What to do
It is incredible experience. Quality goods of all manners, tempting price and inviting smiles, all have the power to overwhelm even the toughest shopper. Especially for budget travelers and bargain hunters, Vietnam is a heaven with so much to offer.
Where to shop
You may enjoy shopping all around Vietnam. Hanoi, Hoi An and Saigon would come first in the list as the busiest and most lively centers where you can find almost anything- clothing, cosmetics, ornaments, furniture, artworks, handicrafts and so on. Besides, there are other fascinating places-local markets-which possibly most of you have yet no idea. Here, you will have great opportunities to pick up fresh local produce, to meet people, to experience their ways of life and to catch unique photographs.
Vietnam colorful markets can be found in every of its corners. Early-morning fish markets are popular in coastal towns while Mekong Delta is renowned for floating fruit markets. Further hill-tribal markets in the northwest (Sapa, Bac Ha) or central highlands (Da Lat, Bo Y) are great places to admire local handicrafts (especially weaving) and to collect lovely souvenirs.
What to shop
Without a doubt, you are looking for something significant of Vietnam. Happily, a wide range of choice is at your hand. Even many of the cases, you will find it a bit puzzling to decide on what to take as the list of options seems to be endless. Here are some best buys for you:
Fine arts & Handicrafts
Vietnamese Dong Ho traditional paintings as well as silk and ceramic paintings are special items for decorations and art appreciation. They are well known for amazingly unique techniques and intriguing themes of local life and sceneries.
Lacquer wares are in numerous forms and as lovely as wooden pieces with mother-of -pearl inlaid. Embroidered and woven crafts such as handbags, scarves, handkerchiefs, wallets and tablecloth also make up excellent souvenirs.
Best quality ceramics can be found in Bat Trang Village where you may create your own vase or plate under guidance of skilled craftsmen.
There are also other items made by a variety of local materials to add in the list. Conical hats, rattan or bamboo baskets, reed mats and carpets can be found anywhere, towns or villages. They are great reminders of a distinctively traditional Vietnam.
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have numerous fashion shops and some biggest shopping malls where you can find the latest styles. In addition, there are several excellent places to get the best-tailored suits and dresses at tempting prices. With inspiration from both Vietnamese tradition and Western trends, several local fashion designers have commanded enormous admiration of international guests.
Most women tourists cannot deny the charming beauty of Aodai- Vietnamese traditional dress. You can easily buy or get one tailored in Hanoi, Hoi An, Saigon and especially in Hue, city of the most elegant Aodais.
Hoi An prides itself as the land of the most skilled tailors in Vietnam. Here, you can get “instant” suits, blouses, pants, shirts, and even winter-coasts custom-made to your sizes in just few hours and for unexpectedly low price, nicely and amazingly.
T-shirts with images of Vietnamese flag and colorful hill-tribal gowns are also popular choice.
Other special souvenirs
Vietnam has a variety of musical instruments such as flute and one-string zither (dan bau) which are interesting to play with. CDs of traditional music like Quan ho will also help you bring home the dazzling landscape of Vietnamese village culture.
Books on Vietnam can be found easily in most bookshops around tourist cities. They are great sources for references and leisure. They would also make ideal gifts for friends.
It is a good idea to buy Vietnamese postcards if you are not equipped with a camera or in case your film does not work out. Hand-made or hand-painted greeting cards are also eye-catching and it is not a bad idea to stock them up.
Many traditional Vietnamese dolls in various shapes and sizes can be found around Vietnam. They are cool and exciting gifts for children.
Some tourists even find it hard to part with Vietnamese fish sauce. Should you come up with the idea, be sure to wrap it carefully.
How to shop
It is important to see that Vietnam is still much a country of tradition though modern shopping centers are mushrooming in big cities. You will be more satisfied to explore Vietnam for what it really is. Here are some valuable tips to make your shopping trip here the most memorable experience.
On buying antiques or jewelry, be aware of fakes and imitations, especially if the offers sound so “special”. It is best to have the items certified by experts. In addition, it is important to know Vietnam export regulations on this type of good in advance.
On collecting crafts, it is worthwhile to shop around if you have time to spare. With a little effort, comparing products and prices in a range of family stores or shops will reward you good deals. And while some places are renowned for certain items, other neighborhoods boast their own “specialties”. By picking up different items in different traditional handicraft villages rather than catching all in one tourist center, you may enjoy cheaper price. It is also interesting to observe the local talented craft-men really creating them.
Generally, street vendors will ask you less than shops or markets for the same items. This is not always the case, however, especially with music or movie discs as most of them are pirated and usually in low quality.
It is important to keep in mind that the quality of traditional Vietnamese goods is high compared to imports of imitated styles and values. It may work well to look for “made in Vietnam” labels though you should not expect to find it on everything.
Most importantly, you should expect to bargain a lot, which is also an unforgettable part of your Vietnamese experience. It is fun to practice and get the good deal with which both you and the shop owner are happy. Here are some tips for good bargaining in Vietnam:
For reference, it is a good idea to observe how and how much locals pay for same items.
It sounds better to bargain in Vietnam dong as it is of much lower value than dollars. Whenever possible, stock upon small change so that you will have them available when needed.
Many of the cases, Vietnamese shop owners will not expect you to haggle freely, say 10 times lower than asked price. Or even if you know exactly what it costs, you may not get the item for that amount. Thus defining a “fair price” for you at the outset is very important.
It does make sense to have a local friend to help you with bargaining though you must be very selective. Most Vietnamese men have no idea of shopping. Also, some too-friendly locals may approach and escort you to shops whose owners give them commissions though the cases are very rare.
If you find bargaining a bit troublesome, try to find fixed price shops which are increasingly available in major cities now.
Equip yourself with some essential Vietnamese, especially greeting words and numbers. Showing your respect and openness to other culture will reward you better treatment for sure.
Now, enjoy your shopping trip in Vietnam and if you spare more than US$400, be sure to declare it - payable duty depends on the type of purchased good and its price.