For about a week, hundreds of boats from the Mekong Delta line up along the Ben Binh Wharf to sell the flowers and small fruit trees with which Vietnamese families decorate their homes during the holiday of Tet. Visiting this floating flower market was among the first things we did in Saigon, and the scene made a huge impression on us.
Let it be known, that I have never seen so many kumquats in my life. That’s an understatement. Sum up all the kumquats I’ve ever seen, multiply that number by 500,000, and it would still be a tiny fraction of the kumquats I saw at the floating market. The kumquat tree’s bountiful little fruits represent growth and fertility, and are considered a lucky item to have in the house, for the New Year. Almost every boat at the market was sinking under the weight of the small trees. Although… not all the trees were small; we saw some composite, Frankenstein-kumquats, stitched together from over a dozen individual trees to create the illusion of one grand kumquat, often in the shape of a Christmas tree.
Of course, it wasn’t all kumquats. Apricot trees are also highly prized during Tet, as the rich, yellow color of their flowers is thought to bring good fortune. These are larger trees, and correspondingly more expensive. We asked about the age and price of one of the more impressive specimens; it had been growing for about 20 years, and was selling for over a thousand dollars. These are mostly bought by companies, and after Tet, they’re often sold back at a discount to the vendor, to be put back on sale the following year.
We walked south along the wharf. To our right, the romance of old wooden boats laden with colorful flowers. To our left, the utter madness of the street. Hundreds of scooters squeezed past pedestrians and other scooters, each loaded down with at least one tree and five people. The sound of honking and screaming filled the air so completely, that I was no longer sure whether I heard honking, or had suddenly contracted a severe case of tinnitus.
The Flower Market is held during the days leading up to Tet, at the Bến Bình Đông, a couple kilometers southwest of the center.