Ben Tranh is near the backpacker side of town, so the guidebooks tell me, but hasn’t been appropriated by them and other foreign tourists. By this I mean there are rows of stalls selling clothing, shoes and fake watches where the stallholders will grab you and trap you inside until you buy something. Equally there are food and vegetable sections, populated by locals seeking produce for the day, assuming tourists are not in the market for raw dismembered chickens or take-away living fish. The latter is more of a morning activity, so go in the afternoon if you want to avoid frankly distressing scenes. You cannot avoid the smell, however, especially as the main entrance walks you through this section.
I’d arrived intending to visit the market and buy some new T shirts and shorts. In the morning, I wandered down, and learnt a salutary lesson about stallholders and bargaining.
I adopt a simple strategy when bargaining, which is to offer a quarter of the price and go up in tiny increments. So, having found some suitably fake shorts and t shirts, which involved much scurrying back and forth by the salesman carrying armfuls of clothes, I entered into negotiations.
“How much ?”
He tapped some figures into his calculator and thrust it under my nose, assuring me it was a good price. Seeing a figure of 1,100,000 VD I did some quick maths, and suggested 200000, slightly under 25%, I know, but surely a good beginning. The man looked at me in amazement for a minute, then gathered up all the shorts and t shirts laid out before me. He said something in Vietnamese which I do not think was complementary, then marched off, never to be seen again. The news about a rogue buyer spread quickly up and down the allies, and no-one offered to sell me anything. Lesson learnt: you can’ start too low here. Feeling suitably chastened, I slunk off back to the hotel and reflected. The clothes I had seen were of decent quality, not the acrylic garments that sometimes get foisted on you, so a price of 500,000 plus perhaps a little more was fair After all, that equated to roughly 15 euros, which really was not much.
In fact, I learned subsequently that prices for clothes at least are now fixed in Benh Tranh, which explains the somewhat cool reception I received.
I went back early next day, and bought shorts and a t shirt for 300000vnd. The t shirt is fine, but the shorts definitely are not cotton and not particularly well made either. I was intending to go back to the original stall, swallow pride and apologise for my rudeness, but, in the labyrith that is Ben Tranh, couldn’t find it.