YOUR INSIDER'S SHOPPING GUIDE
IN HO CHI MINH CITY 🇻🇳 SINCE 2008
YOUR INSIDER'S SHOPPING GUIDE
IN Ho Chi Minh City 🇻🇳 Since 2008
SAIGON INSPIRATION SHOPPING “MAC QUA!”: WHY WE BARGAIN IN VIETNAM
Bargaining might seem like a strange custom to first-time visitors to Vietnam. Most of us are used to the fixed price system in supermarkets and malls, so it may be perplexing to walk into Ben Thanh Market, one of the oldest and largest markets in Saigon, and bargain your way down to half the initial price to get a simple souvenir.There’s a history behind that.
The Old System
Before the introduction of the price tag, the only way to learn the price of an item was to ask the seller. It was entirely up to the seller to say whatever price they wanted as an invitation to bargain, and the buyer, having a general idea of what it should cost or a benchmark in mind, would adjust their offer accordingly.
The conversation would and still does go on for as long as one has the patience for it. Some sellers are more firm than others about their pricing strategy, and steadfast buyers can simply walk away when they don’t get the price they want. Sometimes this will make the seller think twice–—they’d rather make a sale for a lesser price than let a competitor get the sale.
Ask the Locals
If you want to learn how to bargain properly and effectively, ask an older Vietnamese person. Bargaining creates an opportunity for personal interaction, as opposed to a more convenient yet more impersonal purchase at a supermarket. This is why Vietnamese people from older generations still enjoy bargaining as a part of their life.
“You can haggle at almost every local store. It’s a common practice”, said Tran Van, a pensioner in his sixties. “For example, when I want to buy a chair I look up the price on the Internet, and then I go to a nearby store and they name a higher price. I’ll haggle until they give me a reasonable price.” “Even when there is a price tag on the clothes, I still ask for a lower price to see if they give in”, Le Phuong, a middle-aged housewife added Meanwhile, younger people who’ve grown up with fixed prices are already commonplace in many stores are more hesitant to bargain.
A group of office girls in their twenties who spoke to Citypassguide.com for this piece said they usually bargain only when going to the market. They feel that haggling in other places is uncomfortable and unwelcome, and they’d rather leave the store in peace. Saving face is more important than saving a few thousand dongs, which is an apt summary of what these young women shared.
Live Like a Local
Olia Raphaeleva, a young artist from Moscow said she has developed a rough idea of how things are priced after two years living in Vietnam. And with a basic command of Vietnamese phrases—“Bao nhieu?” (“How much”) and “Mac qua!” (“Too expensive!”)—she has become familiar with the process. “If the price is not fixed, I can talk about price”, she said with confidence. “As soon as I speak some Vietnamese in a friendly way, and show that I’m interested in buying it, only the price makes me hesitate [sic]. They will give me a lower price.”
When asked what she’d do if the seller refuses to give in, she replied, “I just walk away. They will run after me and tap on my shoulder and I’ll go back and get what I want.” Raphaeleva lives in a Hanoi neighborhood unfrequented by tourists. She has a few favorite stores that she often goes to for clothes, groceries, and art supplies, and she usually gets a discount from the owner for being a friendly loyal customer.
“I always go to this hairdresser and once she just gave me a free haircut. And this morning, when I walked by the grocery store near my home, the owner bought me a beer. This has happened many times before.” She noted that wherever she went, in Vietnam or India or Thailand, people tend to assume foreigners are rich, so they are surprised to learn that she also needs to save money and haggle to buy reasonably priced stuff. But since she lives among local people and gets acquainted with them, they start treating her more like a special friend than a foreigner.
It seems that no matter where you come from, you can learn new skills and appreciate different customs, and bargaining is one of those. It is part of life in Vietnam, so don’t be shy and embrace the experience.
A Super Brief History of Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market was first created as an informal gathering of street vendors near Ben Nghe River, now called Saigon River. The name Ben Thanh came from the location of the market between a river port (“ben”) and Saigon’s ancient citadel (“thanh”), Gia Dinh, which was destroyed by the occupying French in a military struggle that preceded the establishment of the French colony Cochinchina. After the French colonial powers demolished the Gia Dinh citadel in 1859, they formally established Ben Thanh Market and moved it to the current building in 1912.
SAIGON INSPIRATION SHOPPING BEST BOOKS ABOUT VIETNAM
Reading about a country is a good way to gain deeper insights. While there are plenty of travel guides and cookbooks about Vietnam, serious reads are somewhat lacking. However, there are several classic and Pulitzer-winning books. Below is our take on an essential reading list.
1. Ticket to Childhood (2014) by Nguyen Nhat Anh
The best-selling book by the best-selling author of Vietnamese contemporary literature, the original version of Ticket to Childhood was published in 2008 and has since gone through over 50 printings. This is a story told by a man who looks back on his childhood, alternating with the child version of himself. Nguyen Nhat Anh said that he wrote this book not for children, but for those who were children once. He won the S.E.A. Write Award for this work.
2. The Sympathizer (2015) by Viet Thanh Nguyen
When a debut novel by a Vietnamese-American received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2016 and a number of other literary awards, it simply had to draw attention. The University of Southern California professor based his story partly on the life of Pham Xuan An, a North Vietnamese spy who became famous after his death in 2006. With humor and style, the author also presents fresh perspectives in contrast to Hollywood blockbusters’ interpretations of the American War.
3. The Quiet American (1956) by Graham Greene
A classic of English literature, Greene’s novel is set in the final years of the French Indochina War in Vietnam, mentioning in particular Hanoi, Nam Dinh and Saigon. It is well worth reading for its masterful storytelling and haunting reflections on war and love. The story is narrated from the cynical viewpoint of British reporter Fowler, showing sympathy for the Vietnamese people whose life was disrupted by the war, and objection to the idealistic innocence of young Pyle, sent from America to carry out a mysterious mission in Saigon.
4. Dumb Luck (2002) by Vu Trong Phung
First published in Hanoi in 1936, the novel is a satire of the modernization rage in Vietnam during the late colonial era. It follows the absurd and unexpected rise within the colonial society of a street-smart vagabond named Red-haired Xuan, while providing a panoramic view of late colonial urban social order. Dumb Luck is the most famous work by Vu Trong Phung, which used to be banned in Vietnam until 1986, translated by Peter Zinoman and Nguyen Nguyet Cam of the University of California, Berkeley.
5. Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories (2015) by Phuoc Thi Minh Tran.
Published in 2015 by Tuttle Publishing, it won two children’s book awards that year. It is part of a series of children’s folktales from the East. The stories are retold in English by librarian Phuoc Thi Minh Tran. As introduced on the publisher’s website, “stories in which integrity, hard work and a kind heart triumph over deception, laziness, and greed—as gods, peasants, kings, and fools spring to life in legends of bravery and beauty, and fables about nature.”
SAIGON INSPIRATION SHOPPING ADDING TRADITIONAL VIETNAMESE JEWELRY TO YOUR COLLECTION
In Vietnam, jewelry has been used as a status symbol, a form of self-expression, and investment for centuries. In fact, you can even check out the fascinating Nghe An exhibition at the Nghe An Museum in northern Vietnam, which showcases ancient Vietnamese jewelry from the Dong Son culture period (2500-2000 years ago). Today, jewelry continues to play an important role in Vietnamese style and culture. By adding traditional Vietnamese pieces to your jewelry collection during your travels, you can build a collection that’s beautiful, unique, and meaningful.
Start by knowing what you like
To build a stunning jewelry collection complete with Vietnamese-inspired pieces, you need to first know what you like. So, think about defining your own personal style from the pieces you already own and love (for example, is your style modern, casual, retro, sporty, vintage, minimalist, or maximalist?). Your collection should also have a solid foundation of basic pieces you can wear easily with your everyday wardrobe. You’ll then be in the right position to grow your collection with the addition of authentic Vietnamese pieces collected during your travels.
Traditional silver pieces
All countries around the world have their own special jewelry with unique cultural and historical meanings. For example, traditional Indian jewelry typically reflects social status and features colorful gemstones like emeralds and rubies, ornate designs, and lots of gold. Vietnam is no different. For the Mong people, silver jewelry, in particular, is considered to hold talismanic qualities that exorcise bad spirits, protect the health, and promotes happiness and well-being. Silver pieces made in Lao Xa, Dong Van of Ha Giang province are culturally unique and available in many styles and designs, including necklaces, rings, and bracelets. The bracelets are either flat or round rings with beautiful butterflies, leaves, and flowers carved on their faces.
In addition to silver, jade jewelry is also imbued with special meaning across Vietnam. In fact, jade has historically been an omen of good luck. Saigon is home to endless tales of how jade has prevented sickness, death, and poverty from befalling the wearer. Whether featured on necklaces, bracelets, or earrings, jade will make a beautiful addition to your jewelry collection.
Above all, it’s important to make sure any jade you purchase is authentic (aka Jadeite or Nephrite). Imitation jade tends to be of poor quality and paler in color. Although they look similar, Jadeite is typically stronger than Nephrite, which is usually opaque and comes in darker tones. Low-quality jade is also often treated to improve color and transparency (grade A indicates natural, untreated jade). Don’t be afraid to ask the seller questions about the quality of a piece and never rush into a purchase. Always shop around to compare pieces and prices.
Vietnam is home to a wide array of beautiful traditional jewelry. By adding authentic Vietnamese pieces like silver and jade to your collection during your travels, you can create a stylish and sentimental jewelry collection.
SAIGON INSPIRATION SHOPPING 10 GREAT PLACES TO SHOP IN SAIGON
Shopping is, whether unfortunately or not, an indispensable part of life. How can you eat if you don’t buy the food first? How can you buy food if you have nothing to wear out of the house?
We need shoes for work, food for fuel, phones, and laptops to communicate, vehicles to get from place to place, machinery, gadgets, jewelry, gifts, stationery, you name it we probably need it! And shopping in Saigon for that one thing you really need (or let’s face it, really want) can be a very daunting process. I needed an adaptor plug for my laptop the other day, and honestly, I am still borrowing my friend’s plug because I just couldn’t face the chaos of Saigon’s commercial network. Where the heck does I buy an adaptor plug?
Ok, so it turns out plugs are very easy. But the point still stands. Sometimes shopping here can seem too hard! And a bit of insight will go a long way. Therefore, we decided to put our heads together and come up with an excellent, insightful, and very un-chaotic ten-point guide to shopping in this beautiful madhouse of a city. Enjoy!
An Đông Market
What is it for? Saigon’s greatest fabric market
I already mentioned An Đông Market in my How to find a good Tailor article. An Đông Market is the biggest fabric market in Ho Chi Minh City. Whatever textile you desire, I am pretty positive that An Đông Market has it. You might have to search the different booths for a while, at least if your wish is rather eccentric, but usually, you find what you need. Prices in this area are mostly fixed and reasonable but double-check.
Downstairs you find the usual articles that you find in other markets as well. Fashion in Asian sizes, wholesale goods, and food kitchens. If you are just shopping for small amounts of goods and not well-versed in using this kind of market, you might want to do some research on pricing beforehand.
Top Tip: Many fabric vendors sell at a fixed price. But if you buy a bulk amount, like for three shirts and two pairs of trousers, they are usually willing to give a discount.
Nguyễn Tri Phương Market
What is it for? From groceries to jewelry
Are you as sick of unfriendly, pushy vendors, bad quality, and the regular tourist crap at Bến Thành market as I am? Would you like to shop at an extensive but largely tourist-free market that is not too far away from District 1?
Nguyễn Tri Phương Market is exactly that, a huge market in District 10 that has everything any other big market offers. From spice vendors to rice soup kitchens to goldsmiths, it satisfies your needs. Of course, the freshest fruit and vegetables are sold out until noon, but there is a steady supply coming in. Fresh seafood and tea leaves are some of the recommended things there.
Top Tip: Right outside of the market on Bà Hạt street, there is a small stall where a lady sells traditional Vietnamese cakes. Give it a try, they are delicious! Especially the green sticky rice cakes that are filled with coconut or green bean paste.
What is it for? Sushi, mall, and supermarket
What do I see in Aeon Mall that you don’t have in other shopping malls in Ho Chi Minh City? Or let’s rephrase the question: Why would I go to a mall in Tân Phú District when District 1 has more than enough shopping malls?
Well… I believe Aeon Mall is different. It is a place to shop for your everyday needs, rather than just luxury items. The mall includes a vast supermarket with many local and imported goods. Whether you want rice paper, olive oil, German biscuits, or fresh blueberries, here you can get it. It’s a Japanese shopping mall, so if you need some Japanese articles you can’t find on Lê Thánh Tôn street, chances are pretty high that Aeon Mall has them.
Three things are especially worth mentioning:
First, the shopping mall offers a free shuttle bus from several popular downtown locations, which is really convenient. Second, the food selection is amazing. First and foremost you will find Japanese food at a reasonable price.
Third, Tân Phú District is one of the parts of Ho Chi Minh City where the land is relatively cheap, so many people from the countryside move there. A mall is a new experience for them and you may find it entertaining to watch what some people try to get on the escalator, while others apparently are afraid to get eaten alive by the vanishing steps…
Top Tip: Try the sushi. It cannot stand up to my favorite sushi kitchen in District 5, but it’s definitely a nice snack at a good price.
What is it for? The manly alternative
On Yersin street in District 1, you can find Chợ Dân Sinh or Dan Sinh Market. Do you need to fix some pipes or the electrics? Do you want to fetch some nails, screws, and angle irons for making your own bookshelf? Do you need ropes, lines, or tape? Do you want to go all out and shop for the basic parts for your very own Battle Mech?
Then Chợ Dân Sinh is your paradise. Tools, parts, and resources for the maker and the handyman are in abundance. Walking through the hardware market and even just along Yersin street makes me want to build my own Death Star. The area offers close to anything, a traditional man needs to mess up the house. Not just hardware, but accessories for boats and motorbikes, protective clothing, and tape for fencing off the area.
It is really hard to walk through Chợ Dân Sinh and not get dreamy about all the things you could create and how to improve your home. There are even materials and strangely formed metal artifacts where you rely on your best guess about what they are used for. Grab your wallet tightly and get a hold of yourself. Put wax in your ears like Odysseus used to do, so you don’t hear the siren calls of that very useful percussion drill over there.
Top Tip: Right in the middle of the area is a chaotic shop for kitchenware. It appears small at first glance, but it has everything a kitchen needs. Everything.
Xô Viết Nghệ Tĩnh Street
What is it for? Everything for everybody
People might wonder why I pick Xô Viết Nghệ Tĩnh as a shopping location. There are no big shops there, no malls, no specialized vendors clustering together. Well, that’s exactly it. The street is one of the major routes between Saigon’s District 1 & District 3 to the northern part of the city. The area is largely untainted by tourists, so the prices are normally within Vietnamese standards and the vendors are friendly and unobtrusive.
Whether you are out for cheap electronic items from one of these noisy bargain stores, bread from a variety of bakeries, fresh fruit, and many other items for your daily needs, you can find them at Xô Viết Nghệ Tĩnh street and its surrounding alleys. But don’t expect any specialized stores or the highest quality.
The best thing about this street is the abundance of roadside kitchens. Eat a bowl of phở to replenish your energy or sip some nước mía (fresh sugarcane juice) while taking in the hustle and bustle. However, if you don’t like the chaotic Vietnamese traffic, this street is not for you. Especially during rush hour, traffic jams occur frequently.
Top Tip: At the beginning of the street, next to the bridge that leads to District 1, is a market street that turns into a massive street food joint in the evening.
Song Hành / Xa lộ Hà Nội, District 2
Perhaps not the most pedestrian-friendly area of the city, but if you are looking for home furnishings or accessories the stretch of the Hanoi Highway / Song Hanh street between the Saigon bridge and Big C is a great place to shop. Here you will find a variety of home décor showrooms in a relatively compact area. Casanha, JYSK, AND Bo Concept all stock European and Scandinavian style items that can be purchased/delivered individually, while Vinmus also offers the option of browsing their range of fitted kitchen cabinets and cupboards.
Even if you’re not in the market for a sofa, dining table, or bed, a browse around these stores is often an enjoyable way to spend an hour or two as they also stock smaller, more budget-friendly decoration items such as cushions, carpets and a range of storage solutions, meaning that you’ll more than likely stumble across something that will not only give your living space a bit of a makeover but will also help to keep it clutter free!
Top Tip: After a few hours browsing for interior design inspiration, treat yourself to a well-deserved coffee and maybe a slice of cake at stylish Mori Coffee at 85 Thao Dien. With its exposed brick and dark wood countertop, it’s a great place to wrap up your stylish shopping trip!
Nguyễn Trãi Street
What is it for? Fashion and gifts
It’s not a mall but it may as well be – for the best deals, a pleasant experience, and a range of merchandise all in one convenient location, Ho Chi Minh City’s Fashion Street has you covered. I tend to visit this strip whenever I need to top up my closet, which I will be honest is not often – I’m definitely not a shopaholic. But when I do need that new pair of jeans, those ‘big-size’ heels for work, I come to Fashion Street every time.
I have honestly yet to find a spot in this city that has such a comprehensive collection of stuff all in one place. From cheap and cheerful tops to the finest of luxury brands and international labels, from shoes to bras, suits to bicycles, phones to sun hats! Though Nguyễn Trãi Street is known as a fashion hot spot it also has a number of shops selling gadgets, stationery, and gifts. There are a number of bank outlets along this strip, and even an ABC bakery for when you’ve had enough of buying and want to do some eating. As I said, it’s like the mall that isn’t a mall but may as well be. Everything is in one place.
I’m one of those strange individuals who likes to wear jeans even when it’s so hot that the air sticks to you, and since I’m also that stick-like combination of long and thin it is always very hard to find jeans that fit me here. Ok, I will be honest, it’s hard to find them anywhere. Stick insects aren’t meant to wear jeans, period. But here on fashion street, I have found not one, not two, but countless little boutiques that sell quality jeans at low prices, which fit me! Oh, happiness.
A number of shoe shops also sell size 40 heels, which makes me equally happy. Countless boutiques offer unique pieces and cute jewelry, which makes me happier, and a collection of makeshift stalls selling helmets and t-shirts line the pavements at one end. You need to bargain at these stalls, but most of the shops themselves have fixed prices, ranging from VND 100,000 for a pair of pants to USD $100 for a designer dress. Parking is either in front of the shops or inside an alleyway at 8 Nguyễn Trãi, and you will be charged VND 4,000 to leave your motorbike there, or VND 2,000 for a bicycle.
Top Tip: To fully absorb the bustle and energy of this street, leave your vehicle in the parking area at number 8 and browse on foot.
What is it for? Personal style
This one is more of a concept than a location. Do you like niche fashion? I’m not talking weird fluffy hats and bright red blazers (sorry, fellow artsy types) – I’m talking about those cute tops and unique cuts, those self-defining looks that you invest in when you want to wear your identity on your sleeve. Literally.
So, are you into that? I think most of us are to some degree – what we wear will always reflect who we are. And for those of you who love to be unique, trendy, and stylish, Saigon is dotted with cute little shops selling just that. Two of my favorite spots are Pasteur and Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa Street. If you travel up Pasteur Street from District 1 until it meets Trần Quốc Toản, there will be a number of little boutiques on your right. Surrounding them are some super cute cafes and tea shops, and my very favorite coffee chain Urban Station Coffee has an outlet up the road on Trần Quốc Toản! Perfect.
Make a visit to this little style haven, browse the vintage skirts, leather sandals, and clean-cut jackets, sip on a latte and embrace a bit of shades-on cafe culture. The average cost for clothes at these shops is a little higher than usual – expect to pay about VND 500,000 for a pair of super cute, totally unique jeans, and VND 300,000 for a lovely soft sweater. I myself tend to get stuck on the scarves…
Top Tip: Sizes at these shops are typically smaller and tailored to Vietnamese bodies. That being said, t-shirts, jumpers, sweaters, and skirts tend to be a nice fit even for my broad, British shoulders!
The Student Market
What is it for? Flea market!
If you want off-the-beaten-track, authentic, colorful, cheap, and stimulating, do not miss the student night market in the 6th quarter, Linh Trung ward, Thủ Đức District. If you are a foreigner you will, without doubt, be the only foreigner there. This is no traditional marketplace, but more of a flea market. A spot of the student nightlife for those students who live too far out of town to get to the real nightlife, and to be honest I would way rather wander this semi-rural playground than sit in a city bar.
The Linh Trung student market caters to university students in Thủ Đức District. It is a wonderland of street foods, from spring rolls to these bizarre flappy yellow pancake things which, I am told, are called ‘ram bắp’. ‘Bắp’ means ‘corn’, and this snack is made of corn, shrimp, and a number of delicious things rolled in rice paper and fried. You eat it with herbs and dip it in the sauce. Yum!
To get to Linh Trung the best and cheapest option is a local bus. You can take the number 19 bus from Lê Lai Street, behind the 23/9 Park in District 1, and watch the city go by from your air-conditioned local bus. Ask the driver or a fellow passenger to let you know when you hit Linh Trung.
I went the first time with my good friend Trang, and when I asked her for some clear directions to use if I ever came again (which I have, many times!) she told me ‘after seeing two big horns of the elephant you will hear the bus driver cry “Suối Tiên” in a BIG voice! Wait for him to turn left, ignore two stones, and jump off at the second stop’… As much as I love the Lord of the Rings, maybe skip the quest and just ask a local.
To get home the last bus is at 7:30 p.m., and we would advise getting to
the bus stop by 7:15 p.m. to make sure you don’t miss it. The bus stop to get home is on the opposite side of the street to where you arrived, and a little way up. If in doubt ask a student – many speak English, and they’re bound to want to practice!
Top Tip: Take a walk down to Hồ Đá Lake and watch the sunset over its beautiful blue waters. Buy some snacks from a vendor as you near the shore!
What is it for? Fashion, souvenirs, phones, and people-watching!
Famous Saigon Square is a key player in Ho Chi Minh City’s top 10 places to shop, and for good reason! This strange mix of shopping mall and the traditional market is centrally located, air-conditioned, and has its own toilets. There are now three outlets, but the main one is at Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa Street in District 1. The Square is known for its good prices and a far more pleasant browsing experience than nearby Bến Thành Market, for its wide range of merchandise and for the high quality of that merchandise.
And it’s fun! People from all over the world visit Ho Chi Minh City and almost every single one of those bubbly tourists goes to Saigon Square at some point during their stay. The Square is the perfect spot for people-watching. Actually, if I’m honest I don’t really go there to shop – if you stand on the second-floor balcony and look down you can spend hours just wondering about the people you see milling about beneath you. Arabs in their beautiful long robes asking the price for that Gucci knock-off handbag, the typical sun-bleached Aussie giggling in a Saigon Beer singlet, those impossibly blond Swiss kids flitting between the clothes racks… Call me Hitchcock, but voyeurism is fascinating.
From cheap synthetic t-shirts to local designs and boutique fashion pieces, some of the best shopping in Ho Chi Minh City is available in Saigon Square. Shoes, glasses, jewelry, swimwear, ski-wear, phones, and handbags – the Square is a wonderland for the shopaholic! I personally like to buy my work clothes here since there are so many little shops selling cute tops and pencil skirts, but my colleague insists it’s got the last word on raincoats and ski jackets. Each to his own. I guess you could call this market a kind of ‘Room of Requirement.
Top Tip: ATMs are at the Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa entrance, and there are toilets inside on the second floor.
Tân Định, District 1
What is it for? Filling your stomach
At the far corner of District 1, over the rainbow and beyond the pot of gold, there is a street that makes my stomach smile. Heck, it makes it leap about! But in excitement, not discomfort.
I only found it because I work in Phú Nhuận and decided to cycle home an adventurous way one day, but it’s by no means a secret. A lot of ex-pats live around there and for good reason. At night time, when all daytime clutter is packed away and Saigon’s equally chaotic nighttime cluster is set up, this place becomes a haven of food. I myself have to recommend an evening visit to three main places:
First, on the corner of Hai Bà Trưng and Trần Quang Khải Street there is a market. Here you will find all sorts of snacks, drinks, and meals from snails to noodle soup! I usually go by the mantra “if you don’t know what it is, try it, and then you will,” which is exciting but, admittedly, sometimes ill-advised… Another recommendation is Trần Khắc Chân Street. All along here people sell different foods. There is a bakery about halfway along, and so many noodle stalls you start seeing strings of yellow and white everywhere you look! Ok not quite, but noodles are good and this street has many.
Finally, for beers and BBQ or maybe a spot of late-night sushi, hit up the corner of Trần Khắc Chân and Hoàng Sa Street. I came here with a new business partner of mine to celebrate the opening of our company. We sat in the bar on the corner and ate beef and grilled okra while we sipped 333 beers and watched the night. Street singers and street dancers performed on the street, and lovely ladies sold those giant crackers that you’re meant to eat with beer but taste amazing just on their own.
I also ate sushi at a restaurant a little further down another night, and apart from being one of the cheapest spots for sushi that I have found in Saigon, the food was also delicious. Apart from anything else you’re right next to the river! How can anything seem bad when the moon is glinting on silver water and everything smells a bit salty?
Top Tip: Skip lunch so that you’ve got plenty of room to try EVERYTHING.
SAIGON INSPIRATION SHOPPING BEST MOONCAKES IN SAIGON
The mid-autumn festival, known as Tết Trung Thu in the Vietnamese language, is one of the most important annual celebrations in Vietnam. Every year, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls usually in September.
In Vietnam, this day and festival are celebrated with great fervor—kids running about freely holding traditional paper (or modern LED) lanterns, youths dressing up flamboyantly while parading Nguyen Hue street, lion dance troupes seeking permission to perform for residents in exchange for ‘lucky money at the heart of Saigon’s Chinatown—but one indisputable and irreplaceable feature of the Mid-Autumn festival regardless of one’s origin is definitely the mooncake.
Mooncakes are sweet or savory cakes that are baked or dessert-style (mochi-skinned, flaky and other exotic preparations exist!), featuring all sorts of imaginable styles and fillings such as traditional sweet lotus paste, green tea, and pandan, roasted chicken, coffee, caramel sea salt and taro, coconut and durian. We’ve even spotted Oreo, wasabi green bean, and black garlic-flavored mooncakes this year. The possibilities are never-ending.
We’ve put together a list of our favorite mooncakes in Saigon along with a summary of average prices and usual flavors to make choosing your Mid-Autumn Festival gifts easier. Note that prices and flavors may change, so please click the provided links and ask your favorite supplier what’s on offer this coming year.
Prices: Usually start just above a million VND net per box of four mooncakes, with additional tea leave options available. Discounts usually apply for bulk purchases and 20%-off is offered to Club Marriott members.
Flavors: Le Méridien Saigon’s Latitude 10 restaurant introduces an exciting series of mooncakes (170g ea.) with six distinct flavors including Tiramisu, Takesumi Charcoal, Sesame, Green Tea, Green Bean, and Roasted Chicken-Jambon paste for example.
Hôtel Des Arts Saigon
• Golden Harmony – Baked custard mooncake filled with a sinful salted egg custard core.
• Heaven Delight – Traditional-style baked mooncake made with healthy peanut oil, 100 percent lotus seed paste, and a single egg yolk center.
• Pandan Royal – Special creamy white soft crust made by blending pandan and Malaysian coconut.
• Imperial Pearl – Traditional baked style cake filled with almonds, walnut, melon seed, white sesame, and more.
Price: Box of 4 mooncake selections of your choice is usually just below a million VND net.
• Specially mixed nuts (Chinese sausage, candied winter melon, cashew nuts, lotus seeds, sesame, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.)
• Traditional Green Bean
• Custard Lotus
• Taro & Coconut
• Black Sesame
• Matcha Green Tea
Pullman Saigon Centre
Price: Pullman Saigon Centre’s stylish ‘Art at Play’ box of five different types of mooncakes that are usually priced just below a million VND Net.
• Roasted Chicken single yolk (150g) – Traditional-style baked mooncake filled with roast chicken, Chinese pork sausage, and toasted sesame seeds that are perfect with oolong tea.
• Lotus Pandan single yolk (150g) – A flavor that’s close to the heart of many south-east Asians; nothing beats the fragrance of pandan leaves and lotus paste combined.
• Cheese Lotus (150g) – Cream cheese and lotus paste may sound like an unlikely combination but you’d be surprised by how delicious this rich mooncake is!
• Taro single yolk (150g) – Sweetened taro paste; a no-brainer when it comes to sweet treats.
• Lotus Tea by Phuc Long (80g) – A collaboration between Pullman Saigon Centre and the most iconic Vietnamese tea brand. A must-try for tea lovers.
BAKES have released their first ever mooncakes in 2019! Head Pastry Chef Sara Wu originally hails from Jilin, China, and was inspired by the shifting phases of the moon cycle. Each 125g mooncake is made from entirely natural ingredients, with no preservatives and a bamboo charcoal-colored shell. Each mooncake is individually hand-painted with an alluring crescent moon, and galaxy finish.
Price and Flavours: The BAKES mooncake set price is usually set around VND600,000 net and usually comes with 3 flavors…
• Rich coconut and crispy cashew caramel insert
• Chocolate with a moist dark chocolate and kumquat truffle insert
• Smooth black sesame with creamy salted duck egg curd insert
Arguably Vietnam’s best chocolatier and chocolate patisserie, Maison Marou is amongst the small handful of artisanal chocolatiers in Vietnam who crafts chocolate out of locally grown cocoa beans.
Price: Each 100g mooncake is made with 70% Lâm Đồng dark chocolate and is priced at around VND180,000. Larger boxes of 4 or 9 mooncakes are also generally available.
Flavors: Maison Marou offers utterly unique, gourmet mooncake flavors that are bound to steal the limelight every year. Last year our blessing was on:
• Chocolate & peanut praline
• Chocolate & kumquat jam
Dai Phat bakery’s mooncakes have been a hit with locals for many years. The secret lies in combining Vietnamese tradition with Taiwanese baking know-how. Every year, its creative line of mooncakes features numerous varieties including traditional Taiwanese-style flaky mooncakes, traditional Hong Kong-style baked mooncakes, adorable rabbit-shaped mooncakes, and other delights such as trendy salted-egg yolk ‘lava’ custard mooncakes. We detailed here the applied price in September 2020, it may have changed some, but they are in general relatively competitive.
Codes, Flavours & Prices:
• 001 Amicable Set (3 x Taiwanese flaky mooncakes) – VND102,000
• 002 Amicable Set (3 x Hong Kong style mooncakes: coconut, green bean, seafood XO) – VND102,000
• 003 Amicable Set (3 x rabbit-shaped mooncakes: durian, lotus pineapple & lychee) – VND102,000
• 004 Amicable Set (3 x multi-colored flaky mooncakes: almond, taro & coconut) – VND102,000
• 005 Amicable Set (3 x salt-egg custard mooncakes) – VND102,000
• 101 Quality Set (2 x 150g Hong Kong style mooncakes: coconut, green bean) – VND140,000
• 102 Quality Set (Set 002 + 004) – VND204,000
• 103 Quality Set (Set 002 + 3 x Taiwanese sticky rice cakes) – VND186,000
• 104 Quality Set (Set 001 + 002) – VND204,000
• 105 Quality Set (1 x 150g Hong Kong savory mooncake with single yolk + 1 x 150g mochi-skinned lotus paste mooncake) – VND157,000
• 201 Sophisticated Set (Set 101 + 102 + 3 Taiwanese sticky rice cakes) – VND288,000
• 203 Sophisticated Set (2 x 150g Hong Kong savory mooncakes and 2 x 150g Hong Kong sweet mooncakes) – VND284,000
• 205 Sophisticated Set (3 x 150g Hong Kong savory/sweet mooncakes with single yolk + 1 x 150g mochi-skinned lotus paste mooncake) – VND289,000
Dai Phat also offered in the past years more luxurious boxed combinations; including an ultimate indulgence in partnership with the renowned Minh Long Porcelain for the occasion.
Last year, Vietnamese tradition meet Japanese sophistication in Star Kitchen’s Minh Nguyệt Đoàn Viên (in English, Reunion Under the Luminous Moon) series of mooncakes. The creative flavors were designed by nonother than Star Kitchen’s Japanese founder Mr. Yuya Arashima and his talented Vietnamese team of pastry chefs. Star Kitchen also happens to be one of the most popular pastry schools in Saigon among Japanese and Vietnamese housewives.
• Đoàn Viên box of 6 mooncakes at VND855,000
• Minh Nguyệt box of 4 mooncakes at VND570,000
• Vọng Nguyệt box of 4 mooncakes and Japanese tea at VND808,000
Individual mooncake flavors are also available for sale.
• Takesumi black charcoal gold leaf lotus paste single yolk (150g) – VND171,000
• Cheese coffee (150g) – VND142,500
• Mixed nuts and fruits (150g) – VND142,500
• Coconut durian (150g) – VND142,500
• Avocado chia seed single yolk (150g) – VND152,000
• Sakura berry and cheese (150g) – VND 142,500
• Green tea crust with green tea and almond single yolk (150g) – VND161,500
• Wasabi green bean and white chocolate (150g) – VND152,000
Phương Diêm Thuận
A reputable mooncake maker in Saigon’s Chinese enclave, Phương Diêm Thuận prides itself as one of the largest independent mooncake makers in Ho Chi Minh City that sells freshly baked mooncakes directly to customers and their multi-generational families without the help of third-party distributors. If you don’t speak Vietnamese, ordering could be challenging. But here are samples of what was on offer recently.
Flavors, and reference prices:
• Red bean paste with almonds and double salted egg yolk (210g) VND92,000
• Green tea almond lotus seed paste with double salted egg yolk (210g) VND95,000
• Pineapple with double salted egg yolk (210g) VND100,000
• Taro with double salted egg yolk (210g) VND91,000
• Pandan lotus seed paste with double salted egg yolk (210g) VND93,000
• Pumpkin seed paste with roasted watermelon seeds and double salted egg yolk (210g) VND91,000
• Coconut with double salted egg yolk (210g) VND86,000
• Green bean paste with double salted egg yolk (210g) VND86,000
• Lotus seed paste with double salted egg yolk (210g) VND91,000
• Mixed nuts and ham with double salted egg yolk (210g) VND110,000
• Pandan taro paste with double salted egg yolk (210g) VND95,000
• Mixed nuts with eight treasures cured pork leg and ham and double salted egg yolk (210g) VND113,000
• Mixed nuts and dried shrimp with double salted egg yolk (210g) VND135,000
• Mixed nuts with double salted egg yolk (210g) VND111,000
• Mixed nuts with roasted chicken and double salted egg yolk (210g) VND124,000
• Mixed nuts with roasted chicken, sharkfin and double salted egg yolk (210g) VND140,000
• Mixed nuts with roasted chicken, abalone, and double salted egg yolk (210g) VND145,000
• Specially mixed nuts with sharkfin, roasted chicken, and quadruple salted egg yolk (800g) VND490,000
• Special ‘Three Deities’ mixed nuts with sharkfin, roasted chicken, and sextuple salted egg yolk (1kg) VND590,000
• Vegetarian mochi-skinned lotus seed paste (210g) VND55,000
• Vegetarian mochi-skinned mixed nuts (210g) VND57,000
Other single-salted egg yolks and eggless flavors are usually available.
Hỷ Lâm Môn
Another renowned ethnic-Chinese bakery with humble beginnings at the heart of Saigon’s Chinatown in District 5, Hỷ Lâm Môn has been selling pastries since 1984 and has since expanded to 9 branches around Ho Chi Minh City while producing more than 130 types of cakes and baked snacks on a daily basis. Their list of seasonal mooncake offerings is a true reflection of the preferences and traditions of the Saigonese palate.
Flavors, and Reference Prices:
• Special roasted chicken with Shark Fin (250g) VND205,000
• Special lotus seed paste with double salted egg yolk (250g) VND160,000
• Special green bean paste with double salted egg yolk (250g) VND147,000
• Special roasted chicken with ham (250g) VND177,000
• Roasted chicken with double salted egg yolk (220g) VND164,000
• Mixed nuts with double salted egg yolk (220g) VND149,000
• Lotus seed paste with double salted egg yolk (220g) VND139,000
• Green bean paste with double salted egg yolk (220g) VND126,000
• Coconut with double salted egg yolk (220g) VND126,000
• Black bean paste with double salted egg yolk (220g) VND126,000
• Taro with double salted egg yolk (220g) VND139,000
• Green tea lotus seed paste with double salted egg yolk (220g) VND152,000
• Pandan lotus seed paste with double salted egg yolk (220g) VND152,000
• Black sesame paste with double salted egg yolk (220g) VND128,000
Other single-salted egg yolks and eggless flavors are usually available.
SAIGON INSPIRATION SHOPPING LY SANG AND THE ART OF PORCELAIN BY MINH LONG
How did Minh Long I Co, your porcelain company, start?
My family has a long history in the porcelain and tableware business. I’m not sure how many generations, because we emigrated from China. My great-great-grandparents came from China to Vietnam to continue their business, and then my father continued it, and then me. It’s like our blood is running with the porcelain.
Where did porcelain originate?
Many thousands of years ago it came from China. That’s why it’s colloquially called fine china However, today in China, in general, mass production is still on the low end. They have some good companies, and they have some high-quality porcelain as well, but they don’t produce top-quality porcelain. You’ll find the top quality today in Japan. In the past, it was Germany, and France. But now it’s definitely Japan.
Why did Japan rise to the top?
I think it just has to do with the many characteristics that make up quality. The most important part is the material. Secondly, the equipment. And then the formulation of the kaolin as well. If you don’t have the correct formulation, it never goes anywhere. So, in Japan these days, I think the breakthrough is the formulation and materials that they find. It’s pushed the quality of their products up quite a bit.
Where do you source the material that you use for your porcelain?
From all around the world. To have good quality kaolin, we have to balance all sides of the product. The strength, the elasticity, how scratch-resistant it is, the translucency… There are many characteristics, and one mine can’t fulfill all of these qualities. Maybe one has the wetness and one has the elasticity. One has strength. So we have to select the best mines for each quality and mix them. So that’s why our formula becomes very complex.
How does Minh Long make a piece of porcelain?
We have a few processes. Before anything, we have to boil down the raw material, because Minh Long doesn’t buy any processed materials: we buy the raw material straight from the mine. We purify, grind and mix the materials ourselves. After we finished making the porcelain mix, we put it into the machine. The traditional method people used in the past is they melt the clay into a liquid and they fill this liquid clay into the water and into a plaster mold made of gypsum.
And then they dump all of the water out, and the deposit of the clay left onto the mold forms the shape of the product. And the more contemporary way, they use the machine. The machine is forming, it’s spinning fast. You see in some videos that they have a spinning table, and the people use their hands to form it. So it’s the same method, but with the machine. And the most advanced today is what we call high-pressure casting, which also uses liquid, but we use pressure to push the water out.
It results in a more even deposit onto the product, and a more complex design for the tableware and the art form, especially for a symmetrical design. But this technology is very complex. With over 8 million motorbikes and counting, Saigon is the motorbike capital of the world, so it stands to reason that it would have a dedicated market for motorbike accessories. It’s on Nguyen Chi Thanh street in District 5. Hundreds of stores peddle wholesale and retail parts for Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, and Piaggio motorbikes, ranging from original expensive parts to cheap Chinese knock-offs.
What’s important to customers in high-end porcelain?
First of all, it’s the price. Because there’s no doubt about the quality – the quality they can see and feel. Normally the price is not so sensitive to certain levels of quality, but because our product is made in Vietnam, the reputation cannot compare with Japan, Germany, or France. In branding, we cannot compete despite our high level of quality, which people can see.
What should a customer look for when assessing the quality of a porcelain product?
When you buy a piece of porcelain, you can’t know how strong the product is until it breaks. The only visual difference you can see is the glossiness and the whiteness. But there are many ways to cheat the glossiness. They can put lead inside. It’s very glossy, but it’s very soft on the glazed surface. So the end consumer cannot tell. Is it glossy from lead, or is it lead-free? Our products are lead-free. It’s important to trust the quality of a company.