Shopping in Saigon

Many consider Saigon and greater Ho Chi Minh City as primarily at eating destination, but it also has considerable flair as a place to shop.

Ben Thanh market is where you'll find everything you need under one roof, though the quality of goods varies and you must bargain — expect the initial price to be inflated up to two or three times what it should be.

Nearby is the International Trade Centre (ITC), with shoes and jewellery, but also a good place to pick up DVDs and CDs - do check the quality of new releases on the DVD players available before purchase.

Saigon's premier District One shopping centre is Vincom Centre, home to six floors of shopping. Not only is this the newest shopping centre in the city, it's also the most expensive, but the place to buy brand names at brand prices.

Another option is Diamond Plaza which besides shopping also sports an entertainment complex that includes pool, cinema, arcade games and bowling. Parkson is also fairly high-end, selling top brand jewellery and the latest fashions over four floors.

Le Loi Street bisects the heart of Saigon's shopping district. Along one side are stalls and shops selling tourist souvenirs and knick-knacks such as books, T-shirts and handicrafts.

On the south side, nearest the river, a range of posh coffee shops surround the Saigon Centre. A fun Kids World resides on the first floor here, while parents can browse the home furnishings on display higher up in the building.

The Tax Plaza is just a little further down Le Loi, on the corner of Nguyen Hue. The first floor is dedicated to electronics and perfume. The upper floors have reasonable men's/women's clothing, shoes and sportswear — there's also a Western-style supermarket. Prices are reasonable, but buyer beware.

Across town and nearer to Pham Ngu Lao is another three-storey centre, Zen Plaza, easily recognisable by its chessboard design.

Zen Plaza sits on trendy Nguyen Trai Street, an excellent shopping strip with all of Vietnam's top high street brand shops sandwiched between smaller independent designer boutiques.

Fashion labels and their outlets are taking off all over the city, and the best places to look for that locally designed cocktail dress or smart casual shirt are along here and just across the roundabout, the northern end of Ly Tu Trong. Dong Khoi and its surrounds also houses some boutiques, but another enclave exists on Hai Ba Trung in District Three, starting just before the junction with Nguyen Thi Minh Khai and running to just before the big pink church and Tan Dinh market.

Dong Khoi Street itself is a haven for art lovers, with too many art shops to mention. Also to be found in among expensive-looking coffee shops are plenty of local fare and lots of postcards.

If something specific is on your mind, it's best to check the listings in AsiaLife HCMC, a monthly free magazine. For anything electronic head to the area behind Sun Wah Tower (Nguyen Hue, Huynh Thuc Khang and Ho Tung Mau Streets). For cameras and accessories try the Tax Plaza and the numerous shops on the opposite side of Nguyen Hue. For shoes, walk past the clock entrance of Ben Thanh market and turn left, cross the road and turn right into a small alley called Luu Van Lang — shoes galore. All designs are only in one size, so the challenge is to find your size in a colour and design that suits — luckily the selection is large enough to usually pull this off.

If combining a shop with a tour of Cholon sounds appealing, then Huong Vuong Plaza, Vietnam's largest, is in District 5. It houses four floors of shopping, a food court, a Megastar Cinema complex and Vietnam's first California Wow gymnasium.

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