Top Cultural Gifts in HCMC

shopping - Saigon/HCMC: Sept. 29, 2016

We surveyed travellers and expats as to what their most popular cultural gifts purchases are. Here’s what they chose.

Traditional Dress (Ao Dai)

Since the 18th century, the ao dai has been Vietnam’s national costume. There are three main styles of ao dai nowadays. “Trendy” ao dai reach to the floor and fit the curves of the body; the “hippy” ao dai is brightly coloured and popular among teenagers; and the “mini” ao dai with slits extended above the waist and reaching only to the knees.

Ao dai in Vietnam

Photo by: Nam Nhữ

Usually there are two different colours, one for the long dress and one for the trousers. It takes around one week to finish the product, but significantly longer during the build up to Tet.

Local Insight: A good quality ao dai will cost around VND1,500,000. A good custom ao dai shop is Chi Chi Tailor on 144/1 Pasteur, D1.

Vietnamese Quilts

Vietnamese women have, for generations, made beautiful woven silk quilts. The patterns are wonderfully inventive and the standard of work is excellent. A quilt makes a great gift and something that is both practical and inspires memories of your time in Vietnam. Mekong Plus is a non-profit organisation established in 2001. Through the production of Vietnamese quilts, they provide sustainable employment for under-privileged women in remote and rural regions of Vietnam and Cambodia. The project is employing hundreds of women, providing them with work close to their homes and families. The company’s aim is to double the income of some of the country’s poorest people. Their quilts are extremely beautiful and exquisitely fashioned.

Photo by: Kate Henderson

Local Insight: Mekong Plus can be found on Floor 1 at 68 Le Loi, D1.

Silk

Silk has always been considered extremely luxurious and previously only available to the nobility. The fabric has now become widely used throughout the country. Silk products are affordable nowadays, giving tourists a chance to choose items as gifts for friends and family.

Vietnamese silk is regarded as some of the finest quality in the world. In addition to this centuries ao dai manufacture means that tailors are experts at cutting and tailoring this beautiful natural product. Beware of fakes; ask to do the burn test. Light a single thread, silk will burn naturally and leave nothing but a fine ash, if it has polyester in it, it will melt.

Local Insight: The price for regular Vietnamese silk is about VND70,000 per metre and over VND100,000 for premium quality. The fabric shops at Tan Dinh Market (48 Ma Lo, D1) have plenty of local shops that sell silk fabrics and products.

Ceramics

Vietnamese pottery and ceramics is regarded as some of the finest in Asia and has a long history going back thousands of years. Superb tableware and delicate tea sets make very desirable gifts. This type of high quality craftsmanship would cost many times more in Western countries.

Photo by: Minh Long

Local Insight: Minh Long I Company displays some of the finest porcelain and ceramics in the country at their state of the art showrooms at 333, Hung Loc, Thuan An District, Binh Duong.

Hand Embroidery

Hand-embroidered pieces of clothing and framed silk pictures are handicraft traditions here. Natural scenes like flowers, trees, animals and birds are patiently stitched one colourful thread at a time. Daily life scenes and portraits are created by this ancient technique as well. In some shops, you can explain or sketch your ideas and they will create a personalised item for you.

Local Insight: Small hand embroidered products start at around VND500,000. XQ Hand Embroidery is the most famous embroiderer in the country, with stunning pieces available for sale. Their address is on 106 Le Loi, D1.

Sand painting

This is the art of pouring colourful sand between two glass panes or in a specially designed mug or vase. The layers of sand form an enthralling piece of art that looks stunning and makes for an excellent gift. Vietnamese sand picture art mainly comprise four categories: landscape, portrait, labour scenes and the traditional art of calligraphy.

Photo by: Pixabay

Local Insight: The price for sand pictures ranges from VND300,000 to VND700,000. A respectable shop is Tranh Cat Phuong Vy on So 208, Phan Van Han, Binh Thanh District.

Musical Instruments

Handmade musical instruments make nice keepsakes. Bamboo flutes and mini t'rungs are very popular among visitors. Since the flute is just a small bamboo pipe and the t’rung can be easily disassembled for transport, they are convenient to carry home and don’t use up too much space in your already stuffed luggage.

Local Insight: Prices for a t’rung range from VND300,000 to VND1,000,000. Simple bamboo flutes come in at around VND10,000. Nguyen Thien Thuat in District 1 is also known as “guitar street”, with many shops selling instruments, particularly guitars and ukuleles (see page 12 for more on this street).

Lacquerware

Developed by the painters of the Hanoi University of Fine Arts in the 1930s, today this art is regarded as one of the most famous national painting styles. The pieces are created using crushed eggshell, and adding pigment over gold and tin foil. The early students added sand to lacquer and employed other techniques.

Photo by: claire_h

Local Insight: There has been a proliferation of lacquerware products from Vietnam since the government, recognising it as a vital cultural and economic art form, encouraged the business community to invest in it since the 1980s. Huong Nga Fine Arts on 41 Mac Thi Buoi, D1 sells high quality lacquerware products.

Wooden Clogs (Guoc Moc)

These were a sort of traditional footwear for men and women alike in the past. Together with the non la, and ao dai, they are worn by Vietnamese women when attending important festivals or special events. They are rarely used nowadays, but tourists can catch a glimpse of them at traditional activities like cai luong and ca tru performances.

Local Insight: Considered old fashioned, genuine clogs are hard to find. If you see them at around VND150,000, go for it.

As is the way here in Vietnam, expect to haggle for the items you want to take home as gifts. Happy hunting!

Header photo by Vinh Dao