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The longer I stayed in Vietnam, the more I relied on Grab – Vietnam’s version of Uber. It was the easiest way to get through the dizzying chaos of motorbikes crowding the streets in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. Which is affectionately still called Saigon by the locals.
It was in a Grab car that I headed towards the best street food experience that Saigon has to offer. Surprisingly, this was The Ho Thi Ky flower market. It may seem like an odd choice for street food, but the driver knew exactly where to take me.
Tucked away just off of Lý Thái Tổ street, the entrance to the flower market is also the main entrance of a lively alley packed with street food vendors.
Arriving at the Ho Thi Ky Flower Market
Exiting the peace and quiet of the Grab car, I was overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the city. As with most places in Saigon, a crowd of locals indicated I was in the right spot. Although it was a relief to see the crowd, gaining access to the flower market would be a challenge.
On par with just about every other night out in the city, getting what I wanted meant plunging into the heart of the action without hesitation. It’s a survival tactic that consistently delivered the adrenaline that keeps me obsessed with this city full of wonder.
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Whether it was crossing the busy streets, ordering food off a completely foreign menu, or navigating an unfamiliar metropolis. The best way to feel I was getting the most out of traveling was to jump in and analyze later.
On this occasion, the entrance to the market was packed densely with motorbikes. They were carrying in hungry locals and carrying smiling faces with fresh flowers back out. As I navigated through the traffic, my anticipation rose as the first smells from the market reached my nose.
I pushed my way further into the chaos, finally getting past the parking area where most of the motorbikes turned into a less crowded scene. This is where I could find my bearings. Just as my senses had acclimated, the first sight greeting me was an explosion of color.
Somehow, in a city of concrete buildings and motorbikes, a tropical presentation of bright flowers manifested before me.
Although my stomach rumbled, the fear that this was an oasis grabbed hold and led me into the flower market. I later found out that going into the flower market was at no expense to my hunger. The street with the food vendors ran in parallel.
I would only have to cross through one of the many intersecting alleys to find myself in the center of a street food heaven.
Had I followed my nose and stomach and passed up on the flower market I would have found the first of the street vendors at the beginning of the food market within a city block.
The alley that ran parallel to the flower market is packed tight with a dizzying array of sounds, light and smells. I stretched my neck above the crowd and saw vendors lining either side as far down as I could see.
A Foodies Delight
The experience is a food lover’s delight. A multitude of different flavors, with barely enough room to fit two people across with the occasional motorbike weaving through the crowd.
With all the action going on around me, and food that I’m sure my palette had never tasted, it felt as if the world had stopped spinning and I had arrived.
I had arrived as a traveler. After all the planning, delayed flights, sleeping in airports, and all the anxiety and worries of traveling, I had finally made it. I was in the midst of living in a moment that I had dreamed of for so long.
Whether I was searching for variety, or for something authentic that would fill me up, didn’t matter. This place had it all. I had a mission for the duration of my time in Vietnam, which was to try as many new things as possible. In the street market, this mission was easily accomplished.
So Many Options
I would find something that looked interesting or tasty and munch on it as I made my way down the alley. Once finished, I was surrounded by a new set of vendors offering a completely different menu.
If I were to land on a flavor that I liked and wanted to seek out a bigger portion I could enjoy it in the impromptu seating areas that were set up in every inch of space behind the vendors.
The foods here ranged from fried octopus tentacles on a stick to banana pancakes and everything in between. Spring rolls, squid jerky, octopus balls and just about anything I had seen online while researching Vietnam were to be found at this food market.
Most vendors had their own specialty, and the variety came from the seemingly endless number of different vendors.
My fondest memory was snacking on snails covered with delicious sauce while watching another food vendor make ice cream on the spot. I continued in my grazing as I walked up and down the alley many times. Each time I would discover something I had missed on the last pass.
Vietnamese Food Comes with a Smile
The Vietnamese culture came out in the smiling faces of both the vendors and the locals. They seemed to be genuinely proud of what they offered. Plus they were happy to see someone enjoying it as much as them. This pride of seeing a foreigner take joy in their culture was a common theme everywhere I visited in Vietnam.
As I began to fill up and needed a break, I sought out somewhere to sit. At the end of the alley, hugging the corner, I found a spot to sit with a can of Tiger beer.
It was also a great spot to watch the crowd pass by. Even though the vendor whose table I was sitting at had their own menu, the server was more than happy to grab food from another vendor for me.
A significant aspect of the Vietnamese culture I experienced was the lack of competition. At many places where I had eaten, they saw no problem with other people selling me food while I sat at their table. Most times they even helped me with the deal. And if the food required plates or utensils, they always seemed so happy to accommodate.
It’s as if all the vendors were one enormous family looking out for each other. Even walking through the market vendors were happy to take my trash that came from another vendor. The friendliness experienced in Saigon was a beautiful aftertaste that still lingers long after the flavors of the Ho Thi Ky flower market.
If You Go…
Be sure to download the Grab app for cheap and easy rides through the city, or to get food delivered. https://www.grab.com/vn/en/
Take a day trip away from the busy city to the Mekong Delta through Vietnam Adventure Tours. https://vietnamadventuretour.com.vn/
The Bến Thành Market is an experience like none other. The inside can get overwhelming with haggling. However, the outside perimeter is a “Haggle Free Zone” where the prices are fixed. https://www.ben-thanh-market.com/
See breath-taking views from the second tallest building in Southeast Asia: Landmark 81 https://vinpearl.com/en/landmark-81-vietnam-discover-a-resort-paradise-in-the-clouds-in-saigon
Enjoy a relaxing night with the locals on the Nguyễn Huệ pedestrian street. Here you can take in the local atmosphere from the lotus fountain on one end to the Saigon River on the other. It is central to many restaurants, bars, and landmarks including the opera house, Bitexco skydeck, and city hall.
Author Bio: Andrew McCarrick is an experienced solo traveler with a knack for finding himself completely out of place. With each trip, his goal is to submerge himself in the local culture and get lost in foreign cuisine. He has backpacked and eaten his way across Europe and is currently unraveling the mysteries of Southeast Asia. In quiet moments while traveling, he works on photography and writing fiction, but feels most grounded when writing true-life travel experiences.
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