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Shop ’til you drop at unique HCM City markets

Despite the abundance of modern supermarkets and shopping malls in Ho Chi Minh City, niche markets still attract customers who love discovering unusual, odd or hard-to-find products.

Visitors to Binh Tay Market in District 6, for example, are sometimes surprised to discover piles of votive fake currencies in US dollars and Vietnamese dong as well as rows of miniature paper replicas of houses, motorbikes and other goods.

Sellers and porters at So​ai K​inh Lam Market prepare for a busy day (Source: VNA)

Sellers and porters at So​ai K​inh Lam Market prepare for a busy day (Source: VNA)

These paper items are highly popular as it is traditional to burn them on the death anniversary of a departed loved one and on every full-moon day.

People believe the offerings will cross over to the spirit world and provide for the deceased.

Most of Binh Tay’s 20 shops that offer votive paper have been opened for decades.

Over the years, paper offerings like shoes and clothes have given way to newer items, including houses, motorbikes and cars under international brand names of Toyota, Audi and Mercedes.

Besides votive offerings shops, other markets, such as the Nhut Tao Market in District 10, offer goods that are second hand. Nearly 80 percent of the products at the market are second-hand.

First time visitors to this outdoor market may leave a headache, as the noise from competing TVs and stereos can be deafening.

“Visitors can identify the location of our market because they can hear the noise from a distance,” a shop owner said.

Nhut Tao has more than 250 stalls which operate all day. The shops specialise in electronics, including items made 20-30 years ago.

Electric rice cookers, irons, fans, TVs and hi-fi equipment are all available at low prices, but it is necessary to check items carefully before buying as many look new but may be broken or have missing parts.

If your motorbike needs anything replaced, you can easily find the part at Nhut Tao, which sells motorbike parts such as mirrors, lights, fenders, petrol tank caps, tool cases and innumerable other spare parts.

The market supplies accessories and spare parts to electronic repair shops in the city and neighbouring provinces.

One of the city’s biggest indoor markets is Soai Kinh Lam Market in the Chinese quarter Cho Lon in District 5.

The market has 500 shops offering clothes and handmade accessories.

Known for their friendliness, Soai Kinh Lam sellers allow many dealers to postpone payments until after they have sold their products – a custom that has made them popular in the provinces of the Mekong River Delta.

At the market, more than 300 tourists shop each Saturday and Sunday, while the number of local customers is 500 a day.

Nguyen Thi Tuyet, a member of the market’s managing board, said Vietnamese, particularly youth, like silks imported from the Republic of Korea, China and Thailand, while foreign visitors often buy traditional Vietnamese clothes and handmade bags and shoes.

“I began my trade career here when my mother transferred her business to me five years ago. Our profit has fallen by 25 percent compared to the time before 2000, when shopping malls had not yet expanded,” said Hong Quang Minh, a shop owner.

Like Minh, many young shop owners and sellers can speak two or more languages, usually Cantonese Chinese, English, Japanese or Korean.

“Sellers here know my language and they give me good prices. Their manner makes you think they are your friends,” said Erika Pang, a visitor from Hong Kong.

Minh said that tourism had brought more foreign customers to the market in the last few years.

“We understand Soai Kinh Lam is not only a brand name, but also a cultural symbol of Cho Lon,” he said.-VNA

Travel News

Saigon café takes you to a stress-free, yesteryear Hanoi

“Lane 160” invites customers to leave their worries behind and step back into Hanoi in the last century.

In an alleyway off Bui Dinh Tuy Street in Saigon’s Binh Thanh District, a coffee shop transports customers back to the 1980s in Hanoi with remarkable authenticity

“Eighty percent of the café‘s interiors reflect the architectural characteristics of my family in Hanoi in the 1980s. We collected some more antique items to bring the nostalgia and calmness of Hanoi to parkling Sai Gon,” said Huong Ly, one of the founders of Lane 160

The café is designed to resemble an alley with several houses and yards, and it does it with a great degree of success.

“When we opened the café, we decided to do it for passion, just to create a place for everyone to rest and recharge their energies for the day,” Ly said.

The handwritten signboard hung in front of the gate says: “Please leave your worries outside the threshold, we only have peace inside.”

The café has a green space, and the owners say they are growing typical northern plants there.

The traditional Hanoi house façade with yellow-painted walls, wooden door, and fish scales roof tiles have been reproduced authentically.

Owners say designing and constructing the café to look like Hanoi in the eighties, complete with narrow staircases, loudspeakers and other features took six months.

Old photos of Hanoi, harking back to the time of tramcars are hung on the walls and the loudspeaker plays famous songs about Hanoi.

Egg coffee, a Hanoi specialty, is listed on the menu at VND30,000 ($1.28). Green tea and sunflower seeds are also served.

The jars of dracontomelons and apricots soaked in sugar are placed on a shelf in the café. The fruit has been brought from northern provinces; the apricot, in particular, has been soaked for 7-8 years.

In a small corner, old printed newspapers and food stamps under the subsidy period in Hanoi in the 1980s are displayed.

“This is my third visit to this café. I have not been to Hanoi yet, but I feel that the city is very pretty and peaceful, judging by the ambience presented in this cafe,” said Nguyen Duc Tin (R), a university student in HCMC

A room in the café is decorated with artificial peach blossoms, a flower that denotes the arrival of spring and the advent of Tet, the Lunar New Year, in the capital city. The tablecloth patterns also go back to in time.

Source: By Nguyen Than (VNEXPRESS)

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Central Highlands

November, the best time to visit these awesome Vietnamese destinations

As chilly November arrives it is the best time to pay a visit to these places.Ha Giang – buckwheat flower festival

Ha Giang – buckwheat flower festival

Photo by VnExpress/Tung Duong

Photo by VnExpress/Tung Duong

Ha Giang Province nestles in the mountains of northern Vietnam. It is home to ethnic minorities like the H’Mong, Thai and others. Visitors to the province can witness exotic local lifestyles.

The wildness of its nature is the captivating feature of Ha Giang. The province attracts many motorbike riders and trekkers every year. Mother Nature has gifted Ha Giang with diverse scenery with mighty rocky mountains, golden rice terraces and, in November, magnificent white and magenta fields of buckwheat flowers.

Buckwheat is among the staple grains of the locals, and is usually cultivated after the summer-fall rice crop every year. Now buckwheat flowers have bloomed all over mountain slopes in Dong Van District.

This year the annual buckwheat flower festival starts on November 10 with cultural activities, traditional games and a buckwheat flower competition.

1,000-year-old capital, Hanoi

Photo by VnExpress/Trung Vo

Photo by VnExpress/Trung Vo

November may mark the start of winter in many places, but in Hanoi autumn lingers. This is arguably the best time of the year to visit the city, when it wears a whole new façade with the renowned hoa sua (milk flower) and streets gilded with fallen golden leaves and cuisine specialties.

Photo by VnExpress

Photo by VnExpress

In November do not miss a walk through Hanoi’s most romantic streets, Phan Dinh Phung, Hoang Dieu and Tran Phu. The hoa sua (milk flower) have bloomed all over these streets, giving off a glorious aroma.

Visitors can also explore the maze of alleys in the old quarter to find autumn specialties like green rice, green rice cake and ragworm, or sit by an open-air café in the cool wind and enjoy a cup of Vietnamese egg coffee.

The ancient citadel of Hue

Photo by Quoc Viet

November heralds autumn in Hue in central Vietnam. Hue typically expects pleasant weather and less rain this month, perfect for tourists to take a trip around the royal citadel and mighty tombs of old kings.

The Hue citadel complex holds in itself the historical legacy of the Nguyen Dynasty, the last imperial rulers of Vietnam. The tombs of the Nguyen kings are situated around Hue’s suburbs, which can be reached by car or motorbike.

The Hue cuisine is not to be missed. Mussels with rice/noodles, Hue beef noodles, steamed rice cake and tapioca dumplings are among the must-try dishes in the city. In the cool weather of autumn, the spicy mussels with rice can warm your stomach, and a bowl of beef noodles can give you a nutritious fix for a whole day of exploration.

Tree marigold in Gia Lai

Gia Lai museum. Photo by VnExpress

Gia Lai museum. Photo by VnExpress

Gia Lai Province is in the Central Highlands and has a tropical highland climate. Tourists should visit the province in the dry season in November or December. This is when the rice terraces on the hill slopes are ripe and marigolds have painted the paths yellow.

Tourists can stay in Pleiku City, the center of Gia Lai. One place to visit is the Gia Lai Museum where cultural and historical relics of the local ethnic groups are preserved.

Photo by VnEpxress/Thanh Nguyen

Photo by VnEpxress/Thanh Nguyen

The Chu Dang Ya volcano is a must-visit place for flower lovers since it has the best scenes of blooming tree marigold. The volcano is situated in Chu Dang Ya Commune, Chu Pah District, 30 kilometers to the northeast of Pleiku. Locals can give you directions, so if you are lost do not worry.

Da Lat, the city of dreams

Da Lat City is among the favorite destinations for tourists visiting Vietnam. The rainy season has ended in early November, so it is a good time to visit this city.

Photo by VnExpress/Trung Vo

Photo by VnExpress/Trung Vo

In Da Lat, you can visit the Valley of Love, Da Lat train station, Golden Valley, and Langbiang Mountain.

Da Lat is also in the Central Highlands, so tourists can expect to see tree marigold here.

The best floral scenes can be found at Da Lat University, Pham Hong Thai Street and the Minh Hoa seminary.

Source: By Minh Quan (VNEXPRESS)

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An Giang

The palm that sweetens life in Mekong Delta province

An Giang residents love the palmyra palm for the sustained supply of toddy, juice and raw sugar that it provides.

Known locally as the thot not, Borassus flabellifer, commonly known as doub palm, palmyra palm, tala palm, toddy palm and even wine palm, this species can be found everywhere in An Giang. The local name is derived from th’not in the Khmer language.

They provide a thirst-quenching drink, toddy, made by collecting the sap of its flowers. The palm sugar made from this also carries a special sweetness. The tall palms also beautifully break the monotony of rice fields in the Mekong Delta province.

A thirst-quencher

The thot not juice is often misunderstood as juice from its fruit. But this is actually sap tapped from its flowers. The juice has a light sweet taste and is often served with some slices of succulent thot not fruit. The drink is said to contain many minerals and vitamins that are good for health. It tastes best served with ice.

The tastiest sap is the one harvested early in the morning. If harvested in the evening the sap will get sour and have a fermented taste, which is turned into toddy, an alcoholic drink. Thot not juice is sold in many sidewalk stalls and markets in An Giang.

Sweetmeats

Thot not plays an important role in An Giang’s dessert scene. It is used as the sweetener in most dishes. The thot not pie, rich and sweet, is a steal at VND15,000 ($0.6) a pack.

To make the pies, the pulp of ripened thot not fruit is ground and the juice extracted. The flesh is then mixed with rice flour and thot not sugar and steamed.

Other snacks made here include sweet soups and jelly.

A sweet gift

Thot not sugar is one of the most famous delicacies of An Giang. It’s extracted from the thot not sap then cooked and hardened into round brown clots. The brown sugar is recommended because it retains the natural and original taste. The whiter version is refined. The sugar is not just used in daily cooking, it is also a popular gift item. Some sugar makers even let you make the sugar yourself.

A photo cover

Photographs taken in An Giang never fail to feature the palms against the rising and setting suns. If you show a Vietnamese person a photograph with these palms, she or he will know that you have been to An Giang.

Source: By Linh Sea, Tuan Hoang (VNEXPRESS)

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