If you are that tourist who loves adventure and would like to see local culture up-close and personal, the central market is a perfect place for you. In most tourist cities around the world, such as Madrid, Bangkok or Bangalore, the local market is most likely not to make it in the tour package itinerary. In this small historic city of Hoi An, Vietnam, however, you can’t avoid a visit to Central Market.
The inviting and mystical city of Hoi An in the Vietnamese province of Quang Nam is a popular tourist destination for its Old Town, historic city landmarks, ancient artifacts, and pristine beaches. Its most notable attractions are the Marble Mountains, Cham Islands, Chinese shop houses, old Japanese Bridge and the My Son ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hoi An is a pedestrian-friendly city. You won’t need to endure a ride on a wild-driving motorcycle-taxi to see the city. Simply stroll around at a relaxed pace as you let the local culture sink in. Renting a bicycle to bike around the city is also a good idea.
Central Market is at the Nguyen Hue and Tran Phu streets along the Thu Bon River on the southeast side. Begin your visit before 7:00 AM along the docks just outside the market. Experience the furious bargaining between market vendors, fish buyers and fishermen as the fresh catch of fishes are dropped off and sold. It’s a frenetic site of people shouting, haggling and pushing; fishes jumping onto the dirty market floor that is damp from seawater and fish blood. (It is advised that you wear shoes.)
Enter the market and walk through the endless row of stalls and kiosks selling services and exotic foodstuffs that you can barely make out what they are. There are live ducks and chickens tied together waiting to be bought and have their heads chopped off. It is a typical Asian marketplace – crowded, noisy, smelly, damp and with local vendors egging you to buy something that you don’t really need. Hoi An market is not the biggest, cleanest or most glamorous. But then again, if you wish to see local culture at its best, this is it. At the east end is a huge shed for tailors spinning silk and other linens. Hoi An is popular for its silk and expert tailors. There about 400 tailor shops around this small city and the cheaper ones are inside the central market.
Nearby is a row of woman vendors calling out for customers to buy different varieties of very cheap spices, such as curries, cinnamon, chili powders, peppercorns and saffron. You will be surprised that prices could get cheaper as you move deeper into the market. The spices and leafy vegetables are very inviting. There are freshly harvested fruits and vegetables from several places in Vietnam and as far as China.
There are also food stalls and souvenir shops selling handicrafts and trinkets. All the shops here are open for bargaining. The vendors offer you a bloated price and you start by asking for half that price until you settle to a price that works for both of you. It’s quite an experience. Almost always, you would get the best bargain as you begin to walk away.
Make it a point to pass by the Central Market if you happen to be in Hoi An. You could just observe people, see how things are done, or decide to try your bargaining skills.