While Vietnam does not offer the wide shopping experience of say Hong Kong or Bangkok, there is still much to consider when thinking of taking home a few souvenirs. The place to do most of your shopping in Vietnam is in the country's many markets. But what to buy?
Vietnam has more ethnic minorities than any other country in the region and they all produce their own handicrafts. Vietnam's silk production is renowned and many visitors like to buy traditional Vietnamese dresses or ao doi. It is also possible to find small silk bags in most markets. Carved wooden boxes, statuettes and chopsticks are typical of the country's artefacts. Also, look out for hand-carved water puppet figurines.
To really appreciate the Vietnamese shopping culture (and to save money) it is essential to bargain with the sellers. Seasoned Vietnam visitors will tell you to bargain hard, but always with a smile on your face. With practice and a bit of luck, you should be able to reduce the initial price to less than half or even a third.
Please note that Vietnam, like many countries prohibits the export of certain antiques and national treasures, Also, when making expensive purchases have them checked by a trusted expert.
In Hanoi, the best market is probably Hanoi's Dong Xuan Market in the old district north of Hoan Kiem Lake. Here you can find everything you could imagine and much more - food, clothing, silk goods, jewellery, flowers… On weekend evenings, the area around the market turns into a night market, but this is not the best time for shopping and is more of a social gathering. Beware of pickpockets at the night markets.
Nearby, is Hang Gai, or Silk Street, which is the best place in Hanoi to shop for silk. There are several small shops specialising in silk and embroidery goods.
A special Hanoi product is rice paper. Look out for cheap greetings cards, bamboo covered notebooks and even table lamps. Cards and notebooks only cost about $2. Rice-paper products canalso be found on Hang Gai.
Ho Chi Min City (Saigon) offers more developed shopping opportunities. The shopping plazas of District 1 offer designer shops, boutiques, galleries, antique shops and jewellery stores.
The huge Ban Thanh Market with around 1,500 stalls is the place to look for postcards, T-shirts, ethnic print coin purses, embroidered bags, satin slippers, silk scarves, throws, carved figurines, bamboo ware, ceramics, lacquer and much more.
Cholon is Ho Chi Minh City's Chinatown. The area has many markets but even if you aren't in the shopping mood, Cholon's massive Binh Tay market is a fascinating place to explore and there are many places to eat on the first floor.
There is a great demand for military memorabilia in Ho Chi Minh City and in other places. It is worth pointing out that much of what is now on offer can best be described charitably as 'reproduction'.
In the old imperial city of Hue, head for Chu Van An Street for fashionable clothes or shoes, souvenirs, jewellery, lacquer ware and books. Hue is famous for its beautiful silk paintings. Le Loi Street has a few silversmiths, but mostly consists of cheap souvenir sellers and tailors. But possibly the most popular Hue souvenir is one of the conical hats which are famous throughout Vietnam.