Picture Asia, and markets come to mind. This type of commerce is alive and well in this region. From Thai night markets to Hong Kong counterfeit markets, your choices are endless.
In nearly five years in Asia, I’ve seen a lot of markets. They never cease to pique my interest and curiosity. Furthermore, they’re some of the most photogenic places you can visit.
To me, there is no better way to get to the heart of a city than to visit its markets. One of the first things I do in a new country is grab my camera and get to the nearest outdoor shopping centre. You will no doubt have a special experience if you choose to forgo the city’s most touristic markets and instead, take time to seek out more niche locations. In the case of Saigon, skipping the famous Ben Thanh Market and opting for something different will deepen your encounter with the city significantly.
There are dozens of markets to choose from, selling myriad of different things. Some markets, of course, offer a one-stop shop for anything and everything. An example of this would be another one of my favourites, An Duong Vuong in District 5. This type of market will give you a glimpse into bustling local life. However, I highly recommend a visit to Cho Hoa Ho Thi Ki, the flower market.
Ho Thi Ki is the hub from which Ho Chi Minh City is supplied flowers grown in the Da Lat highlands, the Mekong Delta, and even from over Vietnam’s borders. It’s a dream for photographers. There’s something about the bright colours of the flowers against the backdrop of the dull concrete structures that is so appealing, not to mention the early morning light streaming through the plastic awnings.
The vibe at Ho Thi Khi is energetic and focused, yet friendly – the action is irresistible. Make the trip there, and you’ll be in for a treat: Saigon local life as few tourists get to experience it.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of your visit to Ho Thi Khi
1. Arrive early. We got there around 6:30AM and though my local friend exclaimed, “we’ve missed all the action,” it was still interesting to me. The trade begins as early as 4:30AM. The lighting is best in the morning. If it’s a rainy day like when I went, you’re lucky!
2. Don’t rush. Explore the many alleyways slowly, stepping out of the way to quietly observe everything. When you really slow down and look is when you’ll get that quintessential Saigon shot.
3. Go up. Follow the stairs of the many apartment complexes upward to gain a new perspective on the market and put a smile on the local’s faces when they see a foreigner on their doorstep.
4. Interact. This is a very friendly market, but remember that people are here working. Day in, day out, they’re delivering, trimming, wrapping, and selling the flowers. Don’t be shy to show your interest in the vendors with a friendly xin chao and a smile. Better yet, take a close look at the wares or buy some coffee from a food cart. It will go a long way towards breaking down the barriers that sometimes prevent us from having authentic experiences. Also, your photos will convey a more genuine feeling. To this end, I recommend a prime lens such as a 50mm so the only way to get close is to zoom with your feet and be noticed by your subjects.
5. Easy on the Bokeh. I know bokeh is beautiful. Who doesn’t love a buttery close up of a flower? However, don’t lose the intricate details of this market’s backdrop by completely blurring out everything. Try experimenting with both a wide open and closed aperture when photographing the same subject.
6. Proper footwear. The ground will be wet from the hoses used to keep the flowers fresh. Prevent soggy feet by wearing closed-toed shoes.
How to get to Ho Thi Ki
The address is Hẽm 52, phường 1, Quận 10. You can type “cho hoa ho thi ki” into your Grab or Uber app or show a taxi driver Ho Thi Ki on Google maps. If you drive there on your own, the parking is deep into the hem on your left.
You’re stepping off the beaten path by putting yourself in a new and potentially uncomfortable situation. You might feel out of place at first, but don’t worry. Saigonese people are curious about foreigners and generally open, especially if you make the first move to smile or say hello. You can relax knowing that you’re safe and welcome, so bring your finest lens (or whatever camera you have) and enjoy the beautiful chaos.
Alli’s Photography Gear for this trip
- Camera: Sony a6500
- Lens: Sony E 50mm f/1.8