1 of 1000: The Rex Bar and the Ben Thanh Market (Saigon)

Ben Thanh Market Saigon
The Ben Thanh Market in Saigon

We have been in Vietnam for over 3 weeks and I am only now finding the time to write about all the places we have seen so far. Part of it is due to fact that we have been travelling around quite a bit and never staying in one place longer than 3 days. Part of it is the pure exhaustion that sets in after a few weeks in tropical weather.

But enough of the excuses. Today you can read about the famous Rex Bar with its rich historical background and the widely known Ben Thanh Market in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam.

A few words about Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon

If you are wondering why people sometimes talk about Saigon and then in the next second talk about Ho Chi Minh City, there is a very simple explanation for that. Saigon was the capital of the the southern Republic of Vietnam. After the South lost the war the city was renamed after Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the northern communists, who died a few years before the end of the Vietnam War.

People around here still call it Saigon. You will only find the name Ho Chi Minh City on official documents, airports or street signs.

The Ben Thanh Market

Arts and crafts at Ben Thanh Market
Nice souvenirs at Ben Thanh Market

We booked a hotel in the center of Saigon without knowing that we would stay in the heart of the touristic area. Even though it was touristic, it still all felt very, very Vietnamese. But more on that in our special article about Vietnam.

We walked around our hotel and found a market hall, where all kinds of stuff is sold. Starting from clothes for tourists all the way to (fresh) meat and fish. It was only a few hours later that we found out that this market was the Ben Thanh Market, which – together with the bar at the Rex Hotel – was one of the 1000 Places to See Before You Die.

So we decided to go back and have a closer look at the market. The inner part of the market is quite crowded and since we are in South East Asia, you can’t walk by one of the stalls without getting hassled by the salespeople. Also there are signs everywhere reminding you to keep a good grip on all valuables because the Ben Thanh Market is one of the worst places in the world in terms of pickpockets.

There was some really great stuff for sale e.g. marvelous wooden bowls with beautiful bright colors that we might have bought if we weren’t on a one year trip. It is just impossible to buy souvenirs like that when you have to carry them around for an entire year.

Having a drink at the historic Rex Bar

Cocktails at Rex Bar
Enjoying my Singapore Sling at the Rex Bar

The 5 star Rex Hotel was also only a 10 minute walk away from our tiny 2 star hotel. For a brief second we considered booking one night at the Rex Hotel since it was only 90€/night. A real bargain if you consider that a comparable 5 star hotel would cost us at least 250€/ night anywhere in Germany. We didn’t want to blow our budget early so we decided against it and stayed at our 9€ hotel.

Thankfully, getting a drink at the bar of the Rex Hotel didn’t cost as much. So we went out in the rain to walk go to the Rex Bar. I didn’t really feel comfortable walking in a nice hotel like this with a simple red shirt and flip flops, but at the hotel nobody did mind our appearance. We asked the concierge where we could find the bar and went up the roof, where the Rex Bar offers a great atmosphere and an even better view of Saigon.

Since it was raining we sat under the covered part which was still open to the side with the great view. The sound of the rain and the live singer who sang Spanish, English and Italian songs combined to a very romantic scenery.

Rex Hotel Bar
The bar at Rex Hotel

The Rex Hotel was the place where the U.S. military used to hold their press conferences during the Vietnam war. We ordered some cocktails and wondered about the thought that some decades ago the high ranking military officials and international reporters were sitting in the same spot and enjoying cocktails and music while millions of people were killed in one of the most brutal wars in the history of men.

The Rex Hotel underwent major renovation and reconstruction in 2003 so I am not quite sure how much of the old Rex Bar is still left, but knowing the history of the place and enjoying a bit of luxury combined for a memorable experience.

Are the Rex Bar and Ben Thanh Market really one of The 1000?

The market was a nice place to go shopping, no question about it. But one of the 1000 places? Surely not. It is a market like many others – no comparison to the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok. The Rex Bar is a great experience and the history of the place separates it from other bars in luxury hotels but not enough that this qualifies as one of the most spectacular places in the entire world.

In the next few days we will write about the Pho Hoa, which is another place in Saigon. We decided to combine those two places in to one, but I don’t want to give up too much of the next review. So come back in a few days to read our final decision about the two places in Saigon.


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