"Shoppers Paradise" might not be what comes to mind when you think of Vietnam, particularly if you're not familiar with the country, or perhaps you have only visited once on a whistle stop tour. But for me, Vietnam offers some of the world's best shopping experiences.
For the first time traveller to Vietnam, the first thing to do is check out the souvenir shops, and the markets, you’ll find all over the country. You’ll get a feel for what are the ubiquitous take aways from Vietnam, those must have items like the conical hat, silk runners and cushions covers, some lacquered art, or basket ware that will keep those Vietnam memories alive when you get home. But I urge you to add some extra time into your Vietnam trip, because Vietnam has so much more to offer the discerning shopper.
The the best shopping to be found is in Hanoi, Saigon and Hoi An, and you’ll just want to walk and explore through those 3 cities. You could spend a couple of days at least browsing the boutiques and gift shops that line the long streets of the French Quarter of Hanoi – Hang Gai, NhaChung, and Hang Dao – these are all found an easy distance from Hoan Kiem Lake and the Cathedral.
If you’re staying in Saigon’s District 1 it’s almost compulsory to visit the massive Ben Thanh market because its such an important symbol of the city. Take lots of water though. It can get super hot there.
But just a short walk from the market and you’ll find many hidden gem boutiques and gift stores in the roads around the famous Walking Street, and along Dong Khoi. One of my favourite streets for shopping in Saigon is Le Loi, across a busy road from Ben Thanh – in one short stretch of road you’ll find Ipanema Bags, Gingko, L’Usine, Duy Tan and Mekong Plus.
The Vietnamese are known for their artisan crafts and the way they use traditional methods to create modern designs. First timers might be surprised to know Vietnam has a flourishing fashion scene and has an annual fashion week showcasing local designers.
To discover more of the best of Vietnam shopping you’ll need to venture a short taxi drive away from the centre of Hanoi to Tay Ho Lake District (also known as West Lake) and in Saigon, to Thao Dien in District 2. These are the areas where the expats shop so it’s where you’ll find some of the best representation of Vietnamese artisan made fashion and homewares.
If you’re on a whistle stop tour of the cities of Vietnam, I’d say look out for concept stores that offer a capsule collection of local creations, like Collective Memory in Hanoi that has curated some of the best handmade crafts and arty gifts from around the country.
Tan My Design is where your shopping trip should probably start from – it’s a treasure trove on 3 levels of locally designed, homewares, jewellery, bags and fashion in the one place. Some of the brands you’ll see here in this online store, like Eugenie Darge homewares, Cushnartcushion covers and bags, Valerie Cordier bags) but also buffalo horn jewellery, luxury lacquerwear, art and embroidery too. You’ll also see a collection of Chula Fashion here.
I discovered Chulaon my first visit to Vietnam many years ago. I couldn’t get the vibrant colours and elegant designs by Chula out of my head. I’d never seen anything like it. Chula are a Spanish husband and wife team who made Hanoi their home 15 years ago. They established an ethical brand that encapsulates their love for Vietnam. They call their clothes “wearable happiness” and that’s spot on. I’ve been fortunate to have visited the Chula workshop above their flagship showroom in Hanoi – each piece is cut and sewn by hand. 75% of the Chula team have disabilities, many are deaf and use sign language. I so admire their mission to promote the treasures and skills of the Vietnamese people.
Chula have boutiques in Saigon, Hoi An and two in Hanoi including the flagship showroom in West Lake. If you buy a piece of Chula you’ll forever have a piece of Vietnam with you.
Tailoring: Everyone has their favourite tailor they recommend in Hoi An. You can’t underestimate the sheer joy of having a design you’ve seen in a magazine being made to measure for you at an affordable price within a couple of days. A visit to Hoi An needs a few days because you’ll need to have enough time to visit a tailors, choose your designs and fabrics and go back for a couple of fittings. But make sure you choose something you’ll wear back home. We’ve all had something made up on holidays that we got home and thought “what was I thinking?”.
But Hoi An isn’t just about tailors. Being a town that has attracted artists, artisans and craftspeople for hundreds of years, there’s almost as many shoemakers as tailor shops. My no.1 tip for Hoi An – if you have your favourite pair of shoes of boots that might be on their way out, take them with you to Hoi An and have them copied or made in other colours. I have three pairs of knee high boots in blue, cream and grey. I call them my Hoi An boots, made in a couple of days at Friendly Shoe Shop Hoi An
There's a variety of wonderful jewellery makers in Hoi An too. Visit Thao at Lac Vietand mention this article. At Lac Viet you can have jewellery custom made for yourself for a fraction of what it would cost anywhere else in the world. This is a must do in Hoi An.
For a travel lover, I think bringing home a piece of art is one of the best ways to keep memories of holidays alive. Small galleries are prolific in all the major tourist centres around the country, and most will ship your art back home for you. In Hoi An particularly there are countless galleries showcasing paintings, drawings ,prints and lacquered art. Seek out the authentic lacquered art galleries, like Ngan Xu'a Gallery, where the artists use the traditional techniques and real lacquer on wood as a medium. A lot of the lacquered art is mass produced and some use plastic instead of wood.
Also you absolutely have to go to French Photographer Rehann’s museum and gallery Precious Heritage where you can purchase prints of his incredible photos taken from around Vietnam.
In many ways Vietnam designers and artisans are leading the way in sustainable production. Vietnam’s biodiversity puts her in a unique position to easily source eco-friendly materials for slow fashion and ethical production.
Vietnam is spoilt for choice of natural resources, like natural mulberry silks used for homewares and fashion - check out Metiseko and their gorgeous mulberry silk collections - and scarves from Hoa Tien Brocade, also available online here.
Bamboo, of course is used for all manner of things from clothing to furniture and homewares, like spun bamboo bowls and trays which you’ll find in many souvenir shops and concept stores.
And then there’s water hyacinth which grows prolifically in the waterways of Vietnam, and is picked and dried to make the rattan bags and basketware you’ll see all over the country.
The fact that hand weaving and traditional crafts are such a big part of Vietnamese history and culture has contributed to the growth of the sustainability movement there.
If you’re in Saigon’s District 2 you have to visit Green around the Corner which showcases environmentally friendly products from local makers including washable paper bags. Close by is the fabulous Laiday Refill Stationwhere you can bring your own bottles and refill personal care and home care liquids. For those who forget their own bottles they have recycled bottles from a nearby restaurant.
Future Traditions is a fashion and accessories brand in Hanoi located in a beautiful colonial building. A visit to the showroom is highly recommended.
Their Treasures from the Shipwrecked Coast collection features Vietnamese ceramics, glass and other ocean gems washed up and collected along the coast of Vietnam and mounted into sterling silver.
Future Traditions clothing blends the stunning textiles of Vietnam’s many ethnic minority communities with contemporary designs. sourcing textiles from the remote mountain communities in Northern Vietnam, Future Traditions seeks to encourage an appreciation for the skill involved in creating the fabrics produced in these areas. The long term goal of Future Traditions is to make the continued production of these increasingly rare textiles financially viable for local communities.
Many of the places featured in this article will form part of our Shop Eat Love Our Vietnam Tour. As soon as international travel is back in full swing we shall be heading back to Vietnam. Please contact us to reserve your spot.
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