Food, colours, smells, souvenirs, smiles, yelling and laughter. The essence of any country lies in its markets, and Vietnam’s are like no other. They form the heart of each community, and you can see the locals at their most authentic pace. Even though supermarkets and grocery stores have opened all across Vietnam, most locals still enjoy the freshness of the produce at the markets and the added convenience of often not even having to get off their motorbike to shop.
It doesn’t matter what you’re looking to buy or what kind of traveller you are, and there’s something for everyone inside Hoi An’s markets: the photographer in you will be like a kid in a candy store at every aisle and children can taste all kinds of delicious treats. If you’re a traveller who likes to cook, then these venues have all, or at least most, ingredients that you’ll want for your next dish which can then be combined with discoveries. Pack your wardrobe with cheap clothes, fill your belly with local warm plates and empty your wallet buying souvenirs for everyone back home.
Be warned, this is not your regular kind of shopping area, where you’ll know the prices or even the ingredients. Study the Vietnamese’ body language to discover a whole new way of acquiring your goods and get your money’s worth in Hoi An’s markets with the help of Hidden Hoi An. In this article, you’ll find a full of description of the different markets in town, from the popular ones to those off the beaten track, with all the information on how to get there, when to go, and what you can find in these frenetic melting pots of experience.
Hoi An Central Market
The epitome of a Vietnamese market, the Central Market, located in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old Town of Hoi An, will entertain your eyes and stomach like no other. If you’re looking to sit back and relax, let me tell you this is not for you. Being in the middle of the tourist area and spanning across five streets, this market is the biggest and most crowded. It has every ingredient you need and every gift you would want to buy, but with a higher tourist price tag that will make it, from the start and if you’re not an expert haggler, the most expensive one in town.
Where is it?
If you’re staying at the Old Town, then this is the place for you to have breakfast every day and watch all the action of the early rising Vietnamese, as it’s walkable distance to all the main cultural attractions of Hoi An in the eastern side of town. You’ll find the entrance to the Food Court at the intersection of Tran Phu st and Nguyen Hue—no way to get lost as the big yellow building with the massive red words “Chợ Hoi An” (“Chợ” is the Vietnamese word for “market”) will be bustling with people from before sunrise until after dark. From there, it spans all the way to the Thu Bon river and across from the Cam Nam bridge to the Museum of Folklore on the west. The amount of street vendors varies according to the day, but this is by far the most popular and active market in all of Hoi An.
What can you buy here?
Everything you can imagine, and more. Get there early morning—the market is already busy at 5 am! It’s the best time to get your fish and meat as fresh as you can. Fruit and vegetables are readily available all day long, as well as pantry ingredients and house tools on the inside of the market. Stock up on souvenirs, handicrafts, clothes, and fabric to make your own garments, a new backpack for your travels, a charger for your iPhone, and the list keeps on going. Rest assured, you’ll find whatever you need at Hoi An’s Central Market.
If you woke up early to see all the action of the Vietnamese woman buying their fish straight from the river before 6 am, then you will want a good breakfast for your effort. In Hoi An’s Central Market you can get some of the best traditional dishes in town: Cao Lau, Bánh Xèo, and White Roses will be waiting for you at any of the many stalls in the central food court—you can find more carts in the adjacent streets too. Spend in between 20.000 to 50.000 dong for your meal and then have a Vietnamese coffee for 10,000 to 20,000 VND (.50c to 1 USD), making it one of the best value meals you can have in town and an easy buying experience as the menus are all in English.
Produce, meat, and fish
If you stopped to eat at the food court, then keep on walking further to the river through the same building, and at the end of it, you’ll find a scene not for the fainthearted. You’ll see beef, pork, whole chickens, and other parts of animals that aren’t easy to identify.
Keep on walking if the scene is too grotesque for you and you’ll be at the Bach Dang street, where you can take a deep breath of fresh air and stroll through the lanes filled with fruits and vegetables displayed in wooden baskets. Keep an eye out for bicycles and motorbikes and ignore the touters if you’re not there to buy any produce. The women at Hoi An Central Market are experts at selling, so if you engage even with a “No, thank you,” you might end up buying a kilo of mangosteen you hadn’t even considered. Ignore them and move on.
At the corner of Tran Phu and Hoang Dieu (just before you arrive at the river bridge), you’ll find Hoi An’s Cloth Market, with a plethora of hot deals in fabrics and tailoring of clothes of all types and qualities for really low prices—if you’re a skilful negotiator. Arrive with a strong mind and full stomach as this is one of the areas of the market that can be the most nerve-racking. The shop owners are super intrusive and will leave you no silent minute when you enter the building, with people almost shouting at you: “Want to buy something?” “What are you looking for?” “Hello, hello!”
If you are up for the challenge, this area will have the most variety per square metre in town, so you can easily go from one vendor to the next to get exactly what you want and fill your wardrobe with clothes tailored just for your body.
Souvenirs, handicrafts, and more
Hoi An’s Central Market is a great place to look for souvenirs and decorations to bring back home. From painted coconut bowls to hand-carved chopsticks, there are great quality handicrafts in the streets next to the main building. Roam the streets for electronic gadgets, a new suitcase or even silver jewellery. We’re telling you; honestly, you can find anything in these streets.
When to go?
If you’re here to experience the local life, then between 5 am and 9 am is when you should roam the market’s aisles, as it’s at its most original state with the Vietnamese stocking up their pantries. The added bonus is that the vendors will be busier and have less time to play around with you for a price if you’re looking to buy some produce. After that, the tourists start flocking in, and the cooking tour groups come to buy their goods, so the local experience becomes a bit washed out by the blond heads 30 centimetres above the conical hats. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun at any other time though, and if you go there at any moment of the day, you’ll surely have loads of people watching to do, yummy food to eat and interesting things to buy.
If you’re looking to buy fish and meat, get there as early as you can get—from 5 am onwards. The refrigeration conditions are not good (we’re talking crushed ice on top of the fish when it’s 30ºC outside) so you want to get there when these products haven’t gone bad till you take them to your own refrigerator. Keep in mind that when the daily quantities ran out, the ladies will close their stands and head back home with happy wallets so the offer of these products will become less as the day goes by. Fruits and vegetables are easily available all day long, as well as pantry ingredients and house tools. Souvenirs, handicrafts and clothes shops will open a bit later (8-9 am) and remain open until after dark, so you’ll get a more relaxed atmosphere in the afternoon for this kind of shopping after the locals are already cooking at home.
Why should you go?
You won’t have a single moment of boredom at Hoi An’s Central Market, so even if you’re not looking to buy anything, it’s the most fun place to people watch in town. If you want to shop, you’ll certainly find everything you need here and have an authentic Vietnamese experience when doing so. Have fun with the bargaining, don’t take it personally and get your acting on just as they do—the women’s annoyed expressions are just a part of the game, really.
Tiger Market – Chợ Tân An
Just a couple of minutes drive from the Old Town, the Tiger Market gives foreigners an easy shopping experience at fair prices with a local flair to it. No, you won’t find tigers here —the name comes from the Mieu Ong Cop temple that is right next to it, but you can find all kinds of local fresh produce, meats and fishes. Plus, there’s a killer grocery store where you can find the western ingredients you’re missing from back home.
Where is it?
If you’re coming from the Old Town, take Le Loi St. which converts into Nguyen Trưong. After passing a sports ground on your right, cross Ly Thuong Kiet, and you’ll start seeing street vendors. You’re not there yet! Keep on going, and the street will make a noticeable turn to the left where Mieu Ong Cop temple is, and ta-da! The big red letters Cho Tan An will receive you with dozens of vendors with fresh produce and pantry items inside.
Shopping in Vietnam made easy
Turn right at Nguyen Dinh Chieu—the first street after the turn—and you‘ll find a shop called Han Nga on your right (it’s commonly referred to as Tiger Mart), an expats favourite where you can find cheeses, frozen pizza bases, yoghurt, olive oil, cans of chickpeas, and other western ingredients to delight your tummy.
Right in front of Han Nga, you’ll find the main aisle of the market, where they’ll be two ladies on each side with tons of varieties of fruits and vegetables that can help you out with your shopping as they know decent enough English. Both of them are very nice, not pushy and you won’t feel as you’re being ripped off when they tell you the total after you hand them a basket with what you need—they’ll even throw some free cilantro, garlic and mint for you. Many foreigners go straight to any of the two as they make the experience of shopping in Vietnam easier than anywhere else.
When to go?
Explore the back of the market for meats, poultry and fresh fish which arrives every morning from the ocean around Hoi An and find candles, toys, great secondhand clothes, and more in the vicinities, from around 8 am until 6 pm. The produce section opens a bit later than the other markets—around 7 am—but you’ll be able to find some late night groceries even after dark, so it’s a great place to go if you missed an ingredient for dinner.
Why should you go?
This market is the go-to shopping venue for most expats living close to Old Town as it has great prices, relaxed vibe and local feel, making it a great alternative to the more intense experience of the Central Market. You’ll feel like the female stall owners truly want to help you get your goods, helping each other with translations and asking for the ingredient you’re missing from their colleagues. Mingle with the locals and enjoy the friendly smiles each time you come back to the Tiger Market.
Ba Le Market
Halfway between the Old Town and the beach, Ba Le market holds all the cooking ingredients you would want, delicious local eateries with vendors that won’t try to rip you off (as much as in the Central Market) and the most relaxed people watching you can do in any of the markets of Hoi An.
Ba Le Market is located in the residential area of Cam Chau, a popular home for expats who are looking for a more local and authentic Vietnamese experience in Hoi An. If you’re coming from the Old Town, turn right at Le Thanh Tong road, and you’ll see the market to your right just a few metres ahead.
This is the cheapest grocery shopping you can do in Hoi An, where you’ll be able to buy all sorts of fruits, vegetables, fresh seafood (early morning and at around 4 pm), meat and poultry. The local experience comes at the price of you having to pantomime your way through your shopping as almost no one can speak English, but the friendly atmosphere makes it easy and you’ll feel like you’re shopping with the Vietnamese side by side.
If you head here at lunchtime, you’ll have to wake up the napping vendors to buy something or interrupt their card games, but it’s a great time to eat delicious, cheap food at the stalls and enjoy fresh smoothies (Sinh To) while watching life go by. There are three restaurants selling rice with different toppings which will fill your stomach for less than 30,000 VND (1.50 USD). Arrive before 1 pm to make sure the food hasn’t run out—and then drink one of the best cà phê sữa đá in town. For 10,000 VND (.50c USD), miss Tam (look for the red letters “Tam” on the glass of the stall overlooking the street) will give you a blend of three different types of coffee beans with a dash of condensed milk on top of a few ice cubes.
Ba Le Market won’t have western ingredients, souvenirs or paper lanterns. This is the market for the chef, the photographer or people who enjoy mixing in with locals, so head there early to watch the Vietnamese in action or enjoy a mellow afternoon watching life go by sipping on a tropical fruit juice.
Night owls, this is your market! No, you won’t find any fruits or vegetables to buy, but you’re probably not looking for that this late, right?
Located in An Hoi island, in front of Hoi An’s Old Town, dozens of vendors will set up their stalls from 5 pm until 11 pm along Nguyen Hoang St, from one side of the island to the next. Motorbikes are not allowed so you can walk untroubled along the 300-metre stretch of stalls, but we’re telling you, it won’t be a peaceful or quiet night out.
Hoi An’s Night Market is one of the most popular ones, and when the sun goes down, and the lanterns light up, the tourists—mainly asians—will fill its aisles. You can mostly find touristy souvenirs such as fans, magnets and dreamcatchers which won’t vary too much from stall to stall, and the prices will be very elevated, so be sure to start your bargaining halfway what they say from the start.
So, why would you go then? For the food! There are dozens of streetcars with smoothies, Bánh Mì, Bánh Xèo, Banana Pancakes, ice cream rolls, and more! Walk in the middle of the action while snacking on delicious food and people watch all the tourist and insistent vendors. With a full stomach, you’ll surely have a good time in all the madness.
After you walk back and forth the whole Night Market, make a stop at Bellville to enjoy some live music. You can also choose to end your night at any of the near pubs and restaurants for a fancier dinner or drinks, many of which have a rooftop terrace for you to enjoy the views of Hoi An’s Old Town and the Thu Bon River.
Every city hides secrets in between its streets, and if you roam around Hoi An, you’ll surely find gems. The following markets are not as known as the previously described, making them a treat for the eyes of the off the beaten track travellers. There’s not much difference to them from the other markets, but if you’re around the area, they are an entertaining option to explore, with a more authentic Vietnamese flare and lower prices than the locations more frequented by foreigners.
Cho Thanh Ha – The Fish Market
Wake up at sunrise and head your way to the pottery village following the Thu Bon River upstream to find one of the most entertaining scenes in your trip to Vietnam. The fishermen bring their catches of the night to this wet market where women organise it, prepare it and sell it in industrial quantities to the restaurant owners of Hoi An.
Unless you’re hosting a family of 20, buying fish here is not worth the effort. The true reason why you should head to this market is to watch the most aggressive way of shopping you’ll ever see. The shouting, the mad expressions, the taking fish off the client’s hands and the shoving of mollusc by force into their bags are normal ways of behaving and is a spectacle that will surely leave you astonished.
The market loses its energy by 7 am, so you’ll have to rise early for this one if you want to see more than just women counting bills and writing numbers in the sea smell atmosphere. During the rest of the day, you can find fruits, vegetables and other produce next to where the wet market was set, making it a nice stop to buy some snacks on your way to Cam Kim.
Hidden Hint: Everyone is wearing boots, so wear closed shoes that you can stain with fishy water or use sandals but be prepared to get dirty.
Chợ An Bang – The Beach Market
Active only from 5 am until 9 am, An Bang Market is close to the beach of the same name and supplies the villagers from around it. If you’re coming from town through Hai Bà Trưng, turn left at the traffic light, go further for 300 metres and take the first right till almost the end of the street. You’ll find An Bang Market to your left, with local eateries and women selling fruits and vegetables at the entrance. Walk a bit further in the direction of the beach, and you’ll find fresh off the ocean seafood and women cleaning and preparing the fish for display.
You’ll receive quite a few looks as you’ll probably be the only foreigner in the market, but everyone is friendly, and you’ll be able to mix and interact with the locals without them being as pushy as in other markets.
Hoi An’s charm and licence lie in its markets so a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site won’t be complete without a visit to at least two of them. People watch your eyes out and fill your tummy with local food at the popular Hoi An Central Market, buy your groceries like a Vietnamese and enjoy the relaxed vibe of the cheaper Ba Le and Tiger Markets and end your day eating street food at the Night Market to round up an amazing journey to Hoi An.