Do you like sweaters? Does leather make your heart flutter? Do handbags just light up your life?
For the clothing enthusiast Ho Chi Minh City’s “Fashion Street” is famous among locals and expats alike, and if you’re a bit of a sweater-loving, leather-craving, handbag enthusiast you’ll probably love it too. I did. And I don’t even like handbags.
But making a purchase in Ho Chi Minh City can be overwhelming even if you love to shop. With all the dimensions of parking, browsing, variety, price and bargaining, buying clothes in this famously bustling city is like searching for an earring in a box of persistent and colorful parrots.
Noisy, confusing and a bit strange.
And shopping on Fashion Street is no exception! Boasting a plethora of international brands, boutique goodies and cheap but exciting sequins, Nguyen Trai can fix you an outfit for any occasion. But the confusion of finding said outfit stops many before they even get off their motorbike.
How do I focus on skirts when the shop next door is pumping club beats into the street? ‘la la la....I am titanium...’ Wait, what’s a skirt?
I’ve been to Fashion Street about six times now and each time I’ve taken about six hours longer than I’d intended looking at skimpy tops and baggy pants, and every single time without fail I have walked away in need of a good cold beer. With ice. Do you do that? I know it’s a bit strange but since living here I’ve realized that beer is so much better with ice.
Ice-sullied beer aside, the fact is, shopping on Nguyen Trai can be stressful! Shopping anywhere can be stressful if you’re not 100% sure where you’re going or what you’re buying. Call me melodramatic, but sometimes I just wish there was a guide to these things...
Where do I shop?
Let me answer that with a question of my own - what do you want to buy? Depending on your taste, shopping list, budget and time frame there are a number of options on ‘Fashion Street’.
At the bargaining bottom are the street racks covered in colorful pieces of material and manned by several middle-aged ladies in pajamas. As suggested, bargaining is the key here, and quality is not assured. Other clothing options included cute boutique shops, international chains such as Block and Nino Max, strange trashy outlets nestled between designer handbag stores, glasses shops, helmet shops, even a bicycle repair business.
As an indie soul and very much a female, my favourites have always been Su <3 Su at number 85 and J&P which reminds me a lot of Forever 21. Adidas, Giordano, Adachi, and Hello Kitty all lay claim to space along this street. There is also an ABC Bakery for those who like to add food to fashion, and fancy a pit stop mid-shopping spree.
Sizes, prices and quality
Are you a foreigner? If so, you would be familiar with the endless trials and tribulations of buying something that fits in Vietnam. Right? Well the trials continue, unfortunately.
I am a very tall Australian size 8, and I can fit most jeans, tops, sweaters and jackets on Nguyen Trai, but shoes will always be impossible given my size 40 feet. It’s always a bit of a hit or miss for foreign bodies, but you stand a better chance of finding something that fits in brand stores such as Block and Hollis. Internationally renowned outlets like Giordano and Adidas, though tougher on your wallet, will also guarantee both size and quality.
As per any other shopping mecca in Saigon, both cost and quality range on Fashion Street, but if you’re shopping in an actual store you can usually expect fixed prices. Buying from one of the many street stalls however is another story. In general expect to pay between VND 150,000 in a miscellaneous store and VND 300,000 in Su <3 Su for a pair of jeans. Quality tends to match price.
Money: The street sports ATMS, banks and even a Western Union. Banks that are represented are:
Keep a careful eye on your phones and bags when walking the strip. I like to walk with my bag on the side of my body closest to the pavement, and I keep my hand on it at all times. If you want to take photos be aware of who is around you, or driving past.
The usual traffic-tackling policies apply here. Cross the road in groups if you can, walk slowly and don’t do anything sudden! If there is a bus do not challenge it, and as tempting as it is to confront that taxi driver with his honking horn and bad attitude...safety first.
At number 8, Nguyen Trai, there is a long driveway which eventually opens into a car and bike park. In typical Saigon style there is no indication at the font of this alleyway that it might house anything other than a few apartments, but believe me it does. Leave your motorbike here for VND 4,000 or your bicycle for VND 2,000. Other options included walking (about 20 minutes from backpacker haven Bui Vien), and browsing the street on your motorbike. Most shops have an area to leave bikes while you look inside. Below is an image of the entrance to the parking area: