We give flowers to ask for forgiveness, to celebrate a graduation, to greet a friend, to mourn a loved one, or to show affection to someone, and I was reminded today at the flower market in Saigon that this flower culture humans have created is a universal one. Of course, there are variations and adaptations within each culture, but generally it is a shared one. On March 8th, for example, International Women’s Day is celebrated throughout Vietnam, and flowers are purchased in abundance. There are choices upon choices at the Saigon flower market with alleys filled with orchids, water lilies, peach flowers, roses of every color and shade, and even flowers decorated in sparkly glitter and confetti.
Tuan, my tour guide, mentioned at the market that the beautiful lotus flower is Vietnam’s national flower, symbolizing enlightenment, optimism, and protection. This flower of the dawn can’t be missed during your visit in Vietnam. If you find yourself in Hoi An looking for a great escape to the countryside where you can see the lotus flower in it’s muddy natural habitat, then check out our day tour of Hoi An. Outside of the Phan family temple that we visit is a magical garden of lotus flowers planted to provide protection for the family. Lotus flowers go beyond physical beauty in Vietnamese culture though. The stems of the lotus flowers are used in salads and tea, and are used to tie batches of plants like morning glory that are picked and then sold in the markets.
The majority of the flowers in Saigon’s flower market come from Dalat, Vietnam. Dalat, also known as the city of flowers, is a serene city with fresh and cool temperatures, making it ideal for growing flowers. The local government even gives out flower seeds to encourage families to plant their own flower gardens! The city also has its own annual flower festival where flowers, vegetables, and plants are exhibited to bring tourism and investment to Dalat’s ever growing flower industry.
As you can see in the photograph below, shoppers can choose from bouquets of flowers, or can pick individual flowers to design their own bouquet! To no surprise, such intricately designed flower bouquets are sold at much higher prices. Walking by this flower stand, I could see workers in the back cutting and designing beautiful flower bouquets that would be up for sale for the afternoon rush. Tuan explained that now that internet is widespread in Vietnam, many of the flower stand owners have created their own websites for people to design or purchase pre-designed flower bouquets. Banners with website names are placed at the front of the shop and on the shop hoods to market themselves.
I came to the flower market at downtime around 11:00 in the morning when most of the workers were lying in their hammocks eating noodle soups or bành mí’s, Tuan assured me that the market is often bustling with people. The workers start their morning bright and early at around 5:00 AM, so it makes sense that they need a break around 11:00 AM. Though I didn’t come to this market as a flower fanatic, and I still don’t see myself waking at the break of dawn to make it to market rush hour, I did gain a greater appreciation for the art of floral design.