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Vietnam Shopping - Where to Shop and What to Buy

The list of Vietnamese bargains is seemingly endless and features bespoke tailoring and the national dress, the 'ao dai' from high-quality silk and many other types of material and textiles while many shoppers cannot get enough of the local handicraft, art and jewelry.

Traditional conical Vietnamese hats can be found everywhere, as well as such unique gifts as slippers, shoes, and handbags made from traditional materials like silk and bamboo. For those who love handicrafts, it is easy to find beautiful items such as lacquer ware, vases, trays, rosewood boxes, wood-block prints, oil or watercolor paintings, blinds made from bamboo, reed mats, carpets, ceramics and leather work. For more valuable items such as art, antiques and jewelry, you should know that some of these are subject to regulations governing the export of antiques. Ask the dealer about this.

Also, when buying really expensive items, get an expert to certify whether the item you plan to buy is a genuine antique or an imitation; copy “antiques” are not uncommon in the Vietnamese market. As for jewellery, although Vietnam is rich in gemstones, this does not mean they are cheap, so be suspicious of “special” deals. It is wise to shop for such items only at highly recommended outlets – the last thing you need is to pay large sums for coloured glass.

Experienced visitors to Vietnam recommend always driving a hard bargain when shopping in this country. Hard does not mean aggressive, however. The trick is to bargain with a smile and to be polite – this way, you will probably get what you want at a price with which you and the dealer are both happy. If you have time to spare, it is always wise to compare products and prices; don’t just buy the first item you see in the first shop.

Many people will also tell you that buying from street vendors is cheaper than buying in malls or markets, but this is not always the case, so shop around. It is better to take your time and enjoy searching for good Vietnamese souvenirs and gifts for your family and friends. Visit Mekong

1. Hanoi

If you're particularly enthusiastic about quality textiles, clothes and handicrafts, shopping in Hanoi will not disappoint.

The city also has a good range of day and night markets, both indoors and outdoors and you'll find that night markets are more of a social than shopping occasion but that does not preclude finding bargains at night.

There's a good arts scene alive in Hanoi and let's face it; in a city this size with a shopaholic population you're going to find a lot to buy but under less stressful conditions than frenetic Ho Chi Minh City.

2. Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is a fun place to shop for bargains. Some goods can be unique and fascinating – old propaganda posters, for example; we found one that exhorted people to plant garlic for export.

Clothing includes silks and hand-woven fabrics with a reputation for high quality. Vietnam is also famous for handicrafts including bamboo ware, ceramics and lacquer. There are, too, all the usual holiday souvenirs such as T-shirts and beaded handbags at prices that are hard to beat.

3. Hoi An

For most people who visit Hoi An, the two main shopping allures are the Central or Riverside Market and the plethora of cheap tailors downtown.

With the sheer number of tailors available Hoi An is definitely a buyers' market and the visitor who doesn't bargain down the price of a suit or silk shirt is really missing out. Of course, many other items are on sale in Hoi An and the ancient charm of the town makes an afternoon or evening out shopping a delight.

Tailors speak both English and French – most stores are open from 08:00 to 21:00.

4. Ha Long Bay

Though there are limited options for shopping in Ha Long Bay, what is actually available can be very interesting. Try the night market at Bai Chay Town. It is set up with many small open-air stalls with good collections of Vietnamese products includes the famous traditional Vietnamese silk dress (ao dai), lacquerware, chopsticks, trinkets, ceramic tea sets, Vietnamese conical hats (nón lá) and dolls. Experienced shoppers recommend bargaining hard to 30-50% of the original offered price. Most shops accept US Dollars as well as the local currency, Dong.

Another fun way of shopping is from small floating shops. Local people row boats filled with goods such as beer, vodka, cigarettes, potato chips, cookies and other snacks. Their small boats are usually laden with goods in a very organised way and even if you're not buying anything these vessels are fascinating to see and photograph.

It is important for shoppers not to encourage vendors selling stalagmites and stalactites as they should stay where they belong – inside Halong’s caves and grottos.

5. Da Nang

Vietnam is famous for high quality silk and clothes products including hand-woven fabrics. The country is also famous for handicrafts including bamboo artifacts, ceramics and lacquerware. If you are keen on shopping in Da Nang, you can start your shopping day at Da Nang Supermarket. It is located in the centre of the city, near the railway station. The shop sells jewelry, interior decorations, electrical and mechanical appliances, books, clothing and shoes.

6. Hue

A must-buy item in Hue should include the Vietnamese “non la”, the conical-shaped hat made by woven palm leaves.

The hat has been around almost as long as the country and is worn by men and women everywhere. The lighter the hat is the more elegant the look.

In Hue especially, the hat makers insert poems into the weaves and the poem can only be seen when the hat is held up to the sunlight, making it even more special.

7. Hai Phong

Hai Phong is a booming town with new residential projects and commercial complexes under construction, often featuring modern amenities with shopping and recreational spaces. A good example is the large Thuy Duong Plaza which has Parkson Plaza Shopping Mall in it. Almost adjacent to this development stands the Big C supermarket with a host of satellite businesses. At the other end of the scale, visitors who plan to buy something for loved ones back home at little cost should have a look around the Cho Sat Market and along downtown’s Tran Phu Street. Items to look for include lacquer-ware, porcelain items, ceramics, wood carvings and silk products. Vietnam is a great country in which to buy handicraft products and this port city is known for its high-quality tapestries and carpets.

8. Nha Trang

Nha Trang may not have the sleek designer shops of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, but there is still plenty of opportunity to shop in a much more laid-back atmosphere than in the big cities. Try the daily market on Doc Lap Street and the small shops in town for some terrific local artwork. Have some clothes made for you at one of the many tailors in town. Near the port are lots of little shops selling seashell souvenirs.

Outside of established shops and supermarkets always remember to bargain and never pay the asking price.

9. Mui Ne & Phan Thiet

The tourist industry is quite new for the fishing villages of Mui Ne and Phan Thiet, but they are catching up fast, with souvenir shops opening almost every week.

Products include handicrafts such as embroidery, paintings, lacquer ware, blankets, scarves, handbags and ceramics. Many of these products are created in the ancient Cham style, making them unique and special. It is also fun to explore the local market. Don’t forget to try favorite local fruits such as Dragon Fruit.

10. Phu Quoc Island

Markets selling a wide range of fruit, vegetable and seafood are the main shopping venues in Phu Quoc, not necessarily what tourists want to buy but very interesting to see all the same.

For tourists, shopping opportunities come in the form of handicrafts expertly made by locals and pearls which are farmed locally.

(The views expressed in this page are for illustration purpose and solely those of the writers.)