Hoi An Central Market is the granddaddy of the town’s markets, in terms of scale and the sheer quantity of local and foreign visitors it receives. It’s an assault on the senses – and often your wallet, too – but one thing it never is, is dull.
I’m excited. Where is it?
Erm…Central. Well, the eastern end of the Old Town, actually. It’s hard to say exactly where the sprawl begins and ends but roughly speaking the market starts at the Cam Kim Bridge and stretches along the Thu Bon waterfront until almost the Museum of Folk Culture. Within that area are two main blocks containing the Food Hall and the Cloth Market, about which you can read here. Yay!
So, it’s central and the biggest but is it the best?!
Well, it’s all relative. It really depends what you’re looking for. For some, size definitely matters – others may prefer something a bit more low-key like Ba Le or Tiger Market. Just be aware that although the Central Market is all kinds of fun, it’s also shopping at its most masochistic.
What do you mean by masochistic?
That if you’re actually looking to buy something, for a fresh face it ain’t gonna be an easy ride. The stall holders here are some of the most formidable you’re likely to come across. You might get what you want but it’s going to take some work and a little pain to get it for a decent price.
Pfft, I can bargain… I once got a second-hand car for $500!
Well done you. But remember, bargaining is a way of life in Vietnam. It’s in the blood here. Every item is negotiable – from big-ticket items like motorbikes to smaller things such as medication. Every price tag is moveable and, for many visitors, this can become exhausting.
But can’t I just pretend to walk away and they’ll shout at me to come back?
Yeah, try it for sure – it’s all part of the game. But I guarantee that these women are tougher and more experienced players than you. The Central Market gets a lot of tourists and as a result, starting prices for foreigners tend to be significantly higher than other markets in town.
So, there’s nothing I can do. I’ll get overcharged no matter what?
In short – if you are new to town, yes. But remember, whatever you end up paying will be still considerably less than prices at home. With a little bargaining you can get a kilo of mangoes for under $1.50. This might be a few more (or several thousand more) Dong than a local would pay; still, it’s cheap enough that shopping for mangoes at home will never be the same again. Sorry.
Plus, if you are in town for a while and the market ladies get to know (and dare I say like) you a little, then the prices will soon begin to tumble.
If it’s so much hassle why should I even bother with Hoi An Central Market?
For the experience, of course! It’s big, brash and brilliantly chaotic. Your senses will be assaulted and you’ll love every minute. Mostly. Plus, it has everything that can possibly be grown on land or caught in the sea. And even if you aren’t interested in buying anything, a trip to Hoi An Central Market will still be one of the highlights of your stay in town.
Is there anything I can do at Hoi An Central Market that is good value?
Yes, yes and a resounding yes. The Central Market Food Hall has some of the tastiest and best-value meals you’ll get in all of Hoi An, if not Vietnam. So if you fancy a steaming bowl of cao lau and a replenishing mango smoothie for just $1 each, this is the place to go. And what’s more, the women that prepare their meals fresh in front of hungry diners are some of the biggest characters in town. Bonus. Top tip, track down Mrs Lien’s stall, she is a hoot!
With its shared benches, the Food Hall is also a great place to meet other tourists, expats and locals stopping in to fill their bellies.
Should I bring my camera?
You’d be an utter fool not to. Hoi An Central Market has everything a photographer could desire. Action, great light and an endless supply of interesting subjects. However, don’t be surprised if some sellers don’t smile for your camera. Hoi An is packed full of tourists taking pics and thanks to its convenient location the majority will at some point head down to the Central Market (to add a little local flavor to their Instagram game). So it’s understandable that some sellers may suffer from camera fatigue.
So, are you saying it is unfriendly?
Hell no, quite the opposite. Considering the daily barrage of cameras in their faces, the stall holders remain incredibly friendly – even Mother Teresa-like – in their levels of patience. Some sellers may wave you away or ask for a dollar. Respect their wishes, move on and try your luck with their neighbour. In general, remember to smile a lot.
Great. When should I go?
Hoi An Central Market is busy from before sun-up till mid-afternoon, the Food Hall from midday to well after sundown. You can really go whenever you like and still be guaranteed to find some form of action. That said, if your bag is taking photos or just mixing with locals, get down early. From 8.30am onwards the food tour groups arrive en masse and for the next hour or two the number of conical hats seems to be matched by the number of iphones and selfie sticks happily snapping away.
Whoah, Hoi An Now, that was a lot of info, nutshell it up for me!
OK, for those not paying attention. To sum up: 1) Do your shopping elsewhere (maybe Ba Le or Tiger Market) but head to the Central Market to experience the madness, 2) Get there early to get some great pictures and 3) Come back in the evening or lunch time to fill up on great-value food. Happy shopping!
Central Market Location