Ben Thanh Market fails to hustle and bustle, is starving for domestic attention since it reopened after the pandemic-triggered closure.
The Ben Thanh Market, an iconic international tourist attraction in Saigon:
It has been almost two months since Vietnam lifted its social distancing campaign, but about 50 percent of over 1,400 stalls in District 1’s Ben Thanh Market are still closed. There are plenty of signs advertising transfer of ownership.
For decades now, the market has been a magnet for international visitors. The place not only offers a diverse range of items geared to the visitor crowd, it also introduces them to local life through its fresh vegetable and fruit stalls. Before the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the market welcomed 15,000 people a day on average, but this has dwindled to just few hundred people these days who mainly shop for food.
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Nguyen Cham’s stall, which sells a variety of garments, is located near the main entrance of the market. Since she reopened in early May, Cham has only sold a few items, but she is stoic and realistic. “Luckily, I’m not afraid of the clothes getting spoiled and having to be discarded like food. I am only selling my inventory and not getting new goods anymore, ” she said.
Other vendors are also suffering from the lack of buyers.
Since foreign visitors had become a major customer segment for the market, especially souvenir stalls, some of the shops that reopened have closed again.
Vietnam’s entry suspension for foreign nationals since March 22 is still in effect, as is one on international flights since March 25, except special cases like the flights to repatriate Vietnamese citizens stranded abroad.
The dining area seems to have the most shops open. But even here, not many customers or buyers even at lunch time, a traditional peak hour. Every now and then a stall delivers food to some other merchants in the market.
Hoa, a food stall owner, tries to entice everyone that passes by with a menu offering several Vietnamese dishes. “Now that there are a few tourists, I hope that local people on their way to work, school or go out stop by here for food and drink,” she said.
“Current visitors are mainly from the north and central provinces and neighboring provinces in the south, both individuals and tour groups,” said a market security staff. Everyone who comes in gets a temperature check and has to wear a mask.
The famous Ben Thanh night market is even more desolate. Since mid-May, only eight stalls have reopened.
“If it doesn’t rain, they still set up their shops to relieve boredom even though they know there are no customers and they are exempt from paying rent anyway,” said a night security staff at the market.
Meanwhile, on nearby Bui Vien walking street, another backpacker hotspot that is also very popular among locals, most restaurants, bars and karaoke parlors have reopened.
Here, its local popularity has helped, and there are both locals and domestic tourists and there is more of a bustle than at the Ben Thanh Market, although it is nowhere near the sardine-packed crowds of pre-Covid-19 weekends. Every now and then, there is a foreign face in the crowd.
Of the 334 Covid-19 patients recorded in Vietnam, 323 have recovered. The country has gone 58 days without community transmission of the disease.