Shopping in Vietnam

You are in Vietnam for the first time and being allured by its diverse range of goods that you don’t know which ones are the essential you should buy? This article is going to make the complicated question become piece a cake!

10 tips to savvy shopping in VN

shopping in vietnamDO always ask around to get an idea of basic prices: a ride on a motorbike, a plate of fried noodles, a packet of cigarettes, a kilo of mangoes, etc. For more important purchases, try and get a local friend to go along with you, or better still, let him do the buying without you: prices are often lower when foreigners aren’t around.

DON’T feel awkward or rude about bargaining: everyone bargains in Vietnam and you’ll look like a green tourist if you don’t.

DO insist on being quoted a price as soon as you start showing interest in a commodity or requesting a service. It’s too late to ask once the silk shirt has been wrapped or after your bike has been fixed. This first price is your starting point and it’s quite probably too expensive, so

DON’T look happy or resigned to paying what you’re asked: always begin by showing your gentle disapproval, tut-tutting or saying something like: Đắt quá! (Too expensive).

DO consider various bargaining options, not just a straight fight over figures. If you buy several, the price should come down. Ask them to throw in some small extra you would like, for the same price. If you are quoted a price in US dollars, ask how much that is in Vietnamese Dong and try rounding it down. Be forewarned, though, that the concept of the special offer is still in its infancy here (like 1 percent off if you buy a truckload)…

DON’T hesitate to walk away if you cannot agree on a price: either they’ll come after you or you’ll find the same thing on sale somewhere else.

DO stay Zen… Shopping can be quite a rodeo when you’re surrounded by eager stallholders all shouting, smiling, waving and pointing at their wares.

DON’T buy antiques to take home unless you’re confident that you can get them out of the country. The law prohibits their export, but remains vague as to what exactly constitutes as an antique.

DO buy ethnic minority products directly from ethnic minority people, if at all possible, rather than from shops run by ethnic majority merchants, who often exploit their suppliers ruthlessly.

DON’T expect to get the better of any deal: Vietnamese have boundless reserves of experience and patience in doing business.

Hanoi What to Buy?

You are in Hanoi for the first time and being allured by its diverse range of goods that you don’t know which ones are the essential you should buy? This article is going to make the complicated question become piece a cake!

If you think that Ho Chi Minh City is the only shopping heaven, think again. Hanoi has its unique charm when it comes to buying stuff – and by stuff – we mean strange unique things that cannot be found anywhere else. Below is a list of what we think visitors can take home with them, as a small piece of Hanoi.

Shopping in Vietnam

Hanoi Shopping

Art work and print

Walking along Hanoi’s Old Quarter ones should notice an abundant number of art shops selling paintings and pastel pieces. If you want to keep memory or want some evidence about your trip to Hanoi, don’t hesitate to walk in and pick up one of Vietnamese propaganda posters or original artwork at a surprisingly low price varying between $2 and $30. If you are an art-holic who never satisfy with cheap artworks, upscale galleries around Hanoi are always open to you for spending several hundreds to thousands of your dollars.

Dried fruits

It would be a big mistake if tourists fail to taste dried spiced beef sold on Hang Giay Street and dried sweetened fruits or vegetables (“Ô Mai” and “Mứt”) available on Hang Duong Street. Also, Hanoi is the only place you can see such delicious and authentic “Ô Mai” in Vietnam. This type of snack is very rich in term of species which ones may spend up to million and weeks to taste them all.

Wooden Puppet

If tourists have had chance to watch a show of water puppet, ones should have been mesmerized by special wooden puppet floating and acting vividly like real actors under the skillful hand of water puppet artist. If it is ones’ wish to take one of those puppets to bring home, don’t ever think of stealing one because there are many souvenir shops around the theater area selling reproductions of those puppets. Paying a price starting from $10, ones would possess a piece of sophisticated handmade wooden buffalo, a hero on horseback, cute dancing girls or a mighty dragon.

T-shirt and Silk products

Hanoi and its foods make you fall in love with this country so much and the only thing you want is shouting loudly “I love Vietnam”? You don’t need to compete with all kind of transportation running on streets to contribute more noise to this peaceful city by that way because souvenir shops on Dinh Liet or Hang Gai Street are always available to you with their lavish collections of T-shirt printed with cute slogan like “I Love Hanoi”; “I Love Vietnam” or “I Love Pho” – with picture of hot steaming bow of Pho on; and also in many sizes and colors. Also, on the same streets, ones are advised to buy one of silk products like scarf, tie or clothe; or brocade like bags; hats and accessories.

Ho Chi Minh City- What To Buy

Ho Chi Minh City – What to buy ? This article points out some insiders’ recommendations for visitors who are at a loss for ideas of what to bring home: souvenirs, gifts and everything in between.

1. Handicrafts

Handicrafts are popular gifts readily available in Ho Chi Minh City as well as in Vietnam. There are many different kinds of handicrafts such as embroidery, lacquer ware, vases, trays, rosewood boxes, wood-block prints, oil or watercolor paintings, blinds made from bamboo, reed mats, carpets, ceramics and leather work. You can easily get one in Ho Chi Minh City.

These you-name-its are truly works of arts. They are made by the skillful hands of the Vietnamese artists. The patterns are usually about Vietnamese people’s life so it is attractive to foreign people who are always curious about the life of an agricultural country. One way is visiting the handicraft shops in Ho Chi Minh City. There are many of them which are usually located in the center of the city (District 1 area). And there are some shops that are specialized in selling one kind of handicrafts only. Visiting these shops, you can find out more beautiful handicrafts with nice details that are skillfully and carefully designed. Just notice that the prices in these shops are usually higher.

Approximate costs: $4-8 for a quality silk scarf; $3 for reed mats, $2 for rosewood boxes. 

Shopping in Vietnam

Saigon Shopping

2. Souvenirs

There are many different souvenirs in Ho Chi Minh City for you to choose from. They include magnets, statues, chopsticks and many more. Magnet usually has many different shapes. It can be a kind of fruit in Ho Chi Minh City like mangoes, coconuts, jack fruit or the dragon fruit. It can also be a shape of traditional man and woman in Vietnam in ao dai, Vietnamese traditional costumes. So are the statues. The statues usually are Vietnamese man and woman in ao dai. They have many different colors and different sizes. They are usually sold in pair or as a collection of 4 or more statues.

Chopsticks are also a popular souvenir. They are special because of the material they are made of – which is usually special wood in Vietnam. These souvenirs are easily found in Ho Chi Minh City. You can buy one from the street vendors along the boulevards in the city center. The souvenirs sold here are at affordable prices but you can negotiate to get cheaper prices. These souvenirs can also be found in Ben Thanh Market where you need to be more thoughtful about the price so as to avoid being ripped off.

Approximate costs: $3 for a set of chopstick; 50 cents for a magnet.

3. Vietnam’s Traditional Dresses

If you visit Vietnam, you certainly can’t miss Vietnamese traditional dress called “ao dai”. Ao dai is famous for its unique design which is said to make the woman’s body look more beautiful and attractive. You can buy ao dai in many tailor shops in Ho Chi Minh City. Visiting a tailor shop, you can choose the type of material you like with your favorite color and beautiful patterns. Then the tailor will jot down the measurements of your body and make you an “ao dai” as your wish. The waiting time is not very long. In some places, you just need to wait 3 – 4 hours to get a pretty one with high quality.

Another place for you to see more diverse patterns and materials is Ben Thanh Market where you have a wide selection for beautiful materials to make your ao dai more special and unique.

Approximate costs: $35 – 100 per outfit, depending on where you have it made

4. Sand Paintings

Sand paintings is one of the most special gifts in Vietnam. The artist use sands to pour in a cup to make beautiful pictures. These stuffs need an extremely focus and skillful hands to paint the picture. You will be very impressed with every work of this art and a huge admire for those artists. So are the receivers of your gifts.

The pictures made of sand are usually about Vietnamese lives. It can be a house in a country side with coconut trees, the rivers, the fields with cows and buffaloes. It could be a day of working on a field of the farmers or pictures of beautiful girls dressed in white ao dai which gives you the feeling of peaceful and cute. There are many different pictures on these cups.

Other pictures are about flowers, portraits, icons or scenery. You can buy one picture from the shop or you can choose your favorite picture from the catalogue, order it at the store and wait for a few days to receive it. Sand pictures are usually sold in specific shops with its famous brand names such as Y Lan sand pictures or Van Thien Sa sand pictures. The prices are affordable too so you can buy a beautiful, unique souvenir from Ho Chi Minh City.

Approximate costs: $5 – 15

5. Dried Food

Another thing that can be bought home with you is dried food. There are many different kinds of dried food from the salty, spicy ones to the sweet ones. The most popular ones in Ho Chi Minh City is probably dried squid, dried beef and many different kinds of dried fruit such as jack fruit, coconut or banana. Note, however that, your home country may not allow animal-related products upon your return.

There are many different brand names for these foods. You can come across many of them when you are in a supermarket or market. Most of them are good but to pick out the best one, you can get advices from the shop owners. Another place you can get delicious snacks or food to munch is Ben Thanh Market. Different from what is sold in supermarket, dried food is often sold in bulk and not pre-packed. You can buy in grams and the sellers will measure and pack all later.

This is a good idea for a unique gift because it brings you the chance to enjoy the taste of Vietnamese food. It is something that is particularly special about Vietnam. Who knows, you might miss it when you’re coming back to your home country.

Approximate costs: $3 for a big size dried food packs.

Hoi An – What to buy?

Hoi An is a silk mecca. The quality and selection are the best in the country, and you’ll have more peace and quiet here during a fitting than in Hanoi. Silk suits are made to order within 24 hours for about $35; cashmere wool is $45. There are countless shops, and the tailoring is all about the same quality and fast. A good way to choose a shop is by what you see out front — if you see a style you like, it’ll help with ordering. Make sure you take the time to specify your style, down to the stitch (it can come back looking pretty cheap without specifics). Try any of the shops along Le Loi; to recommend one in particular would be like recommending one snowflake over another. The tailoring is very fast but not always great, so plan to have two or three fittings. Be choosy about your cloth, or go to the market and buy it yourself (Hoi An Cloth Market is at 01 Tran Phu St.), and haggle. It’s not a bad idea to bring an actual suit or piece of clothing that you’d like a copy of. Get measurements from friends and relatives for good gifts.

Shopping in Vietnam

Hoian Shopping

There are also skilled cobblers who make custom shoes at affordable rates. Find them near the market on Tran Phu Street.

Tran Phu Street is lined with art galleries and good pottery and woodcarving vendors. Along the river, lots of places sell blue-and-white ceramics. However cumbersome your finds are, such as those lovely Chinese lanterns, shopkeepers are masters at packing for travel and to fit in your luggage, and will do so before you’ve even agreed on a price or decided to buy. Haggle hard.

Hand-painted Chinese scrolls make a great souvenir, and down the street from the Hung Long Art Gallery , Mr. Ly Si Binh (21 Nguyen Thai Hoc St.; tel. 0510/391-0721) can script anything from peace or determination to your best buddy’s name in Chinese (if it’s wrong, he won’t know the difference anyway). And it’s fun to watch cheery Mr. Binh at work.

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