It was 8 in the morning as the Han River already sparkled under sunlight, reminding stall owners to embark on a brand new day for business in this riverside market in Da Nang. Shopkeepers were hectically pushing heavy carts and packing newly-arrived products, placing them in a place nearby that could immediately caught pedestrian’s heed. Yet, it is more than just a place for trading and selling. In a maze of stuffed stalls and narrow streets, you will be enticed to squeeze through aisles and the big crowds to explore the humming life of one of the open-air Vietnamese marketplaces.
The Han Market is located at the heart of Da Nang and named for the river that flowed parallel to. Surrounded by the small stalls outside the building, the market takes up a block, covering a huge area of 28,000 square metres. First constructed during the French occupancy amidst the early 1940s, it was regarded by the locals as the ‘rich market’ adjacent to the four main roads, as most of its goods were either shipped or bought in by a French-constructed train system. The Market was further subjected to a complete refurbishment in 1989 that added an extra storey, making it the biggest, and also one of the most accessible, bazaar in the city.
Nowadays, this two-floored market unfolds into four basic sections, with a dizzying assortment of goods for sale over two floors. Not a single empty place could be spotted between the stalls with a sea of people. When entering to the main entrance this January, we were cordially welcomed by a kaleidoscope of baskets, full of mouth-watering sweets, accessories, and other attractive souvenirs that represented Vietnam as a whole, including those decorative stands of beautiful girls wearing traditional Ao Dai dress and the conical hat. Some of us paused when their eyes couldn’t take off from the colourful handbags and wowed with amazement; while some curiously observed the milling throng of people in this crowded bazzar. Other visitors, like us, were strolling with their causal browse of multifarious stalls one-by-one; whilst housewives were haggling over the price of the exotic fruits.
The other side of the ground floor is also a dynamic area with seemingly endless stalls, yet busily packed with myriads of groceries ranging from dried seafood like dried squids and shrimps to tropical fruits like preserved sour plums, kiwi and bananas. Other specialties in big open buckets, with a mix of chili paste, dried rice crackers and famous fish sauces, splashed a sea of colour in the camera snapshots. Sellers rolled down bags of spices and sprouts at one stand, and placed boxes of dragon fruits and mangoes. At noon, indoor food court was again flooded with swarms of hungry people, ordering steamed rice cakes, bowls of rice noodles, and also spring rolls. The salty odour of sweat mingled with nose-tingling aroma of spices and hot dishes, and all these filled the January air a rather unique scent.
Upstairs, stalls are overflowed with vibrant clothes, high heels and glittery textiles where evening gowns could be tailored. Palm-leaf conical hats with beautiful flowers that are made with bamboo hang over the top of the stall, which are long perceived as a traditional symbol of the Vietnamese people regardless of age and gender. A broad variety of silk fabric thrives throughout the country as a special gift to friends and family for crafting silk scarves and Ao Dai, a tight-fitted long dress with long pants. There, sellers were hollering out their special deals, and screaming out discounts on the top of their voices for their exclusive embroidered clothes, luring customers to have a look. Fair ladies in huddles murmured and gossiped with excitement when discovering the trendy pants, and tried to bargain for the best possible prices before grasping hold of plastic bags full of their favourites.
This Han Market never fails to show its hustle and bustle, and also its vividness that brings life and thrives in this city. There are, often, full of cordial greetings between sellers and customers, and relaxing chats between close confidants and new acquaintances about the bounty of newly-arrived local products. Be sure to haggle and greet the Vietnamese round. You will soon be fascinated by the typical shopping routine of Da Nang people, and also, their warm hospitality. ♦