One of my favourite things about going on holiday is discovering the pretty little objects that are unique to a country and that will ultimately take up way too much space in my luggage on the way home. Whether you’re buying from street vendors, or in one of the exquisitely elegant boutique stores, shopping in Vietnam is a pleasure (and ridiculously cheap – so buy everything)! I’ve never been one for useless little souvenirs or tacky trinkets, I prefer things I can actually use in my home, so here are some of my favourite things to buy in Vietnam:
I’d long had my eye on Vietnamese pottery, ever since I visited a store (Nam) on Columbia Road in London that imports bowls and other items from Vietnam, at prohibitive prices.
A lot of the pottery in Vietnam is made in a village on the outskirts of Hanoi called Bát Tràng, located in an area rich with white clay, perfect for pottery making.
The village has a long history of pottery making and can be traced back as far as the 14th century AD. You can tell the ceramics are all handmade as no to pieces are quite the same. I’m going to use the fish bowl above for dipping sauces (perhaps even fish sauce!) and the cup below for infusions and teas. I was really captivated by the dragonfly design, and bought quite a few pieces with dragonflies – a ladle with a rattan handle, mugs, and a bowl.
If you want to buy pottery, head to Indigenous on Ấu Triệu in Hanoi for the best selection and best prices.
The Vietnamese water puppet show (múa rối nước) was one of the most captivating performances I’ve seen. Exciting dragons breathing fire, fairies dancing enchantingly across the water, a Punch and Judy style hunt for a fox and many more surprisingly entertaining sketches await you!
The puppets used in the show are made of wood and then lacquered. As they spend every night in the water, the lacquer quickly wears off and the puppets are no longer fit to perform (we were told that they are replaced every 4 months or so). However they do then make excellent mementos to take home!
The puppets aren’t expensive – ignore the people that say that they’re selling antique puppets, for there are very few true antiques left in SE Asia, and they’re certainly not being sold on the street!
In all the shops in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City you’ll see little red and black coloured stone boxes, carved with pretty patterns – dragonflies, bamboo leaves, elephants as well as stone ornaments. However I loved the plain coloured stone best which was rarely seen in the street stalls! The boxes below are from Tan My design on Hang Gai in Hanoi.
I love anything made from rattan, and this little elephant themed bowl is adorable yet also very useful. Spotted at Cafe Noma in Hanoi where it was used to store napkins!
Buffalo horn is really popular in Vietnam and all the tourist shops sell it en masse. The horn is made into a number of different objects, from plates to jewellery, combs, salad serving spoons, and ornaments. It’s hard to believe that the brown ridged horns on the buffalo can create such a beautiful material. The black buffalo horn is incredibly cheap, while the prettier(in my opinion) white horn is surprisingly expensive.
It might sound strange, but Vietnam is known for its handcrafted paper and the different posters and notebooks on sale make wonderful gifts. Most touristy areas stock a range of replica propaganda posters prominently featuring pictures of Uncle Ho along with other symbols of Vietnam such as the lotus flower. I however preferred the movie posters, with their vibrant colours and unique designs. I bought a poster of a drawing from the Little Prince for myself and a poster of The Life of Pi as a gift. I love the minimalist style!
Hanoi is significantly cheaper than Saigon, so don’t get carried away in Saigon – you’ll regret it later (the shops in Hanoi sell all the same stuff, if not more!)
Whether or not you decide to buy anything on your trip to Vietnam, it’s still a lot of fun to wander in and out of the markets and browse the charming little handicraft stores. Although beware, you can easily end up spending far too much time shopping!