Shopping

Vietnam info  > Shopping

As a general principal, items sold in touristy areas, with no visible price tags, must be bargained for - expect the vendor to start the bidding at two to five times the real price. Tagged items may be negotiable, but more often than not the prices are fixed.

Please don't buy souvenirs taken from historical sites, or made from endangered wildlife such as turtle shells.


Art & Antiques

There are several good shops to hunt for art and antiques, but Vietnam has strict regulations on the export of real antiques, so be sure that what you buy can be taken out of the country legally.

Both traditional and modern paintings are a popular item. The cheaper mass-produced stuff (US$5 to US$20 per piece) is sent mostly to souvenir shops and street vendors. Works of a higher standard are displayed in art galleries. Prices for paintings range from US$50 to US$500, but some of the hottest Vietnamese artists now fetch up to 10 times that. It's important to know that there are quite a few forgeries around - just because you spot a painting by a 'famous Vietnamese artist' does not mean that it's an original, though it may still be an attractive work of art.

A Vietnamese speciality is the 'instant antique', such as a teapot or ceramic dinner plate, with a price tag of around US$2. Of course, it's OK to buy fake antiques as long as you aren't paying genuine antique prices. However, a problem occurs if youve bought an antique (or something that looks antique) and didn't get an official export certificate:

"When I was in the airport in Hanoi, a customs officer eyed out two porcelain vases I had bought and told me that I should go to the Department of Culture in Hanoi to have them assessed or pay a fine of US$20. Of course, there was no representative of the Department of Culture at the airport... so getting them assessed would require me to miss my flight".

Anna Crawford Pinnerup

Most reputable shops can either provide the necessary paperwork or advise on where to get it. Just what happens to the confiscated 'antiques' is a good question. Some say that the authorities sell them back to the souvenir shops. You might call it recycling.


Clothing

Ao dai (ow-zai in the north, ow-yai in the south) is the national of dress of both Vietnamese women and men and is a popular item, especially for women. Ready-made ao dai cost from US$10 to US$20, while the custom-tailored sets are notably more. Prices vary by the store and material used. If you want to buy custom-made clothing for your friends, you'll need their measurements: neck diameter, breast, waist, hip and length (from waist to hem). As a general rule, you get best results when you're right there and are measured by the tailor or seamstress. There are ao dai tailors nation-wide, but the ones in places like HCMC, Hoi An and Hanoi are more accustomed to dealing with foreigners.

Women all over the country wear conical hats to keep the sun off their faces, though they also function as umbrellas in the rain. If you hold a well-made conical hat up to the light, you'll be able to see that between the layers of straw material are fine paper cuts The best-quality conical hats are produced in the Hue area.

Hanoi and HCMC are good places to pick up contemporary fashion items: from beaded slippers and bags to original-design silk pieces.

T-shirts are ever popular items with travellers. A printed shirt costs around 20,000D while an embroidered design will cost maybe 50,000D. However, 'large' in Asia is often equivalent to 'medium' in the West. If you are really large, forget it unless you want to have your shirts individually tailored.

These days more and more hill-tribe garb is finding its way to shops in Hanoi and HCMC. It is indeed colourful, but you may need to set the dyes yourself, so those colours don't bleed all over the rest of your clothes.


Electronics

Electronic goods sold in Vietnam are actually not such a great bargain. You'd be better off purchasing these in duty-free ports such as Hong Kong and Singapore. However, the prices charged in Vietnam are not bad, mainly due to the black market (smuggling), which also results in 'duty-free' goods.


Gems

Vietnam produces some good gems, but there are plenty of fakes and flawed ones around. This doesn't mean that you can't buy something if you think it's beautiful, but don't think that you'll find a cut diamond or polished ruby for a fraction of what you'd pay at home. Some travellers have actually thought that they could buy gems in Vietnam and sell these at home for a profit. Such business requires considerable expertise and good connections in the mining industry.


Handicrafts

Hot items on the tourist market include lacquerware, boxes and wooden screens with mother-of-pearl inlay, ceramics (check out the elephants), colourful embroidered items (hangings, tablecloths, pillow cases, pyjamas and robes), greeting cards with silk paintings on the front, wood-block prints, oil paintings, watercolours, blinds made of hanging bamboo beads (many travellers like the ones that have a replica of the Mona Lisa), reed mats, carpets, jewellery and leatherwork.

Music

Across Vietnam, especially in larger cities, you'll find an astounding collection of CDs, VCDs, DVDs and audio tapes for sale, 99% of which are pirated. The official word is that this illegal practice will be 'cleaned up' by the authorities, but don't hold your breath waiting.

There are also plenty of opportunities to purchase Vietnamese musical instruments throughout the country. You can find hill-tribe instruments in their local markets.


Stamps

Postage stamps, already set in a collector's book, are readily available either inside or near the post office in major cities Or at some hotel gift shops and bookshops. You can even find stamps from the now-extinct South Vietnamese regime.


War Souvenirs

In places frequented by tourists, it's easy to buy what looks like equipment left over from the American War. However, almost all of these items are reproductions and your chances of finding anything original are slim. Enterprising back-alley tailors turn out US military uniforms, while metalcraft shops have learned how to make helmets, bayonets and dog tags.

The fake Zippo lighters engraved with 'soldier poetry' are still one of the hottest-selling items. You can pay extra to get one that's been beat up to look like a war relic, or just buy a brand-new shiny one for less.

One thing you should think twice about purchasing are weapons and ammunition even if fake. It's illegal to carry real or fake ammunition and weapons on airlines and many countries will arrest you if any such goods are found in your luggage.

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