PRE-LOVED TREASURES

A trip to a flea market can be a wonder to behold for those seeking something out of the ordinary.

By Le Diem on January 10,2019 10:01 AM

PRE-LOVED TREASURES

Photos: Le Diem

If you’re lucky, you might even find something totally new, with tag still attached

When paying a visit to fashion shops or looking online at shopping sites, I’m usually impressed in the beginning at the number of products on offer. But this quickly turns to yawns, as most appear quite similar, as if they’ve all come from the same source. Always on the lookout for something unique, one day a friend and I headed to a flea market and I had something of a “Eureka” moment, as it seemed I had found shopping heaven. “Unique, fine, and cheap” has become the word-of-mouth “brand” given to flea markets by local fans.

I was dazzled the first time I went to Hanoi’s largest flea market, Dong Tac. Along a narrow road next to an old apartment building, I was surrounded by a veritable forest of clothes, hanging everywhere at each stall and also in an open space.

Clothes for different ages and genders were divided into summer and winter wear. The market burst with color, featuring shorts, T-shirts, bikinis, tank-tops, and light dresses for the warmer months and woolen jumpers, jeans, jackets, and overcoats for when the chill arrives.

Though most stalls sell clothes, scarves, shoes, bags, purses, hats, sunglasses, and a host of accessories also count among the offerings. Most of the goods at flea markets are second-hand but imported from countries and regions such as the US, Japan, South Korea, and Europe, so boast diverse designs and styles. And they are also usually high-quality material, despite being perhaps a few years old. If you’re lucky, you might even find something totally new, with tag still attached. Weekends are the best time to go, as this is when “new” selections appear.

PRE-LOVED TREASURES

Even though my first visit wasn’t on a weekend, there was still a load of nice things to browse through. The first item that caught my eye was a nice large scarf. Well, it looked like a scarf, but it was actually an overcoat. I’d never seen anything like it before, and it looked good when I put it on. I reached for my purse.

My friend, though, reminded me that no matter how much I liked something I had to be cagey and haggle for a better price, all the while feigning a degree of disinterest. I knew she was right. The VND200,000 ($8.6) the vendor was asking seemed so cheap, compared to something new and similar, where I’d probably have to outlay around VND400,000-500,000 ($17-22). I just wanted to buy it, but my friend then offered to pay half the price. What? I asked. It’s not going to sell for VND100,000. “It will,” she said, “trust me. If she says ‘No’, just walk away.” And when the vendor did indeed say “No”, my friend grabbed my arm and led me away. After just a few steps, though, my newly-beloved overcoat was mine for half of what I was perfectly willing to pay.

So, like every other market in Vietnam, be ready to bargain at flea markets, even in Ho Chi Minh City, where the overcharging isn’t as rampant as it is in Hanoi. It usually works well, and follows a predictable pattern. The vendor says “No”, the buyer walks away, the vendor motions for the buyer to come, and a deal can made. There are times, however, when you walk away and find yourself still walking. That’s generally an indication that the last-discussed price was as low as the vendor can go. Many stalls at Hoang Hoa Tham Flea Market in Ho Chi Minh City or Con Flea Market in Da Nang have a “one-price-for-all” of $1-2 (VND 23,000 - 46,000), with a sign reading “No bargaining”, so you don’t have to think about the price, just about whether you want the item or not.

The key is to curb your excitement and not buy everything at the first stall you visit. It’s like a tree at the edge of a forest; there are many others you can’t see just yet. Once I had my eye on a pair of baggy trousers, and bought them after not much bargaining. As I wandered around the market, though, I saw similar pants that were better and cheaper. Lesson learned. If I see something that’s nearly but not quite perfect, I take a chance and see what’s available elsewhere and hope it’s still there if I don’t find anything. But if there is something I want at first sight, I tend to buy it and not risk missing out.

PRE-LOVED TREASURES

Just about everything at a flea market is a “one-off” and, so, only comes in one size, which can be quite annoying. Many times I’ve seen something I really like but, being imported, it’s too big for me. But it’s good for my foreign friends, who find that flea markets have clothes that fit them while regular shops don’t. Some were excited to find Christmas sweaters, which are pretty rare in Vietnam, regardless of size. Others were impressed to find some fashions they knew of more than ten years ago, or genuine pre-loved clothes from famous names like Chanel, Gucci, Prada, Dior, and Dolce & Gabbana, selling for just a few dollars.

Finding what you want may well involve rummaging through a pile on the table or the ground, as not everything can be hung out at the front of a stall. But this is what shopping is at flea markets, and you’ll often see groups of people sitting down and spending hours digging through a small mountain of clothes in search of a bargain. Sometimes shouts of joy fill the air, followed by a look of complete satisfaction at the “treasure” in hand.

FLEA MARKETS

HANOI

Dong Tac Market, Dong Tac Street (opposite Vincom Center’s parking), Dong Da District.
Hoa Binh Market, Hue Street, Hai Ba Trung Dist.

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DA NANG

Con Market, 269 Ong Ich Khiem Street, Hai Chau District.
Moi Market, 212 Hoang Dieu Street, Hai Chau District.
Dong Da Market, 42 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hai Chau District.

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HCMC

Hoang Hoa Tham Market, 19 Hoang Hoa Tham Street, Tan Binh District.
Ba Chieu Market, 40 Dien Hong Street, Binh Thanh District.
Ban Co Market, 664 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, District 3.

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