|No parking problems: Traditional markets on pavements are very convenient because they are often on the way home or in the neighbourhood and are easily accessible. — VNA/VNS Photo Huy Hung
|Under cover: A newly built modern market, developed from a street market, keeps its former name Buoi. — VNS Photo Doan Tung
|Slow to start: A kiosk remains in the early stages of fitout in the new
|O Cho Dua Trading Plaza in La Thanh Street, Ha Noi. — VNS Photo
Viet Nam now has about 9000 traditional markets. Of those, Ha Noi has more than 410 markets and HCM City has more than 240 markets.
According to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, from now to 2020, Ha Noi will build 946 supermarkets, 35 trading plazas and 45 shopping centres. HCM City will gain another 77 supermarkets, nearly 100 trading plazas, and 360 shops by 2015.
Following a plan of the Ha Noi Department of Industry and Trade, from now to 2020, the city will turn the markets in the city's inner region as well as large-scale markets which are more than 10,000sq.m into modern central markets. The city will also build some wholesale markets for agricultural products at the regional level.
The HCM City Department of Industry and Trade will also upgrade its trade system from now to 2015. The city should have 248 markets, of which five will be newly developed.
Viet Nam is developing modern supermarkets and trading plazas but the reality is that many residents, like their counterparts all over the world, still prefer the colour and convenience of street markets. Ha Nguyen-Trung Hieu
Failed to take off: Hang Da supermarket takes the name of a former street market in the same location. Unfortunately, traders and customers have stayed away in droves. VNS Photo Doan Tung
Lee Mun-sook arrived to work in Viet Nam for a non-governmental organisation two years ago. But she plans to extend her work in the country because she found many interesting things here – particularly the traditional street markets.
"The open air markets are cheaper than supermarkets, because you can bargain. Even more importantly, the produce is much fresher. And there is a wider selection of goods available at a coc market," says Lee. (A coc is a toad. The temporary markets are always ready to move quickly, like a leaping toad).
She adds that the coc market near her house opens very early in the morning – at five o'clock, compared with the supermarket, which doesn't open until 8 or 8:30 – so she can buy what she needs before going to work.
But she admits that although coc markets are convenient for shoppers, they also cause pollution and traffic jams.
Like Lee, Hoang Hoa, a government employee from Cau Giay District, says shopping at a street market is more personal than at a supermarket, and she has developed a close relationship with the sellers who travel there from Ha Noi's surrounding areas to sell fresh organic vegetables.
"I have a verbal agreement with a seller in Son Tay (some 30km from my home) to supply us with pork, chickens and eggs that the producer raised on local rice and maize instead of food imported from China," says Hoa, adding that although the price is a bit higher – a kilogram of chicken is VND130,000 compared with 115,000 in other street markets – it is still much lower than the VND190,000-230,000 per kg that a supermarket charges.
"All the goods are safe, tasty and delicious. We are not afraid of food poisoning any longer."
Seller Nguyen Thi Huong says her produce sells very well at a coc market in Cau Giay because almost all of her buyers have been her acquaintances for years.
"I often invite my buyers to my home to see how we grow our organic vegetables," says Huong.
Meanwhile, housewife Trinh Thi Phuong says she often buys seafood from a seller named Luong Thi Tuyen at her coc market in Ha Noi's Quynh Mai Ward.
Tuyen's seafood is fresh and affordable. "I have bought her goods for years." says Phuong, adding that thanks to the street market near her house, she has to spend less time shopping because she doesn't have to travel far or deal with the hassle of parking her motorbike.
"Apart from the added convenience, I typically save VND20,000-50,000 per day compared with going to the supermarket," Phuong says.
Outdoor markets aren't only for food. Streets like Lang Ha and Xuan Thuy, near a number of universities and colleges, are crowded with book sellers.
Ha Noi University student Dang Vu Hung says he and his friends often buy books on the pavement, both because they are affordable and because it is easy to look through the books.
"In the past, I had to spend half a day to go to a store in Trang Tien Street to find a book, and I would pay a higher price," Hung says.
Duc Huy, a retired man in Hang Bac Street, says he likes to peruse the literature on the pavement because there are books on every topic, from cooking to astrology.
"I recently found a rare book for my collection. I'm very happy," Huy says, although he admits the pavement booksellers take up pedestrian space.
Phan Tuan Anh, a policeman who works at a Lang Ha intersection, says despite city authorities' push to clamp down on pavement book sellers, they continue to ply their trade on many streets, particularly at night, to meet increasing demand.
Dennis Ryan from Australia says Ha Noi is a big market in which temporary markets and vendors sell everything from foods and bonsais to electronics and wooden items.
Ha Noi has been trying to stamp out temporary markets and street vendors since 2007 but to little avail, says Nguyen Thi Ha, who is in charge of market management from the Ha Noi People's Committee.
"The city has built several modern markets downtown to reduce traffic congestion and pollution as authorities in other ASEAN countries have done, but closing traditional small scale markets is not easy," Ha says.
Despite the urbanisation process and competition from "modern market" models, traditional markets are still an important distribution channel, serving 45-50 per cent of people's purchasing needs.
The Ministry of Industry and Trade has advised the Government to improve the effectiveness of traditional markets by offering a variety of investment incentives with a focus on markets in rural and mountain areas.
The Ministry has recently worked with the departments of Industry and Trade, the Association of Vietnamese Retailers and experts to discuss how to manage traditional markets in cities.
Many participants at the workshop "Organisational and management model for traditional markets in Viet Nam urban areas" which was held by the Ministry of Industry and Trade last June said the tendency to replace traditional markets in urban areas with supermarkets and trading centres had caused many complaints.
|Clean and green: Street markets are still an important distribution channel, supplying 45-50 per cent of people's food requirements. — Photo Doan Tung
According to the ministry's Domestic Market Department, the country now has more than 8,500 traditional markets, 600 supermarkets, and 102 commercial centres and stores.
Ha Noi has 411 markets, including three wholesale markets. On average, every district or town has 14 markets, each serving approximately 15,200 people.
According to Cong Thuong (Industry and Trade) newspaper, vegetables, fruits, and products distributed in the trading centres and supermarkets serve less than five per cent of total demand, while the traditional markets supply 45-50 per cent and the rest is provided by temporary markets and peddlers.
The traditional markets have significantly contributed to the continuous development of domestic trade, particularly in 2011, when growth was 24.3 per cent and earned US$99 billion. Even faced with fierce competition from the modern retail model, traditional markets are still developing.
According to Dr Hoang Tho Xuan from the Commerce Research Institute, traditional markets are a fundamental part of Vietnamese culture.
"Goods in the market have the advantage of being fresh and plentiful. They are also cheap because they are transported directly from rural areas. "These markets are places to exchange various commodities and distribute agro-products and fresh food, so they are especially important for the common people. As indicated in surveys by relevant agencies, foreign visitors and many international organisations also appreciate the traditional culture of the Vietnamese markets," he says.
Dr Stephanie Geertman, from Canada's HealthBridge, says if traditional markets in urban areas are upgraded to become trading centres, supermarkets and convenience stores, they will lose their deep-rooted economic, cultural, and social value.
"An interesting fact is that the urban supermarkets have to keep the name of the former markets such as Hang Da, Cua Nam, Mo and Buoi," she says.
Nguyen Van Dong, deputy director of the Ha Noi Department of Industry and Trade, says authorities should review the process of transforming traditional markets into supermarkets and trading centres.
"The cost to rent kiosks has increased, raising prices and causing difficulties for traders. Moreover, due to buyers' reluctance to abandon traditional habits, these luxury modern markets and trading plazas have not attracted many customers, thus wasting our investment," he says.
Dr Xuan says the supermarket model should not be applied to traditional markets.
"We should not let modern markets take over large cities. They have beautiful architecture, but they can't match the convenience of traditional markets." — VNS