On Thursday at 10 a.m., French tourist Clementine and two of her friends stroll through the legendary Ben Thanh market in District 1.
“Nice market with unique architecture and friendly vendors. Surprisingly, the vendors here speak good English and we bargained with them to buy some favorite items like wallets and handbags,” said Clementine VnExpress International.
“There are so many stalls selling clothes, shoes, jewelry and souvenirs and we spent more than an hour exploring them,” she said.
“Vietnamese cuisine is good. We tried noodle soups and sweet soups.”
Clementine (C) and two friends take a group photo at Ben Thanh market in downtown HCMC, July 21, 2022. Photo by Hoang Phong
Clementine arrived in Vietnam two weeks ago without a visa. French tourists are among the top 24 tourism markets for which Vietnam resumed its pre-pandemic visa waiver policy since March 15.
Anna, a British tourist who also visited Ben Thanh market last Thursday, said her family returned to Vietnam a week ago and plan to stay here for three weeks.
“This is my first time visiting the market. Great atmosphere and nice vendors!” Anna said.
“Everyone here is really nice and helpful. I want to buy some souvenirs as gifts for my boyfriend.”
According to unconfirmed estimates, the number of foreign tourists visiting Ben Thanh Market has increased four or five times in recent months compared to March, when Vietnam reopened international tourism after a two-year hiatus.
The return of foreign tourists has also awakened Saigon’s nightlife after a long slumber.
Bui Vien, Vietnam’s most famous backpacker area, which was packed with bars, discos and nightclubs, is once again packed with loud music and flashing lights.
“That’s great! I’ve been at HCMC for over two weeks and I’m in Bui Vien every night. The atmosphere here is so great and I don’t go home until after 2am,” said Alex, a British tourist, as he shared beers with a group of friends at a Bui Vien stall on Wednesday.
Foreign tourists at Bui Vien Street, the country’s most famous backpacker hangout, in downtown HCMC, July 17, 2022. Photo by Tuan Viet
John from the US, who will stay in Vietnam with his girlfriend until the end of the month, said they rented a hotel room in a small alley of Bui Vien. Every night they stroll through the backpacker hub or sip a cup of beer and enjoy the bustling ambiance.
“It’s extremely fun to be here, but I think motorcycles should be banned every day, not just weekends,” said John.
darkness to light
On April 27 last year, the fourth wave of coronavirus hit the country. Not long after, with months of lockdown orders, HCMC became the largest pandemic epicenter in the country. Bars, discos, spas, hotels and cafes have been closed. The city had turned into a ghost town.
After the pandemic situation in Vietnam’s largest epicenter was gradually under control, the city reopened its economic and tourism activities last October.
But it was not until the end of March that the tourism industry in HCMC entered a real revival mode. This comes after Vietnam reopened its door to foreign tourists with free quarantine entry and resumed its visa waiver policy for major tourism markets.
The return of foreign tourists and positive signs of tourism recovery have sparked hope among many tourism workers after grappling with severe financial challenges for over two years.
Foreign tourists walk on Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street in downtown HCMC, July 21, 2022. Photo by Hoang Phong
Dao Thi Binh, manager of a bar on Bui Vien Street, said her business situation has seen positive signs, although the number of foreign customers is only about 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
“It looks like a dream and I believe that all difficulties are in the past. I hope that the city’s tourism industry will recover quickly and many foreign tourists will come to the city in the near future,” Binh said.
In the first six months of 2022, the number of foreign visitors to HCMC topped 478,000, recovering to 9 percent of pre-pandemic levels, according to the city’s tourism ministry.
This year, the city is targeting 3.5 million foreign arrivals, or around 30 percent of its pre-pandemic level.