As a Southeast Asian country, Vietnam has a lot of traditional handicrafts with distinct characteristics which you won’t find in your home country – or perhaps will, at an unreasonable price – and such things are often the best choice for taking home as souvenirs.
Shopping in Vietnam
To most travelers, especially westerners, Vietnam can be regarded as a shopping paradise. Why?
The high quality of the items for sale and their attractive prices go a long way towards explaining why. In addition, apart from the many shopping malls, a variety of local markets will bring you much closer to lives of the local people.
What to Expect When You Shop in Vietnam
A market can be regarded as a small society in which you will have opportunities to encounter different local people and get to know about their everyday lives.
When you bargain and talk with the shop owners, a chemical reaction of different cultures may take place, and other interesting things may happen.
When shopping in Vietnam, you may see a lot of amazing things which you"ve never seen before. It"s definitely a potential eye-opener for you. And when you take your purchases home and give them to family and friends, you"ll be happy to see their surprised faces.
In Vietnam, credit cards are used only in some large stores or shopping malls. If you are in a small shop or local market, you may have to pay in cash. In some markets frequented by tourists, they also accept payment in dollars or Euros.
In Vietnam, the quality of some handicrafts is very high, and the price is also very reasonable. Most importantly, no prices are fixed except in formal shopping malls, so if you want to get a good price, it"s time to test your bargaining prowess.
Bargaining (starting at least 75% lower than the retail price) is a must for better deals, as vendors often charge more to tourists.
What to Buy in Vietnam
Vietnam offers the best-value shopping opportunities for made-to-measure clothing, machine-embroidered and hand-embroidered goods, scarves, lacquerware, woodwork, fine cotton goods, faux jewelry and shawls. But amongst a wide variety of goods, which are really worth buying?
The ao dai (pronounced ow-yai) is a long gown with slits on either side, that is the traditional woman"s dress of Vietnam. You can find ao dai in almost any local market or fashion boutique.
But if you don’t like the ready-made ones, you can also request a local tailor to tailor-make a costume. In Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and especially Hoi An, professional tailor service is very popular.
Lacquerware is a traditional form of craftsmanship which is often used to decorate furniture, plates, bowls, vases, chopsticks and bracelets.
Most such decoration depicts the daily lives of Vietnamese, or alternatively mythical creatures. Whether you buy it to decorate your home or to give to family and friends, it is really a nice souvenir worth collecting.
In several galleries along Hang Bac Street in Hanoi and An Dong Craft Market in Ho Chi Minh City, they sell high quality lacquerware at reasonable prices.
Vietnamese hand embroidery is a 700-year-old tradition which is often used for clothes, bed sheets, bed covers, pillows, mattresses, shawls, scarves, veils, and handbags. The embroidery often depicts natural scenery, flowers or wildlife.
Embroidery masters all have skillful hands, and they can make their work come to life. You can buy an embroidered picture to decorate your house, or use it to enhance your handbag. If you don"t want to buy a ready-made work, the masters can also embroider according to any pattern you provide.
Vietnamese Conical Hats
Conical hats are symbols of Vietnam. They are usually hand-woven, using bamboo and palm leaves. Although they look a bit funny, they are really practical for traveling, especially in heavy rain or scorching sun. Besides, when you"re hot, they can be used as a fan; and can even be used as a container.
These are essential on the Vietnamese dining table. Although you can see them in other Asian countries, such as China, Japan, and Korea, the most distinctive feature of Vietnamese chopsticks is their exquisite lacquerware.
Compared to other souvenirs, chopsticks are more convenient to carry, and won"t take up too much luggage-space.
Places to Shop in Vietnam
There is a lot to buy in Vietnam, and it can be found in almost any major tourist city. But in general, purchasing things in the southern cities (such as Ho Chi Minh City) is cheaper than in the northern cities (such as Hanoi).
Dong Xuan Market: This is known as Hanoi’s largest indoor market, offering a wide range of goods from souvenirs, clothing, fresh produce, and accessories, to electronic household appliances. It was established in 1889 on the northern edge of the Hanoi Old Quarter.
In addition to shopping, it is also a good place for tasting Vietnamese coffee and exotic local dishes.
Hanoi Weekend Night Market: This market runs through the Old Quarter district of Hanoi, starting from Hang Dao Street and running north to the edge of Dong Xuan Market.
You will find clothing, handicrafts, accessories, shoes, sunglasses and souvenirs here. But what makes this night market more attractive is that it also has plenty of iconic Hanoi dishes.
Hoi An Night Market: The narrow streets of Hoi An are packed with both locals and tourists, enjoying the charming lanterns, beverage and eating joints, and street activities.
The night market is small and many of the stalls sell the same stuff, but if you are looking for something to do at night in Hoi An, and don"t wish to hang out at the bars and pubs, then this is it. Please remember the traders here often quote high opening prices, so bargaining is a must.
Hoi An Silk Village: Two kilometers northwest of Hoi An Ancient Town, Hoi An Silk Village is a good place for those looking for luxury Vietnamese textiles, handmade lanterns, high-end suits or dresses.
When you visit here, you can also have an opportunity to learn about the traditional silk-making process.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ben Thanh Market: This is located on Le Loi Street, in one of the liveliest shopping areas in the city, and it is one of Saigon’s oldest landmarks. It is huge, with about 3,000 tiny stalls.
The market is hot and humid inside, so make sure to bring a paper fan with you. Lacquerware, bamboo goods, arts and crafts, clothes, textiles, luggage, watches and electronic goods can all be found here.
Bargaining is necessary. Do not be afraid to be firm about your top price and simply walk away.
An Dong Market: This is one of the best places in Ho Chi Minh City to buy handicrafts such as lacquer and woodwork. The difference between An Dong and Ben Thanh markets is that there are not as many tourists at An Dong, so it is a good place for observing the authentic lives of the local people.
Besides, the prices here are a little lower than in Ben Thanh Market, since most of the customers here are local people.
Sapa: Sapa is famous for all kinds of ethnic minorities, and the most worthwhile purchases here are no doubt handicrafts from various local tribes.
Indigo Cat is the only store in Sapa that sells authentic crafts made by local Hmong people. You will find beautiful Hmong blankets, Hmong clothing, wall hangings, bags, and purses, as well as some jewelry.
Hue: One of the must-buy items should be Vietnamese nón lá, a conical-shaped hat made with bamboo and palm leaves.
The best place to buy things in Hue is the Dong Ba Market, where you can find household items, clothing and fresh produce at affordable prices. If you want to enjoy an authentic breakfast, Dong Ba is also a good place, where you can find nearly all Vietnamese dishes.
Mekong Delta: When you come to the Mekong Delta, a variety of fresh fruit and delicious food will mean you can"t help spending money. If you plan to visit Cai Rang and Cai Be Floating Markets, a wide variety of inexpensive tropical fruit will make you reluctant to leave.
Nha Trang: Compared to Hanoi and Saigon, shopping in Nha Trang may feel more relaxed and authentic. Vinh Luong and Dam are great places to buy handicrafts, clothing, and jewelry at relatively low prices and also good for observing the daily life of Nha Trang’s local people.
Da Lat: Most local produce can be found in Da Lat Market, along with all other essential commodities like clothes, shoes, and even medicine. The market is busy both day and night.
Day time is more for grocery marketing, but when night comes, most sellers close their shops, whereupon clothes and food begin to appear around about 5 to 6 pm.
On weekends, the market is totally packed, and it is a lot worse on holidays.
Things You Should Know About Shopping in Vietnam
- Prices are negotiable. Don’t be shy about being firm and walking away.
- Prices will be cheaper if you pay in Dong rather than dollars or Euros.
- Shopping is generally cheaper in the southern cities (such as Ho Chi Minh City) than in the northern cities (such as Hanoi).
- Beware of pickpockets at the markets.
- Do not buy things just because they are cheap.
- Try to avoid heavy and massive items, unless you are prepared to send them home by post.
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