Markets. Hot, cramped, full of cheap crap and vendors poking and prodding you. The mere thought of them gives me the hershey squirts. And this is just those in Balmain in Sydney.
Ben Tanh and An Dong markets in Saigon are several hectares (and floors in the case of An Dong) of pain and misery.
I shouldn’t be so negative. In the case of Ben Tanh and An Dong at least you get a snapshot of the vibrant soul of Saigon. While there are several lashings of tourist tatt, the locals also shop here for all their needs so there is an authenticity to them.
Your correspondent is what I title a ‘mission’ shopper. I enter a market/mall/shop with the item I am after in mind. I find, purchase then depart. Mrs botf is the exact opposite. Each stall must be browsed, each urchin engaged. The beauty of travelling with kids is you have a ticking time bomb. I know that my three have a 20 minute setting before ‘market armageddon’ is triggered (this is identical, by the way, to my setting but I like to believe I have the personal control to not loosen my bowels and burst into uncontrollable tears after 20 mins in a market). So you see I always have a natural ‘out’ for any market visit.
“Of course we should take the kids, honey”.
Two other worthy mentions of the Saigon markets need to be made.
Yeah, they’re cheap. But Big W cheap, not absolute third world cheap. Jeans, T-shirts etc are at Big W prices and likely third world quality.
The value man in me enjoys haggling and snorting in derision when I get ‘absolute best price mister’. However I do stop seeing the fun in this when I realise I’m arguing over what converts to 50 cents. Ben Tanh also has a fixed price set of stalls which is very civilised if you get the shits with haggling and being pinched and prodded. Prices are not too bad also.
Beer time. I love that Vietnam has embraced the beer hall and all the ersatz Munich-ness that goes with it. This time I got some afternoon ‘me’ time and trekked into downtown Saigon to the Lion Beer Brauhaus. It was daytime so it was not quite as pumping as others I have visited.
The Lion had the obligatory rows of copper brewing vats and the standard blond and dark on tap. It also did a fair range of imports, mainly Belgian and German. The blond was innocuous and went down well but I think that was the 30 minute walk through suicidal traffic in 30 degree heat. The dark was bland when compared to its cousins in other Saigon brauhauses(?). A nice touch was the Vietnamese girls in their Sound of Music outfits (see image). They looked as comfortable in this get up as I would.
Finally, a Happy New Year to all out botf readership. Hope you’ve enjoyed our ramblings in 2013. A special shout out to the crew at Hawks Nest. Missing it. Go Blue 4!