Bamboo

Bamboo is a fast-growing grass and renewable resource with a delicate grain that makes it distinctive and elegant. A large range of bamboo products are produced in Saigon and Vietnam including vases, trays and platters, as well as larger furniture items. With the plant growing abundantly around HCMC and Vietnam, prices are reasonable. Bamboo is also used as the mould for some lacquerware.

Strong and elegant, bamboo has been used for thousands of years for home building and furniture in Saigon and Vietnam. As a highly valuable and renewable natural ressource, bamboo offers a variety of products which can meet both residential and commercial needs worldwide. Beside its natural beauty, bamboo is wear-resistant and durable wich makes it an ideal flooring material for Ho Chi Minh City houses.

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Top Cultural Gifts in HCMC

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

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The House of Saigon

The House of Saigon is an all-in-one handmade goods, café and tea shop, featuring unique handcrafted items, a 1940s-Saigon-inspired décor and yummy treats. Also available are homemade spices, a personal tea master that brews up savory samples for guests and handmade jewelry – all at reasonable prices.

It’s not hard to find souvenirs in Ho Chi Minh City. They’re on every corner and in every form, from art to traditional dress to local items like coffee powder, tea leaves and spices. The House of Saigon aims to elevate the experience of handicraft and souvenir hunting to a safe environment, where authentic handmade items don’t need to be ruthlessly haggled over, and where customers can sit down with some coffee or tea in the middle of their shopping experience and enjoy some peace between chaotic street vendors and overbearing weather.

Every item in The House of Saigon has a backstory, and each is selected for its quality and affordability. Materials used to craft the handmade souvenirs are both recycled and natural. Natural materials include bamboo, sedge, rattan, ceramics, coconut shell, cotton, hemp, linen and leather. Outsourcing partners across the country include local ethic groups like the Catu and H’Mong minorities. These minorities deliver traditional embroidered patterns that The House of Saigon uses in combination with modern design techniques to create a customary-chic look.

The House of Saigon

The House of Saigon is a three-floor establishment. Exploring the floors is fun – there’s always something interesting to discover. The shop feels like a mix between an artisanal museum and a fashion gallery, with tea and coffee breaks in-between.

On the first floor you will find accessories like bags, purses, jewelry, ceramic coffee sets, spices and more. The second floor includes a tea station where a tea master brews samples and sells 12 varieties of leavesfrom around the country (ranging from VND 70,000 for standard offerings to rarer teas topping VND 900,000). Also on the second floor are men’s and women’s clothing hovering around mid-range prices, including custom Ao Dais made with The House of Saigon’s signature mix of ethnic minority patterns and modern design.

The House of Saigon

The third floor is a quaint coffee shop and eatery. The 1940s Saigon décor is more apparent here, along with some industrial elements and a touch of art deco. You’ll be more focused on the tasty coffees and bite-size pastries, however. There is also a good deal of smoothie options and three well-priced set lunches. The Vietnamese treats go well with the various teas and coffee (especially the Vietnamese sponge cake), and the café itself is a great place to laze out in the middle of a Saigon shopping session.

If you’re a difficult shopper and are seeking some guidance, favorite souvenirs and accessories include spices (lemongrass chili salt from Cao Lanh and pepper salt from Phu Quoc, each at VND 65,000 per container), coconut and lemongrass soap(VND 95,000), ceramic coffee and tea sets(VND 120,000), coconut shell bowls (VND 105,000) and leather card holders (VND 50,000). The eclectic fashion accessories are also popular among shoppers.

The House of Saigon

If you’re more of an explorer, the best way to discover The House of Saigon would be to walk the three floors yourself and get a good feel for what the shop offers. If you’re into traditional garb and accessories tailored with a trendy modern look, The House of Saigon presents many carefully crafted options. If you’re looking for more standard-fare souvenirs, the space tends to avoidkitsch, but you’ll still find some creative mugs and t-shirts for the trip home. For the most part, the handcrafted items are made to be used, worn and showed-off – not left on the shelf askeepsakes.

When you’re at the shop, do try the sample teas and grab a bite at the café in the middle of your browsing session – the space is a great getaway from the chaotic streets outside The House of Saigon’s doors.

 

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Mekong Quilts HCMC

Mekong Quilts is  a social enterprise specializing in high quality, hand crafted quilts  and accessories. The Indo-Chine inspired quilt range uses patchwork, piecing and intricate stitch detail to create a contemporary aesthetic. They use only the highest quality silks and cottons, along with beautiful vintage ethnic embroideries in their products.

Mekong Plus

Their accessories range combines the use of sustainable and local raw materials such as bamboo, water hyacinth and papier-mache with traditional hand craftsmanship to create innovative designs such as Bamboo bikes and gift items.

Mekong Quilts products can also be custom made to meet clients’ individualized aesthetic, and to the high standard of ‘workwomanship’ that our reputation is built on.

Mekong Plus handmade

Mekong Quilts was established in 2001 as an income generation project under the umbrella of parent NGO, Mekong Plus. Quilting is labour intensive and requires minimum investment; a perfect employment activity. HCMC-based dentist Thanh Truong recognised these qualities and through her passion for quilts, began the programme with just 35 women, selling the quilts ‘Tupperware style’.

Today Mekong Quilts engages over 340 women  in full time employment in communities northeast of Ho Chi Minh City,  Long My in the Mekong Delta and Rumdoul, Cambodia. All profits from products sold are returned to the villages both directly in the form of salaries, and  indirectly in funding for community development projects.

 

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Mekong Creations

Mekong Creations is a non-profit organisation that specialises in unique locally-produced household and gift items, including rag rugs, papier mache, silk, bamboo and water hyacinth products. Mekong Creations also produces items for luxury French brand Terre d'Oc and sells these products throughout HCMC. Mekong Creations is a project of NGO Mekong Plus, supporting community development programmes in remote villages in Vietnam and Cambodia. The key objective is to generate employment for women and all profits are returned to the villages. They have two more locations in Saigon, Mekong Quilts.

Mekong Creations, with two Mekong Quilts locations in HCMC, specialises in unique hand crafted household and gift items including papier mache, silk, bamboo and water hyacinth products. Make sure to pick up a quilt or other handcrafted item before you leave Saigon! The organisation has recently held exhibitions of its products in Bangkok and Singapore. One key objective of Mekong Creations is to generate employment for women in remote villages in Vietnam and Cambodia. All profits from products sold are returned to the villages both directly in the form of salaries, and indirectly in funding for community development projects.

 

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Mekong Quilts

Mekong Quilts is non-profit organisation that specialises in high quality hand stitched bed covers. The organisation provides employment, training and benefits to women from rural Vietnam and Cambodia. Profits are reinvested into the community through its NGO, Mekong Plus. Quilt styles range from traditional to contemporary, using patchwork, piecing and various stitching techniques. The shops stock a wide selection of sizes and colours and provide a reasonably priced custom design service. Mekong Quilts has another location in HCMC called Mekong Creations, and one store in Hanoi.
 

Mekong Quilts was established in 2001 as an income generation project under the umbrella of parent NGO, Mekong Plus. Mekong Quilts employs women in communities northeast of Ho Chi Minh City and Long My in the Mekong Delta. Mekong Quilts also offers employment opportunities to Cambodian women via a similar project located in the village of Rumdoul, near the Vietnam/Cambodia border. Quilting is labour intensive and requires minimum investment; a perfect employment activity. HCMC-based dentist Thanh Truong recognised these qualities and through her passion for quilts, began the programme with just 35 women. The first quilts were sold in friends' homes. Today there are seven shops and over 340 women in full time employment. The quilters receive training, a fair wage and other benefits and work in a safe and comfortable environment.

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