Saturday, January 25, 2014

Vietnam Adventure D1 - Binh Tay Market & Ben Thanh Market. 빈떼이시장과 벤탄시장.

I love Google maps, because the find directions function is so convenient! It has the public transport information of most countries, which makes it so easy to get around. ^^

On the bus to the largest wholesale market in Saigon, Binh Tay Market! They sell everything there, more of a local market than a tourist one~! I love exploring markets because they're really fascinating and especially revealing about what that country and culture is like.

Bus tickets are very cheap there. A few cents and it's a fixed price for any distance. Again, I can't remember the exact prices... haha

Vietnamese love adorning themselves with funky hats~

The forever crazy traffic in Ho Chi Minh. You've gotta have fabulous driving skills and bravery to survive.

We reached the bus interchange which was nearby Binh Tay Market, so following trusty Google maps we started walking there.

There was a market along the streets around the bigger Binh Tay Market and we had fun getting our first taste of Vietnamese markets.

What makes me happy about Vietnamese markets is the great abundance of fresh rolling hills and mountains of fruits and vegetables! Plus point? Cheap~! Vietnamese make a point to arrange their fruit and vegetables in cute little hills. That's not seen often in Singapore.

I love visiting Korean markets too, but the lack of variety fruits and their hefty prices always make me very sad. *sniffs*

*gasps* My favourite custard apples (the green, moldy looking ones)! They're so expensive in Singapore but so preciously cheap here... hehe I decided i had to buy them again another day.

These wiggly and weird cocoons are actually peanuts.

We reached the outskirts of Binh Tay Market. Shops were selling tonnes of things in huge variety and lots of buyers were busy haggling with the sellers.

My fellow traveler, Apple, wanted to buy a hair rubber band but was rejected because they sold it in huge quantities. I know, it's a wholesale market.

I'm still wondering what are these. Scarves?? But Saigon is friggin' hot like Singapore and these look thick...

Binh Tay Market!

I was rather amazed by the humongous loads the Vietnamese could manage to carry around. Oh my, sorry dude-sitting-on-the-stairs-right-in-front, I captured a very candid and cheesy smile of yours.

I was amused when I first saw these because they looked like colourful bras but actually they're just face masks.. haha Most people wear face masks in the city because the air is really quite polluted with the crazy traffic and all. 

All the shops there are competing to see who can cram the most things into the same amount of space. The shops were practically overflowing and none of the nooks and crannies and dangling spaces were let off.

And look, the hats and caps Vietnamese love to sport. No, not everyone wears these cutesy hats.

I love tupperwares!! Don't ask me why.. Perhaps because they let me organise food items well. Food... 

I like woven baskets and racks too~ Gosh I'm like some old aunty.

These bizzare looking orange "thingys" attracted our attention. Further research told us that this was a fruit called Gac, which is often used as a food dye to colour orange-red hues especially for their sticky rice, Xoi.

The market was really quite huge, with lots of little alleys and back streets. The shop vendors were all busy going about their business and they mostly ignored the occasional tourists like us who obviously weren't good business opportunities.

If thy eyes did not deceive me, these little mounds were garlic!! They're offerings for gods and deities.

It was so hot and humid and we didn't have a drop of water with us. We saw this tantalising display of ice-cold sweet jellies sold from a motorcycle cart. I wanted to buy it so badly but the stall owner was nowhere to be seen.. *sobs*

Can you imagine how refreshing and thirst-quenching these looked in the sweltering heat...

They look similar to the 'agar agar' in Singapore. Really wish I had gotten to try some.

Mounds of colourful sweets and sugary dried fruit. How poisonous looking..

Lots of nuts and fruit n veggie chips too!

And of course...

How can I not buy cashew nuts when 1) Vietnam is the world's largest producer of cashew nuts, and 2) I am head over heels in love with cashew nuts. 
Yay and they were of course cheaper than in Singapore. 230,000VND for 1kg. SGD$14 for 1kg of delicious roasted cashews! In Singapore, when I buy roasted ones in supermarkets they're usually around $7 for only 250g...... ㅠㅠ

They were very crunchy, fragrant and creamy and dangerously addictive!
And... Little did we know that this 1kg bag of cashew nuts was gonna save our lives a few days later... How fortunate that I decided to buy this bag of cashew nuts..

*gasps and squeals in delight* Oh my gosh!! The ginormous size of Vietnamese durians surprised me, and again they're much cheaper.... *eyes in envy* I'm salivating thinking of durians now. As a crazy durian fanatic, I vowed to try the Vietnamese durian before I left Vietnam!

A meal one of the shopkeepers was having.
They have this rather cool system of the food stall helpers roaming around the market to take orders from shopkeepers, then they would deliver the food directly to the shop. Like this:

Uhhh I accidentally got a not very pretty picture of one of the food stall helpers. Don't worry, not all of them look grumpy like this. :P

There was also a woman roving around carrying a huge basket of some food that I couldn't identify even though I tried to tag along after her. She was repeatedly chanting something in a very unique tune and tone, I guess that something should be whatever food she was selling.

In the middle of the market, in the midst of the hectic bustling activity, was this very tranquil little place in an open area. It was a beautiful contrast. 
I think it was a memorial to someone because there was a sculpture of someone there. But I'm not too sure.

Funky dragon hedge sculpture.

Overall Binh Tay Market is definitely an interesting place to experience the local market buzz. But if you're hoping to shop, it's not the right place unless you're thinking of buying large amounts. Nuts and other snacks are fine though. ^^

Time to move on to the next destination~

As we walked back to the bus interchange, we passed by this vendor selling cups of Vietnamese che. Che means dessert. Prior to the trip I had done quite some research on the food in Vietnam and had been extremely excited by the variety of Vietnamese desserts because I have a very sweet-tooth and the local desserts seemed to suit my tastebuds since they use an abundance of my favourite coconut and a variety of sweet beans. I was thirsty and craving for something cold, sweet and refreshing, so I bought a cup!

I chose the prettiest one. It was coconut milk based and very sweet with an assortment of chewy tapioca jellies. There was a ridged type of jelly pieces that had a slightly crispy and crunchy texture to it, yum~

Vietnamese ches are definitely vegetarian and I'm quite sure most are vegan too! Because no eggs are used and instead of dairy it's usually coconut milk! There's a need to confirm again with the seller though.

Me with my che. Why do I look so worn out... I didn't really feel tired though, I don't really get tired during vacation. haha

The funny thing about their bus interchanges (not for all though) was that there wasn't any designated waiting or queuing area. You just have to sort of loiter around the bus you wanna take and wait for the bus driver to come. It must be horrible when it rains.

Our bus is leaving! Our next destination was District 1, where we were gonna buy our bus tickets and train tickets for the subsequent days and hang around the area and Ben Tanh Market.

I was walking around before boarding and was surprised to see Korean words on the back of the bus. Turns out that most of the buses there are made in Korea!

Look! Highly amused that I got to see this and sit in a "Korean" bus even before my Korea trip.

No wonder the buses felt so strangely familiar just now. Mystery solved~

There's a rather huge Korean influence in Vietnam. I saw quite a few random Korean companies or restaurants throughout the whole trip, in the Korean characters mind you, not translated English.

And of course the famous Paris Baguette from Korea. Tous Les Jours was spotted a few times too!

Vietnamese versions.

This is so dumb but I still remember that when we got off the bus I accidentally stepped into a muddy area beside the sidewalk and squelch my whole feet went in. I couldn't help it, I swore. lol. 

Then we spotted this cute little puppy! 

So very pretty and adorable!!! ^^ Many Vietnamese love dogs, I saw loads of different ones raised as pets!

We proceeded to buy the train tickets for the long journey from Nha Trang to Hanoi (information found here) and then bus tickets for travel from Saigon to Mui Ne to Dalat to Nha Trang.

We had a hard time deciding though. District 1 was a famous backpacking district and filled with a startling number of tour agencies and bus companies offering different packages. In the end after talking to a few companies we decided on the last one we went into, which was the cheapest and the female staff was very friendly. 
The fateful bus........

There was still a few hours left before we were leaving for a homestay near the Mekong Delta so we headed to the touristy Ben Thanh market to while off our time.

The female staff at the tour agency gave us directions to the market saying to walk all~ the way straight in the direction she pointed. And so we did. We walked for quite some time and I was starting to doubt whether we were going in the right direction because she had said it was nearby. 

I had to ask another passerby and turns out we were on the right track. Funny thing was the passerby couldn't understand my pronunciation of "Ben Thanh Market" and I remembered trying many different versions of "Ben Thanh" before she guessed where I was talking about... hahaha

The buildings in Vietnam are often very slim aka narrow. Cute. Is it because it's expensive to buy a larger piece of land so they build upwards from a small plot of land? It's another competition to cram as many things as possible into a small space again!

I took this and the following 2 pictures when I accidentally got stuck in the middle of the road. You must be thinking 'crazy woman'.

A park in the middle of the chaotic city. I have a soft spot for tree-lined paths~ (:

Finally we reached Ben Thanh Market after at least 30 minutes or more of walking~

I didn't take any pictures inside cos there was quite a lot of people and I was lazy... :P It was the way I remembered when I was there many years ago. Lots of colours and interesting products, and of course lots of shop vendors very enthusiastically vying for your attention. It's also the place to get all the typical Vietnamese souvenirs. I remember buying chopsticks the other time I was here, oh and a cap. 
Suddenly flooded with memories of Vietnam with my Secondary 3 classmates... (:

In the end both of us each bought the same pair of a very cute and unique pair of sandals that I am very very pleased with. Pictures on Day 3. (; It definitely wasn't that cheap in Vietnamese standards but oh well, it's a touristy place.. Don't expect rock-bottom prices.

We spotted 'Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt' outside the market and made a beeline for it. Constantly craving for cold and refreshing things! I was very curious how the frozen yogurt here would taste like too.

My conclusion is that the Tutti Frutti brand and other froyo brands in Singapore fare much better. This tasted too artificial. ㅜㅜ 

It was a much needed break though. My shoulders were seriously starting to complain after walking around for several hours carrying a 10 plus kilogram backpack. We were both quite exhausted. 

It was a much needed rest for what happened next... The first of the series of exciting and interesting things that happened during our epic adventure across Vietnam...

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