Ho Thi Ky Flower Market: A Taste Of Old Saigon In Ho Chi Minh City

Fresh lotuses at Ho Thi Ky Flower Market

When I travel, I like to go where the tourists are not. So on Thursday I was thrilled to visit Ho Thi Ky, the largest flower market in Ho Chi Minh City. Still relatively unknown to the traveling public, it bustles with the colors and aromas of a bygone era. We arrived in the early morning, right after the all-night deliveries had been completed and  were rewarded with an insider’s look at the vibrant hub that supplies the bulk of the city’s flowers.

Buyer loading cart at Ho Thi Ky flower market

Morning buyer stocking up his bike for delivery to the city

About Ho Thi Ky Flower Market

Located about 2 and a half miles from the city center, Ho Thi Ky is the largest wholesale flower market in Ho Chi Minh. Established in the 1980’s, it supplies all of the hotels, pagodas, office buildings and flower sellers in the city. Buyers buy in bulk, arriving in the wee hours of the morning to choose from among thousands of flowers harvested from the surrounding countryside the previous day.

A peek at the official Ho Thi Ky website reveals the curious statement:

“We receive a lot of calls from customers also, opponents”

Wall mural pointing to Ho Thi Ky flower market

Mural on a wall leading to the Ho Thi Ky flower market

Our guide for the morning was Mai Truong, who set the tone for the day by informing us she was named after a flower; in her case, the cherry blossom, a symbol of spring. Truong explained that Vietnamese names for girls are often combinations of beautiful images like a blossom or river and positive attributes like gentleness or faith. Often two names are combined to designate a specific flower.

“Vietnamese women are like flowers. We hope for men to pass by and say ‘Oh that’s beautiful,’” she said. With that, we jumped into her car and sped off to the market.

Roses at Ho Thi Ky flower market

Roses newly arrived from the countryside

Ho Thi Ky flowers pull all-nighters

The action begins at Ho Thi Ky Flower Market around the time the city’s bars get busy; that is, from 10 pm to midnight. This is when the first trucks loaded with fresh flowers begin arriving from the country. Most of the flowers come from Dalat, also known as The City of Flowers. Located in the southern part of the Central Highlands region, the town sits on a plateau about 4,900 feet above sea level. The area’s year-round cool weather, in direct contrast to Vietnam’s tropical climate, is the perfect environment for growing flowers.

Among the flowers Dalat is most famous for are hydrangeas, mimosas, orchids, Japanese sunflowers and all colors and varieties of roses.

Fresh flowers at Ho Thi Ky flower market

Vendor opening deliveries at Ho Thi Ky flower market

Vendor unpacking fresh flowers at Ho Thi Ky flower market

Still other flowers make their nighttime arrival from the maze of rivers and rice patties of the Mekong Delta. These flowers, Mai observed, are often larger and brighter than the same species coming from Dalat due to the difference in climate, soil and temperature. They include daisies, marigolds, lilies, dahlias, roses, lisianthus, cockscomb and chrysanthemums. Fresh flowers at Ho Thi Ky flower market

A small proportion of flowers arrive by air from Thailand, Japan and China.

Orchid blossoms for sale at Ho Thi Ky flower market

Single orchid blossoms for sale at the market

Truong explained that with only one road leading from Dalat, the late-night traffic can be downright scary. ‘It all depends on how crazy the driver is,” she said. Normally the trip down from the mountains takes 5-6 hours. But time is of the essence when it comes to fresh flowers, so drivers often throw caution to the wind.

As the flowers arrive, vendors work all night long to cut, trim and package the flowers for early morning buyers. Flower sales start at Ho Thi Ky market, but can sometimes go through five or more middle men before ending up in a vase in the city. We found the woman below busily pulling flowers from boxes, inspecting them for quality and tossing many in the trash. Mai explained that since the flowers cost less than the labor to cut them, vendors don’t hesitate to discard all but the finest specimens.

Vendor cutting flowers at Ho Thi Ky flower market

Vendor preparing flowers for sale

Still, much of the flower business remains steeped in superstition. Although it would make sales more direct, vendors seldom provide phone numbers to clients unless they are well known. Otherwise, Mai explained, they ‘May be playing a joke.’

As for ordering on-line, well that’s still a thing of the future.

Market etiquette: Don’t block the stand

Flower selling is serious business and curious tourists aren’t the most welcome of guests. It helped to have Mai, not only for her language skills, but for her ability to chat up the vendors so they would talk about themselves and their product. Rule Number One: never stand in front of a stand unless you plan to buy. Not only is it annoying, it’s bad luck for the vendor.

One of many shops at Ho Thi Ky flower market

This dog showed us who’s boss at his owner’s shop

We shuffled off to the sides of those shops that most interested us while Mai engaged the families in conversation. Weary from the early-morning sales, some were wrapped in hammock cocoons, strung from the rafters in the back of the shop. Others were cutting and adding to their displays of flowers.

Vendor at Ho Thi Ky flower market

To break the monotony, a couple merchants brought out their fighting cocks. Although illegal, cock fighting remains an interest of the vendors. Many kept one or more bright-feathered cocks sitting in domed cages at the back of their shops.

Fighting cock at Ho Thi Ky flower market

One of many fighting cocks at the market

The flowers

From what we observed, the main flowers for sale in the market included hydrangeas, roses, lilies, carnations, orchids, heliconias, sunflowers, chrysanthemums and lotuses. There were also many unusual plants sold as ‘fillers’ including dyed grasses, berries, eucalyptus and tropical foliage.

Dyed grasses for sale at Ho Thi Ky flower market

Orchids for sale at Ho Thi Ky flower market

Among the plants sold by the woman pictured below were cypress sprigs. Mai explained that the feathery-leaved evergreens are sold as complements to the florals but also to encourage smart study. Tradition goes that if you place a cypress sprig in the book you are studying it will help commit the subject to memory.

Vendor at Ho Thi Ky flower market

Displayed in bright colored plastic pails, the many different colored lotuses were a story all to themselves. While they arrive wrapped in paper and tight in the bud, it is up to the vendor to ‘arrange’ them by folding back the petals. Depending on his or her personal artistry, some lotuses will have more layers than others and therefore appeal to different buyers.

‘Everybody is an artist here’ Mai said.

Lotuses at Ho Thi Ky flower market

Vendors use artistry to ‘unfold’ the lotuses

All told, there are about 100 trading households with 5 to 7 workers each at the Ho Thi Ky market. Many are families who have passed on their skills to their children. On a normal day, the market receives about 1000 flower boxes with the number jumping to 2000 to 3000 before the Lunar New Year. Prices range from VND 30,000 (approximately $1.30) for 10 roses, to VND 90,000 (a little under $4) for a bouquet of lilies.

Ho Thi Ky flower market

Streets are empty at Ho Thi Ky by the end of the morning

The Ho Thi Ky market is located in District 10 at 57 Alley Ho Thi Ky Market or 374 Alley Le Hong Phong, about a 20 minute cab ride from the city center.


Step Back In Time On the Trails of Harpers Ferry, WV


“The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature… worth a voyage across the Atlantic.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1783

When the sign points left to Maine and right to Georgia, you know you are smack dab in the middle of the Appalachian Trail. The two states, on either extremity of the eastern seaboard of the United States, are 1,165 and 1,013 miles away, respectively. This is the famous crossroads in the tiny town of Harpers Ferry, one of the few towns the trail passes through. It is also the site of some of the most significant Civil War battles and a national park of incomparable beauty. Continue reading

Garden Style: Going For Baroque In Prague’s Beautiful Vrtba Garden

Prague’s Vrtba Garden

With only one vowel, it can prove hard to pronounce, but beautiful Vrtba Garden easily speaks to all languages. The little architectural gem, reached through a discreet gate in Karmelitská Street, is one of the most important Baroque gardens in Prague. In addition to its exuberant design, the terraced garden has a viewing platform that provides an exceptional vista on the city. And as I discovered recently, it’s a great place to pick up some tips on how to style a small garden. Continue reading

Sanssouci: The No-Worries Garden Just A Stone’s Throw From Berlin

Potsdam’s Sanssouci Palace

Last time I was in Berlin, the city was still stained dark gray by the soot of post-WWII deterioration. But this week I returned to find the metropolis almost unrecognizable. Everywhere there are signs of improvements, scaffolding and construction. There is one place, however, that remains unchanged; that is, Potsdam’s stunning Sanssouci Palace and gardens. I made a return visit yesterday. Continue reading

Chernobyl Plants And The Exotic World Of Ruderal Species

“Sometimes the best thing you can do is…. nothing. –Oliver Kellhammer, Ecological Artist 

There’s a lesser-known field of botany called the study of ruderal plants, or plants that grow on waste ground, ruins or rubble. Borne by birds, wind or other animals, the weed-like species are the first to colonize lands disturbed by wildfires, avalanches, construction and other ecological disasters. The plants self-sow in abandoned areas, forming impromptu gardens and forests over time, in a clear demonstration of what Mother Nature can do when left to her own devices. Continue reading

New York City’s Flower District: Green Oasis In A Concrete Jungle

New York City's flower district

New York City’s historic flower district

It’s not every day you visit a city and wind up in a tropical forest. But that’s exactly the case if you happen to be walking along a certain stretch of New York City’s West 28th street in Manhattan. There, amidst the hustle and bustle of big city life, a vibrant community of plant wholesalers and retailers set up shop each morning, transforming the city’s teeming sidewalks into a bona fide urban jungle. Continue reading

Bamboo Gets A Makeover Thanks To A California Garden

The Bamboo Garden at Northern California’s Foothill College

I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of bamboo, especially the kind whose roots advance a foot a day and need to be dug out with a crane. But, I was pleasantly surprised this week to have my views on the plant suddenly upended. It all started with a spectacular variety featuring aqua stems I spied growing in my sister-in-law’s garden. Continue reading

Camellias Take Center Stage At California’s Filoli Gardens

Camellia japonica ‘Cheryl Lynn’

Winter can be a dreary time in the garden, especially on the East Coast. But as soon as the winter-blooming camellias start flowering, I am reminded that everything has its season. These beautiful shrubs wait until late fall to early spring to produce their spectacular lush-petaled blooms. And one of the best places to view them is at Filoli Gardens in the foothills of California’s Santa Cruz Mountains. Continue reading

Longwood Gardens’ 10 Best Christmas Trees of 2017

Orchid Tree/A Longwood Christmas

The Orchid Tree at Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens

OK, so maybe you won’t be copying the orchid tree above, but this time of year Longwood Gardens is teeming with ideas, especially when it comes to Christmas trees.  Located in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania (an easy two-hour drive from Washington, DC), Longwood is resplendent this December as it pays homage to France. And the eye-popping horticultural displays are nothing short of ooh-la-la. Continue reading

US Botanic Garden Presents The Latest Poinsettia Varieties

One of many beautiful poinsettias at the US Botanic Garden

I’ve been to the US Botanic Garden (USBG) many times and have always enjoyed the beautiful displays that change with the seasons. But in December, I bypass the holiday dazzle of the evergreen-draped lobby, work my way through the steamy medicinal plant and orchid gardens and head straight to the restrooms. There, behind the glass atrium in a quiet passage all its own is the USBG’s best-kept secret: a one-of-a-kind poinsettia display. Continue reading