I hadn’t planned on buying much while visiting Vietnam. I had shoved everything in a backpack small enough to fit my 5’0 frame that I would have to carry to seven destinations. Therefore, there wasn’t much room to pick up lots of new stuff.
But the bargains were incredible, including some beautiful things I knew I’d find nowhere else. I had to do some shopping (luckily Matt had some extra room in his massive backpack).
Here’s what to buy in Vietnam:
To take home
Tailored clothing in Hoi An
The thing I regret the most about visiting Vietnam? Not getting more clothes made in Hoi An. Vietnam’s version of Saville Row, Hoi An’s tailors are well-regarded for a reason. Beautiful custom-made garments in sometimes as little as 24 hours for a small fraction of what you would pay here in the UK.
I picked up a gorgeous teal pencil dress and a black jumpsuit, costing about $35. Best of all, I ended up with pieces that actually properly fit my 5’0 frame, and would have bought much more if we just were in Hoi An long enough. I had also wanted to see how my first pieces turned out before ordering more (just perfect). We visited Faifoo tailors and found it was really high quality.
Another beautiful find in Hoi An, traders on the street make the silk lanterns that the town is famous for and you can buy them to take home.
Matt and I both became enchanted with the lanterns, and ended up carrying four around for the rest of our trip.
They are available in a wide range of colours, patterns, and sizes. Street vendors make them by hand and most are hand painted. The lanterns are sold collapsed, which make it easier for transport, but it’s simple to put them into shape and hang. We managed to get them all the way to Hanoi and back home. I’d just recommend keeping them as hand luggage on the plane.
Like the ones on the streets, they are suitable to hang outside. But we didn’t want to risk them getting ruined by rain and wind. So far we have hung our favourite in our living room. It even matches our light blue curtains!
Coffee and Tea
Tea drinkers, you will not feel left out here. Lovely, fresh herbal teas can be found in many towns. My favourites were the jasmine and oolong teas.
I also picked up a couple of phins, the traditional Vietnamese coffee filter that sits over a mug. These can be found at most markets throughout the country for about $1.
We found so many beautiful handmade arts and crafts throughout the country, with Hoi An being a particularly good spot to pick up unique gifts. We choose some rice paper paintings from a local shop in the Old Town.
To use during your trip
Non La (conical hat)
It may end up being too difficult to pack to come home with you, but the traditional conical hat can be a great buy. I avoided it at first for fear of looking too touristy, but the hot sun got to me and I found it had a number of benefits. Because of its shape, it sits lightly on top of your head meaning no sweaty hat hair, it doubles as a great fan for a much-needed breeze, and yeah, I did like my Instagram pics of me wearing it.
As with other humid climates, mosquitoes are everywhere and even vigilant insect repellent appliers will end up with a few bites. Cases of malaria have also been reported, but isn’t as much concern if you are mainly sticking to urban areas.
We took some spray insect repellent with us and quickly ran out, plus I hate the smell and all the chemicals of normal ones. So we picked up a few bottles of Soffell, a lotion one available at most corner shops in Vietnam for about $1, and I swear it worked better than the spray we had before. Best, it actually smells nice, like flowers or oranges. So I picked up a few extra ones for my next trip!
Ok, so you might end up looking like you are on your gap year, but I have to say, cotton trousers did come in handy. The heat at times could be unbearable, meaning loose and light was just what I needed. They also came in handy while we were visiting temples and other places that require you to cover up. Meanwhile, sleeper trains meant I needed something that was acceptable to wear in public and sightseeing while being comfy enough to sleep in. They cost about $2 or less from the markets and you can always just wear them as pjs when you get home.
Tips for shopping in Vietnam
Haggling is common in markets and some shops in Vietnam. You are particularly likely to get a deal if you’re buying more than one of something. Know the approximate prices of some of the stuff you are looking to buy to avoid being charged inflated tourist prices.
Also know that not all tailors are going to do a great job; quality can vary. Do your research before picking one.
Check out markets where you’ll find tons of stalls to choose from. Hanoi and Hoi An’s night markets and Ben Thanh in Ho Chi Minh City are great for finding souvenirs, clothes, and more.
And what not to buy
Not only does it look gross and is cruel (rice wine infused with a whole snake in it? Um, no thanks) but it often contains parasites and salmonella. Plus, whether it’s true or not, reports have said that the snake can hibernate in the fluid and have bitten people that have opened the bottles.
Yeah sorry, that $10 Rolex or Prada bag is too good to be true. You also run the risk of having the item confiscated at customs and you could be slapped with a fine.