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Take a trip down to Saigon’s markets, then and now

Markets in Vietnam don’t offer just cheap clothes, meat and fresh fruit and vegetables. They provide a glimpse into the local culture and history.

In Saigon, each new market marks a milestone in the country’s commercial hub, mostly visible in their designs, from the heyday of Chinese merchants to the arrival of the French.

These then-and-now photos capture the changes that have taken place at Saigon’s oldest markets, before they are wiped out by fancy shopping malls or multi-story plazas. Some remain intact, but others, sadly, have been dramatically downsized or shut down altogether.

Ben Thanh

Ben Thanh Market is known to tourists as an iconic landmark in the southern city. Before the arrival of the French, it was a gathering place for vendors and traders at a harbor on the Ben Nghe River. With its close proximity to the Citadel of Saigon (Thanh Gia Dinh), the market was given the name Ben (harbor) and Thanh (the citadel). The market was not moved to its new location until 1914, which at the time was next to Saigon’s transport hub, My Tho Train Station.

​Then photo via flickr/manhhai

Rebuilt by French contractor Brossard et Maupin Construction Company, the new market spans over 13,000 square meters with four main gates. The south gate facing Quanh Thi Trang Square bears the famous clock tower. With nearly 1,500 stalls, Ben Thanh Market sells anything from garments and textiles to food and ingredients. A bustling night market has been set up in front of the west gate, mostly for visitors to shop and to enjoy street food.

​Then photo via flickr/manhhai.

Last year, plans for an underground shopping complex were announced near the iconic market. The news got many city lovers worried whether the 102-year-old building would survive. Quach Thi Trang Square has already been ripped up for the construction of the complex and an underground station that will be part of the city’s upcoming 20-kilometer metro line.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai 

Cho Lon

The original Cho Lon was built in 1778 as the central marketplace in the Hua community in Saigon, also known as Chinatown.

Lying on the west bank of the Saigon River, the market quickly became a trading hotspot for locals and merchants from the Mekong Delta. By the beginning of the 20th century, it had become excessively crowded and eventually burnt down in a fierce fire in the 1920s. On the site of the old market now stands Cho Lon Central Post Office.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai.

After the fire, the French government decided to move the market to a new location. With investment from Quach Dam, a wealthy merchant, Binh Tay Market, or the new Cho Lon, was built in 1928.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai.

Tan Dinh

The city’s famous food hub, Tan Dinh Market, opened for business in 1927 and was widely known for its French architecture. According to colonial records tracked by Tim Doling, a Ho Chi Minh City-based historian, it was formerly known as Phu Hoa Market, taking its name from the neighboring village, and was one of the most important markets in the north of Saigon. Its unique design included a large open plan space supported by reinforced concrete pillars.

Visually untouched by the wars, Tan Dinh Market and its iconic façade remain until today, standing opposite the “Pink Church” of Tan Dinh.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai.

Ba Chieu

Built in 1942, Ba Chieu Market underwent restoration work in 1987. The 8,000-square-meter market is divided into eight sections and is home to 800 businesses lying at the heart of Binh Thanh District.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai.

Thi Nghe

Lying on the banks of the Nhieu Loc Canal, Thi Nghe Market is just a bridge away from the downtown area. As the local tale goes, the market and the bridge that shares its name were built by Nguyen Thi Khanh, the daughter of Vietnamese special envoy in the 18th century.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai.

When it opened, Nhieu Loc Canal was one of Saigon’s most crucial waterways and helped Thi Nghe Market to take off. However, it slowly lost out to other major trading points and is now reduced to a small local market.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai.

An Dong

Another central point in Chinatown, An Dong Wholesale Market, was built in 1954 on An Duong Vuong Street. It specializes in fabric, clothing and shoes.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai.

In 1990, An Dong Market was given a facelift, but now it is currently under pressure from the nearby five-story An Dong Plaza that opened in 2004.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai.

Thu Duc

Thu Duc Market started life as a small, informal gathering spot for traders in the area until a Chinese merchant upgraded it over 200 years ago.

Then photo via flickr/manhhai.

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