A Shopping Trip to Vietnam

Get ready for some unusual shopping.

Michael and I needed some fresh coriander for a recipe we wanted to make.  While Prague has some large and wonderful supermarkets such as Tesco, Albert or Aldi,  none had fresh coriander a.k.a. cilantro.  However we had heard, via the grapevine, of a great Vietnamese market – someplace out of town.  So the challenge was on!  Where on earth was this market?  And what was it called?

My “beagle nose” went directly to the internet and asked Google.  WOW!  That was almost too easy!  Words like “Little Hanoi”, “Vietnamese Markets”, and “SAPA” flew onto the first page.  From then on it was easy.  Using my “how to get there” notes from the SAPA site our evening was spent analyzing the map of the Metro stops and bus lines.  We were excited as it was billed as the Largest Vietnamese Market in Prague.

It turned out to be easy to find the correct Metro and then get the bus, but somehow WHERE to get off left us slightly bewildered.  During the trip many Vietnamese also got on and Michael smartly said, “Where they get off, we will too”!  HIS beagle nose was working!  And he was totally correct!  The entire busload of Asians got off and we did too.  I saw the huge sign: SAPA!

It was a short walk from the bus to the entrance which was not very pretty being mostly sheet metal walls and the first block seemed mostly to be empty buildings.  The day was cloudy with the constant threat of rain and  I was fighting the feeling of wishing we hadn’t come.  Suddenly we turned the corner and found ourselves standing before streets of tiny buildings and a huge area of canvas type stalls.  WOW!

The fish markets were full of strange looking fish.  Most of which were alive and swimming in deep vats.  Some were on ice.  Some were dried.  The smells were a bit overpowering at times with aromas I was not use to.part of asian market in Prague


Next were the green grocers and little markets, row after row of them.  Selling the most interesting items which looked very strange to my eyes.  However, it was in such a shop that we found our fresh coriander!SAPA asian market in Prague


Next came acres of clothing stalls . . . all under canvas roofs.  It almost felt like the fair grounds I use to go to at the Oregon State Fair.  Each stall seemed to be independent from the other.  The owners (or helpers) were standing in coats and gloves with only a small heater to warm them.  Many got delivery service from the local restaurants such as hot tea and bowls of soup.  I imagine it made a cold day seem better!  And as in most family businesses, little kids were playing around.


These stalls sell amazing things –  all on the affordable/cheap side.  Perfect for me because I only wanted a simple knit hat to match my winter jacket.   I found not only one but two that were perfect!  Most of the Vietnamese do not speak English, and very little Czech and I don’t speak Vietnamese or Czech, so language was a slight problem.  Bargaining is expected which for me is not a pleasant aspect of any purchase.  Imagine trying to come to an agreeable price using strange languages and an adding machine!  But I managed to knock off a few koruna!  We walked for what seemed like miles, looking at clothing, knockoff perfumes, household items, toys, Vietnamese music and newspapers, most of which is imported either from Vietnam or China.

After all that walking we began to have hunger pangs and realized we were quite late for lunch.  I learned when reading about SAPA that the restaurants here offer some of the best Vietnamese food to be found in all of the Czech Republic.  The smells coming out of the tiny restaurants were to die for!  We chose one and ordered a Vietnamese specialty:  a bowl of Pho, which is soup in a fragrant broth with rice noodles, floating with pieces of either beef or chicken pieces, cilantro and spring onions.  Delicious!

It was a great day full of interesting discoveries and we hated to leave but told each other we would definitely come again.  I would suggest this as a site to see in Prague!

Later Discovery:  SAPA occupies the grounds of a former slaughterhouse and also houses a primary school and a Buddhist temple, beauty salons, a casino and travel agents for various Asian countries. It is named after a town of the same name in northern Vietnam.

How we went: Take bus 113 from metro Kacerov or bus 198 from Smichovske nadrazi  bus station to Sidlisce Pisnice.

SAPA is open daily from 9:00-20:00

Technorati Tags: markets,SAPA,Vietemese,Asian,Chinese

Asia Trade Centre – SAPA

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 SAPA asian market in Praguespeak 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.

part of asian market in PragueWhen 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.

Technorati Tags: Prague,Asian,SAPA,shopping