A few months ago when we first started researching where to go in Prague we read an intriguing article about a Vietnamese “wholesale” market on the North side of the city. It sounded exclusive, hard to find and foreign so we resolved to go. But then we started reading even more about a larger Asian market on the South side so we went there first. Below is Karin’s account and then some directions.
The other day Michael and I went to a Vietnamese market named after a region in Vietnam. This market is not right in the city, but a bus trip out to the “outskirts” of Prague. We weren’t sure where to get off, however there were several Asians on the bus, so Michael told me that when they get out, we will get out! Which worked because right across the busy street was a huge sign “SAPA – Little Hanoi” The welcome was in both Czech and Vietnamese.
At first we were confused, because we heard it was big (like in BIG) but from this perspective, it looked bleak and slightly worn down. We felt we were entering an old industrial site. Which probably is exactly what it was. Once we entered the gate and started walking down a rather lonely street with tiny shops on both sides, we felt like we had entered a very different country. All signs were in Vietnamese, Chinese or whatever with occasional words of Czech thrown in; the shops were tiny and actually the area became rather busy.
We rounded a corner and there in front of us was the entire “city” of shops! Shops, shops, shops, hundreds of shops! It is hard to describe exactly how they are laid out. They seem to be under roofs. Like a huge arena….with cement floors and then stalls inside. The walls are often just heavy tarps. Like a HUGE inside Bazaar. These shops sell clothing, foods, household goods, toys, knickknacks. As you wander around, you realize you are seeing a lot of the same things over and over. I saw several items I would have liked to buy perhaps, but I am not good at bargaining and that is what you have to do. So I just “window” shopped. Many of the items appeared to be quality; others were like Dollar Store junk.
After we spent a great deal of time looking Michael said he needed a cup of coffee. We noticed small huts (like fishing huts) that were restaurants; many were takeaway only. We saw men coming out of the shops with trays loaded with food and taking them into the bazaar area for the shop owners to eat. Here and there were larger restaurants with indoor seating. We chose one and decided to eat lunch as well. We had read about a dish called Pho. It is a delicious broth with bits of meat and cut up veggies and noodles. The bowls are large. The soup was delicious. The coffee was terrible! I ordered tea and it was very nice.
We then decided to walk the perimeter for a change of pace. Here were shops with bridal gowns, travel agents, storage units and more of the same that we saw under the big roofs. I saw one shop that intrigued me and that was all wicker. I don’t think you are supposed to buy 1 of anything, but I asked for a wreath form and he sold it to me for a very reasonable price! The little grocery stores were interesting…I didn’t know half of what I was seeing. The dilemma was that they could not speak English, but could speak Czech. We couldn’t speak Czech and for sure we could not speak Vietnamese. But Michael did manage to purchase some sweet red chilli sauce he likes and also some fresh cilantro.
I read that on site there is a school for young Vietnamese kids to learn Czech. Even a pagoda like temple. We did not see that. Michael informed me that it would be impossible to see it all. We had the idea that maybe we could find a Mah Jong set here, but no one knew what it was. I know I said it was a Vietnamese site, but they did have some Chinese things as well.
When we left, we realized we had just experienced a journey into another culture and country! We did see a few Czech people there, but very few. I did wonder where the Asian people live, and what brought them to Prague.
After I came home I did some research…(better late than never) and read about the problems the Vietnamese have here. The Czech’s are not so welcoming to them, and often the Vietnamese are picked on. These problems still exist, but hopefully getting better because the Vietnamese have organized themselves, selected a spokes person and try to sort problems with the city in a way that they can be heard.
Sapa is most convenient by car but just a short walk from the Sidlisce Pisnice bus stop. The official transit site (dpp.cz) says to take bus 331 from the Kacerov station of the C (Red) line, but several other buses go there as well including 113 and 333. Upon returning we took the latter to the Budejovicka Metro station.