The colonial clock tower of Ben Thanh market is the unofficial icon of old Saigon. Since Vietnam has returned to capitalism, a landmark from a buzzing market makes a fitting symbol. Like Asia itself, the market is overcrowded, and anxious for money from foreigners.
Unlike air conditioned American markets, the inside is filled with tropical heat. Crowds weave between hundreds of small stalls, with vendors selling just about anything. There are silk clothes, cosmetics, souvenirs, spices, exotic fruits, live seafood, and snake wine. That’s right, wine made from snakes, complete with a dead cobra still inside the bottle. The wine, and most other goods sold here, are still made by hand. Since this is the heart of the business district, and close to tourist sites, it’s one of the more expensive markets in town. Eager foreigners who visit still find prices cheaper than back home, so they think they’re getting bargains. But there are better markets in the city, with more interesting merchandise. Continue reading