Feeling the need to get lost in a maze of fabric? Dive into oceans of fresh flowers? Or navigate towers of candy-coloured luggage? Hanoi’s markets will make any shopaholic’s heart beat faster. Following is a brief guide to where you’ll find what.
Dong Xuan Market
Located at the west end of the city’s Old Quarter, Dong Xuan Market is Hanoi’s largest and oldest covered market of clothes, household goods and foodstuffs. It was originally built by the French in 1889 but suffered a devastating fire in 1994 after which it was totally rebuilt. Thankfully they maintained the market’s attractive exterior structure, especially the distinct five-arch entrance. This is not really a tourist market, but a wholesale center where small-time traders, including the ubiquitous ladies on bicycles come to buy goods to peddle around town. Don’t let that stop you from strolling through the jammed aisles of chopsticks, crockery, hair accessories, luggage, shoes, silk pillowcases, underwear, and feather dusters. The clothes, my friend informed me, are all made in China and not exactly high quality. But then again, the items you’ll find in all the Made in Vietnam retail outlets are similar.
Upstairs you’ll find the fabric stalls. This is a good place to come if you want to provide a tailor with the cloth for a custom-made dress or suit. But once again, they like to sell in large quantities. At the back you’ll find produce and wholesale dried goods like sacks of dried mushrooms, plus a few street food vendors of items such as bun cha (noodle soup with pork) and bun rieu cua (tomato soup with rice noodles, tofu and crab). If you are buying a load of souvenirs it makes sense at this wholesale market. Avoid visiting right after lunch because vendors will be talking their daily afternoon snooze.
Cho Hom Market
There are two specialties at Cho Hom market, at the corner of Pho Hue and Tran Xuan Soan: fabric and seafood. The second floor is a sea of cloth in every colour and texture, from lime green lace to fuzzy faux fur. Local tailors and boutique owners love to shop here since the prices are a little better than the Dong Xuan Market’s. On the main floor you’ll find the usual clothes, shoes and bags, but tucked into back is an area alive with shrimp, crab and fish, as well as fresh produce. Feeling a bit peckish? The food court serves up a tasty che (syrupy mixture of green peas, sticky rice, sweet corn and shaved ice) and papaya salad.
Night Market, Old Quarter
From 7 pm – 11 pm every Friday, Sat and Sunday the streets running north from Hang Dao in the Old Quarter, almost up to Dong Xuan Market, are closed to traffic. You can buy all sorts of trinkets here and it’s great if you are in market for a mobile phone cover or Hello Kitty lamp. It’s not really the shopping that attracts crowds here, since most of the goods you can find during the day in the Old Quarter shops for the same prices. It’s the people watching that makes this a weekend go-to destination. Watch funky couples cruise the stalls and enjoy eating fun foods like sausage on a stick or spiral-cut fried potatoes. If you get really hungry, at the northern end there are all sorts of Lau, or hot pot restaurants, to calm a growling tummy.
Early, Early, Early….
The early bird vendors gets his or her wholesale produce and flowers between midnight and 6 am in Hanoi. Quang Ban Flower Market, on Au Co Street in West Lake, bursts with fragrant blossoms and depending on the season this is where the bicycle ladies pick up their lotus flowers, roses and birds of paradise. At Long Bien market, located next to Long Bien Bridge alongside the dyke road, is a fruit and vegetable wholesale market, where local vendors, street pop up market purveyors and wet market stall owners, all stock up for the day. The fruit and vegetables come in from the countryside, and China, at around 1 am. Both these markets are bursting with trader energy and can give you an idea of the hardscrabble lifestyle of villagers who have come to the big city to make a bit of money.
For the most part, Hanoians buy their fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and poultry from street vendors or from localized wet markets. Shoppers on motorbikes zip in to buy live fish, shrimp, pigs’ feet and eggs in any one of these neighbourhood spots including Cau Long market in Truc Bach and the Phuong Hung market on Phuong Hung Street near Hoan Kiem Lake.