Visitors to Southeast Asia will be spoilt for choice on sights to see, people to meet and food to devour. However, many people also come to places like Cambodia and Vietnam in search of a great bargain, a meaningful present or a little souvenir to remind them of their time travelling. Across Cambodia and Vietnam there are countless markets selling everything from clothes and food to more unusual hardware items. Walking through them lane by lane, as well as practicing your haggling skills, is all part of the fun!
Here is my guide to the Top 5 Markets in Cambodia and Vietnam.
# 5: Hanoi Old Quarter
Despite not visiting Hanoi during the weekend (when the famous night market takes over and entirely pedestrianises the streets of the Old Quarter), Hanoi still has much to offer in the way of shopping mid-week. There seems to be a section for everything here: certain streets are lined with delightful souvenir shops, many streets sell art and garments made from Vietnamese silk, others may focus on food or flowers. With so much to attract you at floor level, its often easy to miss the 15th century architecture above, so my advice here is don’t forget to look up. Even if you just spend a few hours browsing, something is guaranteed to take your fancy!
# 4: Hoi An Night Market
Hoi An itself comes alive at night, with lanterns glittering from every boat and doorway. The shopping at night does not disappoint either, with many tailor shops staying open well into the evening and souvenir shops following suit to catch the crowds walking towards the old quarter. There were also a number of craft inspired street corner vendors in Hoi An selling things such as hand drawn portraits and grains of rice complete with your own name! Food is easy to find on the streets of Hoi An too, with stalls selling a range of yummy snacks such as ice cream poles, various sugary donuts and the famous Bahn Mi.
# 3: Kep Seafood Market
Although one of the smaller markets I visited during my time in Cambodia and Vietnam, the seafood market along the shore of Kep packed a serious punch and delivers so much more than just the seafood its name might suggest. Unlike many of the other markets on this list, you certainly feel immersed in Cambodian culture when you visit here with families buying freshly caught seafood and children ogling the toy stalls. This market also has a mix of everything, but personally I was impressed by the variety and quality of the street food. There were whole fish and squid being barbecued right before my eyes, sweet flavoured rice wrapped in banana leaves, freshly squeezed sugar cane juice and stalls full to the brim with exotic and unusual fruits.
# 2: Russian Market – Phnom Penh
Popular with tourists and locals alike, the Russian Market in Phnom Penh sells almost anything, and it is huge, making it virtually impossible to navigate! It is however an excellent place to find hidden gems, wonderful trinkets and great souvenirs of your time in Cambodia.
If you have a spare couple of hours I certainly recommend a visit, as the competition is rife and therefore you can get some really great things at an excellent price (see below for my top haggling tips!). Even further in, there is also a ‘wet market’ where you will find local produce alongside super strong iced coffees and noodle soups – just in case you’re in need of a pick-me-up halfway around!
# 1: Ben Thanh Market – Ho Chi Minh
Like the Russian Market in Phnom Penh, Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh is absolutely vast; however you certainly get the impression that it is far more catered towards tourists. The aisles are (marginally!) wider, the stalls slightly easier to navigate, the area itself considerably cleaner and the selection of goods much more ‘mainstream’.
However, there are some really great bargains to be found here, with the real star of the show, in my opinion, being the food quarter. Just across the road from the main market in an open fronted warehouse sits a new area, a very trendy space filled with a selection of street food stalls. There is something to cater for every taste and I had some of my most memorable eating experiences in Vietnam right here. During the evening they also have live music, so whether going solo or with a few friends there is plenty of choice to keep you busy for a good while.
Top tips for haggling in Southeast Asia:
- Have an ideal figure in mind before you start to negotiate.
- Try not to look too interested in a product. As hard as this seems, the vendors can tell and they tend not to drop their prices if they sense you will buy it anyway!
- Try starting at around 1/3 of the price they are asking for and definitely below what your ‘ideal’ price is. As a rule of thumb the vendor will drop down to just above half and then you can swoop in with a reasonable offer!
- Don’t forget to walk away if you are not happy!! Often they will call you back and drop the price further, or alternatively someone selling the exact same item might be just around the corner!
Don’t forget to enjoy it and SMILE! Some of the friendliest locals I met travelling worked within the markets. The nicer you are, the more likely it is they will give you a good deal.
Guest writer Kelly Semper travelled through Cambodia and Vietnam on the Moc Bai Pass. Her favourite aspects of travelling are tasting exotic new foods, photographing hidden wonders and getting off the beaten track.