Traditional Vietnamese handicrafts are an excellent buy. These include paintings, lacquer ware, mother-of- pearl, ceramics, pottery, carved wood, embroidery, bamboo and wickerwork, baskets, sculpture and silk brocades. Consider buying an “ao dai”, the traditional costume worn by Vietnamese women. There’s a big but illicit market in music CDs – from Vietnamese pop to Western rock and Cuban salsa.
Shopping in Hanoi
The Old Quarter is filled with little boutiques and stalls overflowing with an astonishing array of goods. The main shopping drag of Hang Gai Street (or Silk Street) has silk and handicraft shops aplenty. It runs into Hang Bong Street, also full of handicraft shops selling lacquer ware which make great gifts. Na Tho Street, which runs parallel to Hang Gai is full of chic home decor shops and boutiques.
Vietnam certainly has more art galleries than any other Southeast Asian country. Hanoi is the main centre for this activity. Styles vary from traditional Vietnamese to Impressionism. Galleries in Hanoi can be found in the streets around Hoan Kiem Lake.
Shopping in Hue
Watch out for the unique ‘poem hats’ which make an excellent and inexpensive souvenir. In Hue, the characteristic non la conical hats worn by Vietnamese women everywhere are particularly fine and some may be held up to the light to reveal traditional scenes or poems in silhouette.
Shopping in Hoi An
Hoi An has some of the best and cheapest tailors in Vietnam. It is difficult to choose from the stupendous number available but A Dong Silk (www. adongsilk.com) at 40 Le Loi Street gets consistently good reviews. Suits and evening dresses can be tailored within 24 hours, but do allow time for alterations if the quality isn’t up to scratch.
Shopping in Dalat
The Central Market has a plethora of tourist souvenirs, most of a decidedly kitsch quality. In the market square and carried aloft on the backs of street vendors are clothing and basket ware made by ethnic minorities as well as fragrant dried teas and Dalat coffee. Try a bottle of Dalat Wine, or Vang Dalat.
Prices are generally reasonable in Vietnam. Traditionally, you would be expected to haggle, and this is still the case in markets and bad street antique shops – but don’t count on huge discounts, as the naturally astute Vietnamese hove quickly learned to appreciate real costs and values, even in once business-shy Hanoi. By contrast, haggling is not expected – or accepted – in obviously fixed- price places such as the new, air-conditioned
Shopping in Ho Chi Minh City
Dong Khoi and the streets immediately off it have the best souvenir shops, although prices can be high. You will find silks, lacquer ware and embroidery in abundance. Tailors are good and many speak English or French. Fake antiques are big business in Saigon. Many visitors head for the Pham Ngu Lao area where there are a number of equally good antique and handicraft shops with prices that are somewhat cheaper. Ben Thanh Market is another cheap shopping spot.