All photography by Christian Berg
Step away from the chaotic main roads and roam around the alleyways of Chợ Lớn. This is where life takes place for most locals. Drop in on a sidewalk chess tournament, join merchants for an iced tea break, or simply admire the architecture.
For the last 100 years, rows of townhouses at Hào Sỹ Phường, a beautiful alley on Trần Hưng Đạo Street, have remained largely untouched. Lesser-known alleyways such as Mã Xa Hạng or Tuệ Huê Lý are home to old apartment blocks and small houses with traditional Chinese elements still intact.
There are so many pagodas, shrines, and communal houses in Chợ Lớn you’re guaranteed to pass by a few without even trying. Of course, the brilliant Bà Thiên Hậu Pagoda is a must-visit. Incense coils hanging in the central yard seem to shield this place from the hustle outside, providing locals a peaceful and quiet space to pray, relax, and reflect.
A few steps away is Nghĩa An Communal House, which doubles as a Guan Yu shrine, and is a stunning representative of traditional Teochew design. Be sure to dress properly and ask before you take photos inside these religious sites.
TIP: Put on your detective hat and join Urban Tales for a half-day adventure in Chợ Lớn. Solve a murder case that takes you through medicine shops, pagodas, and markets, learning the history of Chợ Lớn along the way.
Trade and commerce is an essential part of Chợ Lớn’s heritage. The name Chợ Lớn itself means ‘big market’, and that’s what the area still looks and feels like today. Constant trading, haggling, loading and unloading fills the streets with a hustle unlike others in the city. For a taste of the action, the wholesale markets are where it’s at.
More than 2,000 shops at Bình Tây Market are stocked with spices, mushrooms, dried fish, and other intriguing ingredients. If it’s new threads you’re after, head to An Đông, one of Vietnam’s largest wholesale clothing markets. Arts and crafts enthusiasts will love rifling through mountains of beads, ribbons, and fabric at Đại Quang Minh Market.
Come to Chợ Lớn on an empty stomach -- you’ll be glad later. Start with a late breakfast at a Cantonese dim sum house. Baoz, Tân Nguyên Thái, and Dim Tu Tac are all huge dim sum restaurants that cater to casual diners. Must-eat dishes are the steamed prawn dumplings, crispy rice rolls, and radish cakes. Wash it all down with a pot of fragrant chrysanthemum tea.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try authentic Teochew phá lấu (braised intestines with pickled cabbage) at the 60-year-old Phá Lấu Tâm Ký cart, found on Nguyễn Trãi Street. For dessert, stop by Quán Hà Ký on Châu Văn Liêm Street to try marinated egg in sweet tea (hột gà trà.)