Vietnam: Shopping

  • © mklee,

    © mklee,

From elaborately-decorated straw hats to tailor-made silk blouses – you will find some great gifts in Vietnam

Vietnam is heaven for souvenir hunters. The shops you visit will have a wide range of goods, but no price tags. That‘s because you will have to negotiate a price. Take your time over the deal and you will probably come away with a bargain. The antiques are always interesting, but sellers can often conveniently forget that tourists need an export licence to take a piece of wood out of the country. Without this permit, the goods will be confiscated when you pass through customs − even imitation antiques. Another thing to remember is that jewels can often be cheap fakes.


Silk, hand-painted or printed cotton fabrics, embroidery, copper and silver objets d’art, jewellery, statues, wood carvings, miniatures, leather goods, carpets and even beautiful furniture with inlays are available at reasonable prices. If you are on your way from Hanoi to Ha Long City, then you really should stop off at the Hong Ngoc Humanity Center (on the N 18 | Sao Do, Hai Duong). The goods on sale here include shoes, silk garments, tea sets, books and paintings, with the proceeds going towards a training project for people with disabilities. How about a statue of Ho Chi Minh in white marble for the terrace at home, or a lime green Buddha as a paperweight? At the foot of the Marble Mountains in the village of Quang Nam, master sculptors are kept hard at work − you can hear the unmistakeable hammering of chisels from up in the mountains. Not far from the centre of Nha Trang, south of Hon Chong Bay, the Hong Chau Sa family specialises in producing paintings from 30 different natural shades of sand. You will find some unusual souvenirs here, such as Ho Chi Minh's face, a typical Vietnamese landscape or, especially for customers from the west, Santa Claus. (4 B Nha Tho | Vinh Hai, Nha Trang).


In the silk shops, such as those in 'tailor town', Hoi An, you can have practically anything made to measure and in your choice of fabric, all at very affordable prices. If you would like an ao dai, the national dress for Vietnamese women, you can get a nice one for around 500,000 dong, but do bear in mind that these silk garments are really intended for warmer climate zones.


The traditional conical hats are worn by the rice farmers as protection against rain or sun. If you want a good quality hat, you will find thin scraps of paper between the lengths of straw. The finest cone hats come from the Hue region. Phu Cam (also known as Phuoc Vinh), the hatters' village, lies on the south bank of the An Cuu river. Here, the women deploy skills acquired over the generations to produce semi-translucent hats made from palm leaves, which they decorate with silk thread, images of the landscape or lines of poetry (also available in the Dong Ba market in Hue.)


The resin of the son tree is collected and made into a brown or black lacquer, which is then used to decorate accessories and homeware - anything from a tea set to lounge suites. If you are considering a more expensive piece in a specialist store, ask how many paint layers were applied. The more layers there are, the more expensive the item. Ten is the minimum number, the maximum could be more than 100.


One of the best Vietnamese photographers is Thanh Long. You can buy his pictures in poster format at his gallery in Nha Trang. Common themes are evocative studies of everyday life with a remarkable, sometimes disturbing interplay between light and shade. 126 Hoang Van Thu | Nha Trang |


The range of cheap CDs is huge, and fusion is the current fad. Huong Thanh ('Dragonfly') is a popular exponent of the genre and her voice is quite gentle; Vietnam's most popular singer, Than Lam, produces a much more powerful sound. Jazz guitarist Nguyen Le is renowned for his western-inspired, traditional music, and ethno-jazz performer Billy Bang ('The Aftermath') has a devoted following.

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