Hanoi’s a city full of markets worth exploring. To begin with, food markets can be found all over town – despite the growth of the supermarket, most shopping is still conducted at local wet markets and neighbourhood shops, so there are plenty to experience.
Probably the most accessible is the market along Phung Hung Street. It’s there from early morning until evening, every day, and sells all the fresh food you’d expect. It’s a good place to go if you want fresh fruit – the price will be lower than from the street vendors but still make sure you negotiate.
But in my opinion the real experience is to be had in the wet markets that are under cover. The heat, the smells, the wet floor (from rain or fish buckets), the shoppers on motorbikes squeezing through the aisles… that’s what really makes a market an experience. Chau Long, at the junction of Chau Long and Nguyen Truong To, is worth a visit if you’re near Truc Bach. Another one worth a visit is Cho Hom, on Pho Hue near the junction of To Hien Thanh. As well as a particularly wide range of food in the wet market downstairs, it’s got a good cloth market on the upper floor and the “food court” serves up a tasty che and papaya salad.
Note though that the best times to go are early morning or late afternoon; this is when most locals go and so you’ll get more of a feel for it, plus the stall holders usually shut down in the middle of the day.
If the food markets don’t do it for you, how about flowers? Unfortunately, to experience the wonders of Quang Ba Flower Market – the biggest in Hanoi – you have to visit between midnight and 06:00. We’ve not made it yet but it’s reportedly quite beautiful. The market is on Au Co Street, to the north of West Lake.
For the motorbike nuts there’s Cho Xe market. It’s only really worth a visit if you’re buying a bike, but a good deal can be had if you know what you’re doing. The market runs during the day and is out on Cau Giay between Tran Dang Ninh and Chua Ha.
Finally, Cho Hang, on Hang Da, is the place to head for secondhand clothes. I can’t guarantee you’ll find much in larger sizes but the petite among you might have some luck.