Skip the malls and head to 3A Station Bazaar for unusual gifts, artisan bargains and entertainment.
“I do not believe that there is a single bazaar in Saigon that can truly be called a fair in its original meaning in the West,” says Lam Quynh Trang, the organizer behind 3A Bazaar, the latest fair to hit Saigon last month. 3A Station Bazaar (Facebook: 3A Station Bazaar), a bi-monthly weekend fair located on 3A Ton Duc Thang, D1 was founded through a cooperation between her company, Dream Up, and the community art and event space 3A Station.
“My first experience with bazaars was about two years ago in England,” she shares. “It was a great experience. A bazaar is not just a place to go to when you need to buy the odd handmade jewelry piece or homebrewed lip balms on the cheap. It is also about the entertainment, the performances, the crowd, the social experiences. People go to bazaars for the experience, to enjoy themselves in the company of those they love for a full day or at least a half day, not for the cheap souvenirs. And not just young people go to fairs or sell at fairs. Children can go. Couples can go. Old people definitely do go. The whole family can have an entire day’s outing at the fair.”
The fair boasts long lines of stalls selling various local handmade goods, fashion items from indie designers and odd knickknacks. However, frequenters of similar Saigon-based fairs and flea markets may think 3A Station Bazaar is just the latest in a trend of outdoor markets popping up around the city.
“I do not think that Saigon actually has any single fair that truly replicates the authentic experience,” Trang says. “Whenever the Vietnamese go to these bazaars, they go in, buy whatever they want, take a quick gander around, and then hightail it out of the bazaar before they suffocate. Who can enjoy an experience like that?”
“And then, there are the products,” Trang adds. According to her, the existing fairs and flea markets typically have lax policy regarding sourcing or accepting merchants and products into their bazaars, which eventually turned them all into pseudo markets selling cheap Chinese mass imports. “I often go to other bazaars to see what is already on offer. Most of the time, they are all the same. Export Vietnamese products, cheap Guangdong imports, a smattering of stuff handmade by college or high school students. And there are so many of them. Hello Weekends Market has 150 stalls. Saigon Flea Market also has 150 stalls. Yet so many of them are the exactly the same that I feel dazed just looking at the stalls.”
Learning from others before her and drawing directly from her experience in England, Trang sets out to create a bazaar true to its name.
“I want to create something that a British person or any expats living in Ho Chi Minh can come in, look, and say, ‘Ahh, this is the bazaar that I know.’ To that end, sourcing the products is very important,” she insists. “I do not want a long line of lookalikes. Every single stall, every product has to have its own flair. The fashion items have to be designed. The handmade items need to be produced with love and care rather than whimsically for a quick buck on the side. And the knickknacks need to be truly unique and delightful.”
Trang also organizes on-site entertainment. “We have music performances planned. But I want more: circus acts, stand-up comedy, theatrical plays and community events. Things that make you come back to the bazaar every other weekend and not feel like you have seen this before.”
Images by Neil Featherstone