Visit Saigon's retro market before the builders move in

By Nhung Nguyen, Barack Huy   November 14, 2016 | 02:56 pm GMT+7

Visitors have till Wednesday to take a peak at the Chinese-French architecture.

Ho Chi Minh City plans to close its 88-year-old Binh Tay Market in Vietnam’s biggest Chinatown for a year for renovation. It is known locally as the 'New Cholon' after the famous original Cholon that burnt down in a fierce fire in the 1920s.

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The popular tourist attraction is open for visitors until the end of November 15.

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Traders at the busiest market in town have had 15 days to move all the their goods to a new, temporary market located in front of the existing one. 

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Nearly 1,400 stalls will have to be cleared out before November 16. The repair work is expected to cost more than VND104 billion ($4.66 million), funded by advance payments from tenants for the next 10 years.

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Binh Tay Market was built in 1928 by a rice trader from China. The famous structure of the trade center was unwrapped after all the wares had been moved to the temporary market.

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The 25,000-square-meter market is appreciated for its exotic French-Chinese mixed architecture. Le Tan An, vice mayor of District 6 (where the market is based), said the market has deteriorated after nearly a century in use.

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An said the project will overhaul most parts of the market and add new toilets.

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But the facelift will preserve the original architecture.

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One of the gems of the market are vintage hand-painted signs hanging in front of stalls. Many of them are over 40 years old.

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The shop owners said these signs took at least two days for the painters to finish.

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Nobody knows for sure what fate awaits those signs when the renovation starts. Many shops said they will replace their decades-old signage with new printed ones.

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Binh Tay Market is also famous for its central courtyard and bagua-shaped design. Bagua is a Chinese religious motif that incorporates eight trigrams such as the sky, fire and wind and the trigrams are arranged around a circle symbolizing yin and yang. 

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Two days before the deadline, most of the stalls have been cleared.

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Yet several shops have not started packing.

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A note left by a shop owner informing customers where they have relocated to.

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"It's been three tiring days," this shopkeeper said. Most of his business has been moved to the other side of Thap Muoi Street.

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The temporary market has already encountered several problems such as heat, noise and smell.

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It will hold up to 1,077 stalls.

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“It’s so hot in here, we can hardly breathe. And this is just the third day we have been here,” said one of the shoe sellers. The renovation of Saigon's biggest wholesale market is scheduled to take a year, but many vendors believe it could take two years. 

Photos by VnExpress/Barack Huy

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