Life is not like the movies, nor is it like TV. It was from a notable travel series on TV that I was first introduced to Ben Thanh Market. My impression was that of a peaceful market with wide aisles for carefree strolling, happy, smiling vendors proudly displaying their wares, and motherly cooks tempting passerbys with Vietnamese soul food. Instead, Ben Thanh Market is hectic, humid, claustrophobic, and suffocating. There is no strolling here, you are forcefully carried with the current of harried and determined locals. The extremely narrow aisles promote an unnatural, almost pathological gait. There is no structural demarcation between vendors and products blend seamlessly into one another such that you are constantly experiencing a deja vu. Vendors eye shoppers hungrily ready to pounce on any potential sale. You have suddenly become prey amidst a market full of predators and the pressure to bleed your wallet is overwhelming. And this is rightly so as the competition is fierce and their livelihood is at stake.
The endless sights, sounds, and smells of Ben Thanh Market lead to a perpetual over-stimulation with subsequent sensory overload. With hair standing, ears perked, nostrils flared, mouths drooling, and teary, blood-shot eyes, you search for prized souvenirs. Despite being on an environmentally-induced high, I managed to make a few prudent purchases. There is no need for illicit drug use here, Ben Thanh is market marijuana.