Day 2 continued: on bargaining

Entry to Benh Tranh

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.

Itineraries and getting around

For me travel is about arriving, getting over the jet lag, then starting an itinerary which is only usually organised for the next few days. Afterwards comes the hard part, playing the next part of the by ear.

With that in mind, I sat down at my computer, opened calendar and, and started. A given is two days in Ho Chi Minh City, partly to get over the time difference and partly to buy things like shoes, clothes etc from Ben Thanh market. There also happens to be some good Japanese restaurants close to the market and hotel I’ve booked.

I’ve been to the market before, a crowded, jostling place where fake Hugo Boss, Rolexes, Mont Blancs and the fabled Adidas copies abound. Sometimes the spelling is,’t quite as in the original, but, having bought a genuine Ralph Lauren shirt in France and a fake one, I’m blowed if I know which is which. It is a great experience, but be warned: never accept the invitation to go to the back of a clothes store to try anything on. I got out alive, but only through a combination of my nieces distracting tactics and sheer physical strength. 



Lady of the hats

Chanced upon this near one of the markets in Hanoi. There’s something about the juxtaposition of old and new, tourists and citizens, bicycles and scooters that appeal to me, but above all it’s the expression on the lady’s face that holds my attention anyway. It’s one of patience, almost of world-weariness, but at the same time  not one of resignation.

I took the photo because the stream of conical hats in the middle of anonymous traffic.

And so another trip begins

Courtesy of Air France. Not intentional, but the itch had to be scratched.

I’d been there before, at least to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, but the rest of the country remained an enigma. Plus, I’d also not been overly impressed with either city, not because of any lack of character, sights or people, but because the pollution and the endless buzzing of scooters and motorbikes got me down. I still remember taking the fight to the pavements, reminding those who used them as a passing lane – as in, everybody – that they were the preserve of pedestrians. Fortunately, the wise counsels and actions of my niece prevented any serious injury. However, there is a wildcard. I’m now the proud holder of a motorcycle license, category A1. Let the bikers of Vietnam take note.