Much like the people and cultures spread throughout the continent, the bustling markets of Asia are filled to the brim with diversity, history and life. Through them, avid travellers like ourselves get to immerse ourselves, if only for a few hours, in everyday life as seen through a local’s eyes. At the very least, we’ll walk away with a few mementos that shall serve as loving reminders of the time spent in that particular part of the world. Now that we’ve talked you into adding markets into your next trip, here are 3 that you wouldn’t want to miss out on.
Bến Thành market, Vietnam
Hồ Chí Minh City, or Saigon as it is still known to many, is where you will find this enduring gem of a market. It came to be as early as the 17th century when street vendors convened near the Saigon River, forming a bare bones version of the market. In 1912, the market was then moved to a new building, where it was rechristened the New Bến Thành Market. The current version that tourists see is the result of a renovation in 1985, but all in all, it remains one of the earliest surviving structures in the city.
These days, it’s one of the liveliest hubs in Vietnam’s biggest city, thanks to its abundance of food, traditional clothing, and souvenirs. If fabrics, áo dài (the Vietnamese national costume for women), and local foodie favourites are what you seek, you can’t go wrong here. It also helps that it’s the gathering spot for the city bus network that runs throughout the city, as well as starting point for several lines of the upcoming Hồ Chí Minh City Metro.
It’s worth noting, however, that like many other commercialised markets, vendors tend to be more aggressive with their pricing. As such, it would do one some good to brush up on haggling skills before spending the day there.
Temple Street market, Hong Kong
There’s no shortage of night markets in Hong Kong, but if you only have time for one, Temple Street market is a good place to start. It ticks off most of the traits that have become synonymous with this inextricable part of Hong Kong nightlife, such as the contrast of new (cheap but trendy clothing and accessories) against old (fortune tellers and antiques), local street food and the festive atmosphere.
Even if shopping and sampling noodles aren’t your cup of tea, Temple Street market is worth venturing to for the sights alone, especially if it’s your first time in the city. Your camera will go trigger-happy from sights of herbal shops and clinics fronted by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, street singers and the occasional Chinese opera performance. While there is an unmistakable element of seediness to it all, it only adds to the allure of the market.
Vendors start setting up around 6pm, which makes it a perfect time for the crowd-averse among us to shop and explore in relative peace. If, however, you want to experience the atmosphere – crowd and all – at full blast, 7 – 10pm is the sweet spot.
Amphawa Floating Market, Bangkok
Apart from getting front row seats to the canalside way of life, Amphawa is also where you get to savour a long list of freshly grilled seafood, from shellfish to prawns to squid. It’s an experience like no other when you perch on a short flight of stairs built right by the river, while chewing on your newly acquired lunch, as farmers float by on their boats peddling their produce.
Once you’re satiated, there’s also plenty of shops around the market’s walkways with souvenirs that you’ll gladly line your suitcase with, whether it’s T-shirts with catchy sayings, traditional hats or handicrafts. Otherwise, you can hop on a boat to take you on a relaxing float upstream.
Now, locals love the market just as much, so to get the most out of Amphawa, it’s best to arrive before 10am and leave just right after lunch, as post-noon is when the crowd starts trickling in. Furthermore, the market is only open during the weekends, so pick your hour carefully.