’s biggest market and during the day it’s filled with vendors selling clothes, coffee, food, and souvenirs. At night the building closes and a night market forms outside on both sides, with mostly clothes and souvenir vendors catering to tourists. Especially notable are the many “brandname” backpacks on sale for amazingly low prices. North Face is a very popular one, and at first glance can seem genuine (I’ll have more on this later). Another notable thing is how persistent the female vendors can be in trying to get you to buy something. During the day, I went inside Ben Thanh Market and while walking through the narrow lanes in between all the stalls, female vendors constantly called out while a few even touched my arm with slight caresses. It felt nice, but of course not everyone might feel that way. At night, the vendors may not be as touchy-feely, but they will call out prices, lower it, then even pull up a calculator and tell you to name your price. As a last resort, some women will block you from leaving their stall while looking at you with sad puppydog eyes while begging you to buy – “please, pleeeease buy from me. If you don’t buy, I won’t let you go.”

Looking back, it seems so comical and flattering, but at times it was a bit too much.

On the flipside, I had a male vendor ridicule me in Vietnamese to his fellow vendors after I asked him about some magnets and then walked away without buying. He spoke some Vietnamese in what sounded like a mocking tone and his fellows burst out laughing.

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Besides the market, if you continue walking along the main road you will hit a really fancy part of town where you can check out the City Hall and Saigon Opera House, both colonial buildings. The City Hall is very nice and you can walk right up to it, situated at the end of a driveway with luxury brandname stores on both sides. The Saigon Opera House has an arched doorway and a long rectangular shape, which I didn’t see properly since it was in the night. There’s also the Hotel Continental Saigon, a hotel famous for its role during the Vietnam War for being the haunt of American journalists.

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Ho Chi Minh City’s City Hall

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Saigon Opera House

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Back to the market, when you cross the street to an open space and face a roundabout with a statue of a man on a horse (14th century Vietnamese hero General Tran Nguyen Han), there’s a fine view (the first photo in this post) of the Bitexco Financial Tower, Vietnam’s tallest skyscraper. Shaped like a leaf, or a dagger, and lit up at night, it’s a very nice sight It’s also a reminder of HCMC’s economic vitality and how Vietnam is a nation in flux, communist but following a similar path as China.

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9 thoughts on “Ho Chi Minh City at night

    1. Hello, Linda,thanks. The market is definitely safe, especially as there’re often lots of tourists walking around at night. Do be careful crossing the streets there though. The City Hall and Saigon Theater are a little further away, about at least 10 minutes’ walk along one street, but it is also quite safe. You’ll find locals there also enjoying the sights and there are high-end hotels and stores which have security guards.

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      1. ok cool. I really wanna travel to Ho Chi Minh. Did you also visit rural areas in Vietnam?? how about safety there? especially for a girl. I am not planning on travelling there alone but still wanna make sure it’s safe.

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        1. I only went to cities- Hanoi, HCMC, and Hue, as well as Ha Long Bay. I think Vietnam’s quite safe, with pickpocketing the only thing to really be wary of. I only had one possible pickpocket attempt during my 10 days there. Before going to Vietnam, I had concerns about crime and safety, but I felt very safe the whole time and people were generally nice everywhere.
          Of course, things like road safety and scams are bigger concerns. I did encounter a few scams- you can read my previous posts under Travel- SE Asia-Vietnam, and you’ve got to be very careful when crossing the road.

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    2. Here’s my unsolicited advice…

      The main safety issue is pickpocketing and bag snatching – so it’s more about safety of your possessions than of your person. While there are incidences of violent robberies in the city and out of the city, these are still relatively rare, so not likely to be an issue. In terms of snatchings, though, I personally know four people who have experienced this (and I don’t have a lot of friends here yet) in HCMC. One had her phone snatched, another was checking photos on an iPad and someone tried to snatch that (luckily he had a firm grip), another had a bag snatched and the fourth was careless and left his bag unattended in a park (even though it was just for a few seconds). Most commonly, people will fly by on a motorbike and snatch whatever they can, but cameras and bags are common victims, along with phones. Whenever I go out to shoot, I’m mindful of this and wrap the strap of my camera many times around my wrist so there’s nothing to grab, and if they grab the camera itself, they won’t be able to pull it away (they may break my arm or dislocate my shoulder, but they won’t get the camera)! This kind of crime is a real risk, especially in touristy places, but if as long as you’re aware and proactive in not giving thieves opportunity, you’ll be fine. As you’re not travelling alone, personal safety is not a big issue in HCMC.

      In terms of rural areas, as long as you stick to popular tourist destinations, you’ll be fine. There are robbers in Vietnam, but you won’t encounter them unless you get off the beaten track, and usually only if you hire a motorbike to explore the country, as much of the robbery happens on the road.

      Basically, for most tourists, while snatchings and pickpocketings are something to be watchful for (as in any country with many people living below the poverty line), there is little to worry about in terms of suffering any kind of violent crimes. Most Vietnamese people are honest and helpful, so try not to worry too much about safety (but be alert for thieves), and enjoy the warmth of the people here.

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      1. Good advice. It’s much more helpful coming from someone who lives there.
        A friend I made during my travels told me he saw a snatch attempt made by somebody on a motorscooter.
        Definitely it’s a good idea to be careful with your phone, camera, or handbag (if you’re a woman).
        In general, I never used my phone out on the street and I was always careful while taking photos at night,
        though my camera was just a small point-and-shoot. However, during the day I walked to many places around
        Hanoi and HCMC, though admittedly the main sights,
        and I never felt any concern.

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  1. Actually Ben Thanh market is not the biggest in HCMC, not by far. If you head out to Chinatown, there is a really really big and busy market there, but it gets far fewer tourists. The district is actually referred to as Cho Lon, which means “big market”. I am not a fan of Ben Thanh market to be honest (as with the locals, I feel it’s vastly overrated and somewhat of a tourist trap), but I loved the main market in Cho Lon. It’s more of a real functional market where you can get almost anything you can imagine, but not so many tacky tourist items. More of an insight into a typical Vietnam market, but on a bigger scale than average.

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    1. Hello, yes, I also went to Cholon and a large market- the Binh Tay market, assuming that’s the one you’re talking about. I didn’t take pictures of it, but it definitely seemed more of a functional market and less touristy than Ben Thanh. To be honest though, I didn’t get the sense that Binh Tay was much bigger than Ben Thanh. I now remember that Ben Thanh has a second floor.

      I give Cholon and Binh Tay a little mention near the end of this post:
      https://hcyip.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/ho-chi-minh-city-the-first-full-day/.

      I did see that a lot of stuff in Ben Thanh were souvenirs, but given its location and the fact it operates both at day and night, I think it’s still a good place for tourists to check out.

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