Top 7 Souvenirs to Buy in Vietnam

By: Quang Mai

The top 7 souvenirs to buy in Vietnam, whether you are on holidays or on a business trip.

Apart from the joy of discovering a new culture, taking photos and tasting the exotic flavors of Vietnam, shopping might bring you more opportunities to get in touch with local habits.

A shopping tour is usually the last step of a trip and it is always a bit tricky. The second “HCMC 100 exciting things”, a campaign promoting activities in the city, announced some time ago the top 7 souvenirs to gift to friends, family members and loved ones. The results came from a poll voted on by travelers and expats.

Hopefully more of these events will be coming to other major cities, such as Hanoi, Hoi An, Hue and others.


1. Conical hat

conical hat - souvenir in Vietnam 

Non la (leaf hat) is a circular cone made of bamboo cataphylls, notable for it’s romantic adornments. The non la is more than an indispensable tool for people in Vietnam: it has become a cultural symbol. The style differs by region, so for example those of the Tay people have a distinct color, while in Thanh Hoa they use only a 20-hem frame. Hue’s is thin and elegant, while Binh Dinh’s is thick.

Vietnamese wear the non la all year. The shape protects the wearer from the downpours of the rainy season like an umbrella, and provides shade and protection from the heat during April and May, when temperatures climb to unbearable levels.

Local Insight: At a workshop, you can get a hat for only VND 3,500 - VND 10,000. Depending on the quality, price at souvenir shops range between VND 30,000 and VND 100,000.


2. 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 by using darts and a nipped-in waist; the “hippy” ao dai is brightly colored and very popular among young teenagers; and the “mini” ao dai have slits extended above the waist and the panels reach only to the knees.

The usual way to acquire an ao dai would be to pick the fabric first. Usually there are two different colors, one for the long dress itself and a second contrasting color for the trousers worn underneath. After the fabric is chosen, you bring it to a tailor specialized in creating ao dais. Usually it takes around one week until you can pick up the finished product, but please keep in mind that during the preparation for Tet (lunar new year), it can take significantly longer.

Local Insight: An ao dai costs at least VND 700,000. If you can spend the time and have experience finding decent cloth and a good tailor for ao dai, you might have your stylish ao dai at a reasonable VND 1,500,000.


3. Silk

Silk from Vietnam

Silk is woven from the cocoons of the silkworm. Thus, it has always been considered extremely luxurious and only available to the nobility. The days when silk had only been manufactured for Vietnamese royalty is long gone, and the fabric has become widely used throughout the country. Silk and its beautiful products are affordable nowadays, so tourists have a chance to choose their favorites and gift them to friends and family.

Local Insight: The price for regular Vietnamese silk is at least VND 70,000/m and over VND 100,000/m for premium kinds. Silk below that price is originating from China and of questionable quality.


4. Hand Embroidery

hand embroidery from XQ

The art of hand-embroidered pieces of clothing and framed silk pictures is an old handicraft tradition in Vietnam. You will mostly encounter picturesque natural scenes like flowers, trees, animals and birds, patiently stitched one colorful thread at a time. But also daily life scenes, even portraits can be created with this ancient technique. Tourists are frequently baffled by the vast variety of designs, offered in hand embroidery shops, the vibrant colors and the intriguing depth of the artwork.

In some shops, tourists can explain or sketch their individual idea to the artist, who creates a personalized present for friends and family.

If you visit Da Lat, there is a workshop & gallery for marvelous and artful hand embroidery images upstairs in the central market.

Local Insight: You can buy a small hand embroidered product for around VND 500,000. For bigger pictures, the price can be VND 2,000,000 and above.


5. Sand Pictures

Sand painting is the art of pouring colorful sand and powdered pigments on a sticky surface and fixating it later with spray, so it doesn’t come off again. However, there is a second art form called sand painting, which is practiced in Saigon: The artist pours the colorful 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 on every shelf and makes an excellent souvenir. Vietnamese sand picture art comprise 4 categories: landscape, portrait, labor scenes and the traditional art of calligraphy.

Local Insight: The price for artful sand pictures ranges from VND 300,000 to VND 700,000.


6. Wooden clogs - Guoc moc

Wooden clogs (guoc moc) were a sort of traditional footwear for men and women alike in the past. After the feudal period, they mostly remained in a trio of Non la, Ao dai and Guoc moc to increase the gracefulness of Vietnamese ladies when attending important festivals or any special events in town. Guoc moc are rarely used nowadays, but tourists can catch a glimpse of them at traditional activities like the Cai Luong and Ca Tru performance.

Local Insight: Being considered as quite old fashioned footwear, the real Vietnamese wooden clogs are hard to find. If you can find some around VND 150,000 then go for it.


7. Musical Instruments

T'rung

A handmade musical instrument can also make a nice keepsake. 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.

The sweet tone of these instruments will thrill your ears and remind you of the most memorable moments from your trip to Vietnam.

If you are in Saigon, there is a nice old man, playing and selling simple flutes in Le Loi street at the sidewalk. If you are interested in hearing more traditional flute play, there is a student club of young flutists, who meet in the evening hours at 23/9 Park near Ben Thanh Market to play and practice. Nguyễn Thiện Thuật street in District 1 is also known as “guitar street”. There are many shops and workshops for instruments, mainly guitars and their relatives - like the ukulele.

Local Insight: Prices for a t’rung range from VND 300,000 to VND 1,000,000. Simple bamboo flutes come at around VND 10,000.

You should expect to bargain for the items you want to take home as souvenirs. One “trick”, that can be applied in Ben Thanh Market is to browse the fixed-price shops outside and negotiate with the inside shops for the items you want to buy. We also have a blog post on bargaining at the market which shows you some tips to bargain and suggest some of the best places for shopping apart of the Top 5 Places to Go Shopping in Saigon.


If you liked this blog, you might like those:

Top 5 places to go shopping in Saigon

The art of bargaining in Vietnam

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Amazon Makes First Inroads to Vietnam

By: Tran Thi Minh Hieu

Amazon is on its way to set foot in the emerging e-commerce market of Vietnam, while facing fierce competition from its Asian rivals.

In March, Amazon confirmed its cooperation with Vietnam E-Commerce Association (VECOM), an NGO and industry group composed of 172 member businesses.

Amazon’s remarks centered around their interest in helping Vietnamese small and medium businesses export their products through its global online platform.

AmazonImage source: dichvumuahangmy.com

According to Business Insider, the partnership with VECOM may be the first step towards Amazon gaining an understanding of Vietnamese consumers before launching its full marketplace, as it did in Singapore, the first Southeast Asian country Amazon stepped into in July 2017.

Gijae Seong, head of Amazon Global Selling in Singapore, appeared in March at the Vietnam Online Business Forum 2018 to discuss with local businesses how to use Amazon to sell globally.

Amazon and VECOM’s cooperation was welcomed by Vietnamese businesses and consumers alike. VECOM’s president considered the support for exporting Vietnamese products globally a positive development. Meanwhile, consumers were enthusiastic about the prospect of being able to use Amazon to buy international products in the near future.

Alibaba to Respond

Less than one week after Amazon announced the partnership, Chinese billionaire Jack Ma’s e-commerce giant Alibaba increased its investment in Lazada, one of the largest e-commerce platforms in Southeast Asia.

AmazonImage source: thepaymentgateway.co

Alibaba spent US$1 billion to buy 51 percent of shares in Lazada in April 2016, and another US$1 billion in 2017 to increase its total shares to 83 percent.

The most recent investment, a whopping US$2 billion, was announced on March 18 along with the decision to name Lucy Peng, one of Alibaba’s founders, as Lazada’s executive in chief.

According to VnEconomy, after two years of operation Lazada has become the top e-commerce website in Vietnam by revenues in 2014, taking up 36.1 percent of the country’s e-commerce market.

Competition and Growth

Vietnam's e-commerce market is one of the fastest growing in the world.

According to market research firm Kantar Worldpanel, Vietnam's e-commerce revenue increased 23 percent to US$5 billion in 2016, accounting for three percent of total retail revenue. The country’s e-commerce annual revenue is forecasted to reach US$10 billion by 2020, accounting for five percent of total retail revenue.

Other than Alibaba, China’s tech and investment giant Tencent also has a lot of interests in the Vietnamese market.

Financial Times reported that Tencent holds a 39.8 percent stake in Singapore-based company Sea, an enterprise that creates e-commerce platforms and services. One of Sea’s assets is online retailer Shopee, Lazada’s biggest competitor in Southeast Asia. Foody.vn, a restaurant review, booking and food delivery services platform, is also owned by Sea. In addition, Tencent is a shareholder of Chinese e-commerce company JD.com and Vietnamese tech firm VNG, a group which invested heavily in local e-commerce site Tiki.vn in January.

AmazonImage source: photo2.tinhte.vn

As Tiki.vn’s CEO Tran Ngoc Thai Son told an audience at a conference in Ho Chi Minh City in December 2017, the appearance of international e-commerce giants is proof that the Vietnamese market has a lot of potential for growth.

It remains to be seen whether Amazon will be successful in getting a foothold in Vietnam as it did in Singapore. Although Chinese competitors may have an advantage in being more familiar with the local infrastructure and customer dynamics, Amazon’s strong global presence and high brand recognition is friendly to Vietnamese consumers who have a demonstrated, strong interest in services with a well-known brand.

Banner Image source: safa.ps


Origins and Organic Cotton: Metiseko, a Sustainable Clothing Brand

By: Molly Headley

“Heatwave … The sand is lightly smoldering under our steps. Heavy palms are quivering and gently rustling in a breeze. The sun is at its highest and the carved, dark wooden doors have been shut. Naptime. It is summer in Hoi An.”

At Metiseko, poetry is crafted out of organic Indian cotton and silk that is locally produced in Vietnam. The hand-painted prints recall the scent that lifts off of flowers in the aftermath of a monsoon. Tropical fruit meets art-deco elements, hibiscus and peonies float across misty blues and greens, lotus leaves and koi fish swim through a painterly aquatic garden. The fact that Metiseko is also one of the most well-known sustainable clothing brands in Vietnam lends weight to the beauty of the sustainable textiles.

metiseko vietnam

Each of Metiseko’s clothing, accessories and soft furnishings collections is presented like a travel journal that introduces a reimagined view of Vietnam. CỘI-Origins, Metiseko’s 8th collection to date, launched on September 14, 2018. This collection takes us on a voyage to revisit the company’s roots in the ancient city of Hoi An.

Sustainable Clothing Inspired by Hoi An, Vietnam

During the collection’s launch party, a film by French filmmakers Robin and Cako, plays as models weave between the crowd. The film, a dreamy day between four friends as they experience moments with family and the intimacy of friendship, evokes the concept behind the collection.

metiseko vietnam

“It’s about spending time together”, Metiseko co-owner and Artistic Director Florence Mussou said. “Taking a break, enjoying tranquillity and reconnecting, coming back to where Metiseko started . . . to Hoi An, which is still a source of inspiration.”

Eight years ago the brand was created by Mussou and co-owner/General Director Erwan Perzo in Hoi An. Mussou brought her experience in textile design to the company, while Perzo’s passion for sustainability inspired Metiseko’s commitment to ethical work conditions and the use of organic cotton and mulberry silk. The brand is both stunning to look at and also stands out as one of the few truly sustainable clothing brands in Vietnam.

Metiseko Fashion: Tropical Gardens and Vietnamese Sunsets

The CỘI-Origins collection includes organic cotton pieces with colours and shapes that were conceived to work for both masculine and feminine styles.

Video source: Metiseko

The colour palette of the collection was created to reflect one day in Hoi An from sunrise to the sunset. The shades, like denim blue, terracotta, custard and aqua, were inspired by different times of day in the ancient Vietnamese coastal city.

Linda Mai Phung, a French-Vietnamese designer, collaborated on the collection. Phung has become known in Vietnam and Europe for her clothing designs as well as her company ethos: respect humanity and the environment while creating great fashion. She has won numerous international awards for ethical-fashion.

Phung’s designs seem simple but there is complexity in the details—a thin band collar and hidden buttons on a man’s button-down shirt and the narrow pleats made to highlight the waist on a women’s skirt are a few examples. Phung’s clothing designs combined with Metiseko’s organic fabrics manage to be contemporary and classic, French and Vietnamese at the same time.

Part of what creates client fidelity at Metiseko is the strong narrative that the company conveys. When you walk into one of the Metiseko stores it is as if you are entering another world. From the lyrical text that scrawls across the lookbooks to the hanging lanterns wrapped in Metiseko’s signature organic fabrics, each detail works together to create a sense of nostalgia for a place you may never have been to but emphatically want to experience.

metiseko vietnam

Each collection invites us to take a trip with Metiseko, to see the country in a different light. The care that is put into each piece, from the brand’s commitment to sustainability to their exquisite designs, stands as a testament to Metiseko’s ongoing love affair with Vietnam.

Where to Shop for Metiseko in Vietnam:

METISEKO HN
71 Hàng Gai, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi

SILK BOUTIQUES
101 Đồng Khởi, P. Bến Nghé, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

ORGANIC COTTON BOUTIQUES
157 Đồng Khởi, P. Bến Nghé, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
142 Trần Phú, Minh An, Hoi An

SNAP CAFE BOUTIQUE
32 Trần Ngọc Diện, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City

VICTORIA CORNER
Victoria beach resort & spa, Cua Dai Beach, Hoi An

Image source: Metiseko


The Sweet Success of Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat

By: Lucie Sherwood

Samuel Maruta and Vincent Mourou joined forces and their names to create the Marou brand. Both co-founders have been dedicated to the Made in Vietnam concept from the beginningproducing their chocolate within the country and buying small batches of top quality cacao from local farmers.

Maison Marou

Samuel Maruta, explained the importance of ingredients to Marou, “We are a bit like a chef who goes to the market every morning to find the freshest products.”

The chocolatiers make it their mission to find excellent ingredients while maintaining their commitment to sourcing locally.

Marou sells mostly dark chocolate - at around 70% cacao content - a trend which Maruta believes was instigated by the increasing French taste for higher percentages. Marou also produces several other products, including a dairy-free milk chocolate made with coconut milk.

Maison Marou

At Maison Marou, the brand’s flagship Ho Chi Minh City cafe, the chefs experiment with more adventurous recipes, such as a ganache infused with the same spices that are used to make Vietnamese pho. Marou has expanded its offering at this central Saigon hub to also feature a gourmet pastry menu, which offers some of the best desserts in the city.

Maruta outlined the journey that he and Vincent Mourou have been on for the past seven years since the inception of Maroufrom two friends making chocolate in their kitchen to a business which has two shops, a factory and a team of almost one hundred people. Being an entrepreneur means both freedom and responsibility to Marutathe freedom to make decisions but also the responsibility to our customers and colleagues who have put their trust in us.

Maison Marou

Marou has become known internationally as the specialist brand of Vietnamese chocolate.

Marou’s market is both local and international. The company has a wide range of retailers in Vietnam and abroad as well as plenty of visitors to Vietnam buying the chocolate to take back overseas. Maruta pointed out that chocolate has always made a good gift because it travels well across the world.

In the future, Marou will continue to grow but Samuel Maruta highlighted, “We are big on organic growth.” He said that expansion should not happen at any price and that the company’s principles will always remain at the forefront of their business.

Video source: City Pass Guide

Image source: Maison Marou


Top 5 places to go shopping in Ho Chi Minh City

By: Vinh Dao

Top 5 places to go shopping in Ho Chi Minh City

While French colonial architecture, exotic and cheap food along with the countless tourist attractions are the main draws to Ho Chi Minh City, the city is a mecca for shopping diehards. There are plenty of options for those looking for a high-end shopping experience or if you are searching for a bargain.

Vincom Center

Located smack dab in the middle of town, Vincom is one of Ho Chi Minh City's newest shopping centres. It boasts has eight levels that house more than 250 shops and you can find international brands such as Aldo, Armani, FCUK alongside high end local outlets such as Fanny Ice Cream . The food court at Vincom Center feels more like a collection of nice restaurants rather than a hodgepodge of unrelated greasy chains.

Local insight: They have recently opened Vincom A, which is located down the street on 171 Dong Khoi.
Address:72 Lê Thánh Tôn and 45A Lý Tự Trọng, District 1

Dong Khoi

Ho Chi Minh City’s high street, Dong Khoi has local boutique shops competing with international brands along with chic restaurants set in beautifully restored French colonial buildings.

Local insight:The street was known as Rue Catinat during the French colonial days and Tu Do in the 1960’s.

Saigon Square

A cross between a shopping mall and a bazaar,  Saigon Square is literally packed to the roof with everything from DVD’s to ersatz luxury watches and blue jeans. Frequented by expatriates and locals alike, cheap copies of designer sportswear rub shoulders with fashion brands. The quality is fake, but the price is right, that is if you can bargain hard.

Local insight: There is a second location on 7-9 Ton Duc Thang which has just slightly better prices than the original.
Address: 77 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, District 1

Ben Thanh Market

The granddaddy of the Saigon markets, this market opened it’s doors in 1914. A bustling affair, this is a great place to pick up a souvenir or three. As it is the main tourist market in the city, prices tend to reflect it and you have to bargain hard, even if there is a price tag on the item you would like. It is also a great place to get some local cuisine. Prices are just above what locals pay but pretty tasty all the same.

Local insight: At night, the streets outside the market turns into a night bazaar with souvenir shops and ad hoc restaurants.
Address: Intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, and Le Lai

Binh Tay Market

Built in 1928, this is the central market of Cholon, which is known as the Chinese district. The largest market in town spanning four blocks, most of the business is done wholesale here. While the market doesn’t stock souvenirs and other tourist fare, it does house some of the most interesting architecture in the city and the dominant yellow clock tower makes it a photographer’s dream.

Local insight: Just down the road on Tran Hung Dao street are a swath of textile shops where you can get some of the cheapest deals in town.
Address: 57 Tháp Mười, 2, District 6

Hope this list gives you some options for shopping in Ho Chi Minh City!


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Top 5 souvenirs to buy in Vietnam

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Top 5 dishes to try in Nha Trang

Top 5 things to do in Nha Trang

Top 5 dishes to eat in Hanoi

Top 5 Che-sweet soups must try in Saigon



“Mac Qua!”: Why We Bargain in Vietnam

By: Tran Thi Minh Hieu

Bargaining might seem like a strange custom to first time visitors to Vietnam. Most of us are used to the fixed price system in supermarkets and malls, so it may be perplexing to walk into Ben Thanh Market, one of the oldest and largest markets in Saigon, and bargain your way down to half the initial price to get a simple souvenir.

There’s a history behind that.

The Old System

Before the introduction of the price tag, the only way to learn the price of an item was to ask the seller. It was entirely up to the seller to say whatever price they wanted as an invitation to bargain, and the buyer, having a general idea of what it should cost or a benchmark in mind, would adjust their offer accordingly.

bargainImage source: footprint.vn

The conversation would and still does go on for as long as one has the patience for it. Some sellers are more firm than others about their pricing strategy, and steadfast buyers can simply walk away when they don’t get the price they want. Sometimes this will make the seller think twice–—they’d rather make a sale for a lesser price than let a competitor get the sale.

Ask the Locals

If you want to learn how to bargain properly and effectively, ask an older Vietnamese person. Bargaining creates an opportunity for personal interaction, as opposed to a more convenient yet more impersonal purchase at a supermarket. This is why Vietnamese people from older generations still enjoy bargaining as a part of their life.

“You can haggle at almost every local store. It’s a common practice”, said Tran Van, a pensioner in his sixties. “For example, when I want to buy a chair I look up the price on the Internet, and then I go to a nearby store and they name a higher price. I’ll haggle until they give me a reasonable price.”

bargainImage source: blog.vemay

“Even when there is a price tag on the clothes, I still ask for a lower price to see if they give in”, Le Phuong, a middle-aged housewife added.

Meanwhile, younger people who’ve grown up with fixed prices already commonplace in many stores are more hesitant to bargain.

A group of office girls in their twenties who spoke to #iAMHCMC for this piece said they usually bargain only when going to the market. They feel that haggling in other places is uncomfortable and unwelcome, and they’d rather leave the store in peace. Saving face is more important than saving a few thousand dong, is an apt summary of what these young women shared.

Live Like a Local

Olia Raphaeleva, a young artist from Moscow said she has developed a rough idea of how things are priced after two years living in Vietnam. And with a basic command of Vietnamese phrases—“Bao nhieu?” (“How much”) and “Mac qua!” (“Too expensive!”)—she has become familiar with the process.

bargainImage source: madmonkeyhostels.com

“If the price is not fixed, I can talk about price”, she said with confidence. “As soon as I speak some Vietnamese in a friendly way, and show that I’m interested in buying it, only the price makes me hesitated [sic]. They will give me a lower price.”

When asked what she’d do if the seller refuses to give in, she replied, “I just walk away. They will run after me and tap on my shoulder and I’ll go back and get what I want.”

GIF source: giphy.com

Raphaeleva lives in a Hanoi neighborhood unfrequented by tourists. She has a few favorite stores that she often goes to for clothes, groceries and art supplies, and she usually gets a discount from the owner for being a friendly loyal customer.

“I always go to this hairdresser and once she just gave me a free haircut. And this morning, when I walked by the grocery store near my home, the owner bought me a beer. This has happened many times before.”

She noted that wherever she went, in Vietnam or India or Thailand, people tend to assume foreigners are rich, so they are surprised to learn that she also needs to save money and haggle to buy reasonably priced stuff. But since she lives among local people and gets acquainted with them, they start treating her more like a special friend than a foreigner.

It seems that no matter where you come from, you can learn new skills and appreciate different customs, and bargaining is one of those. It is part of life in Vietnam, so don’t be shy and embrace the experience.

Video source: Collin Abroadcast

A Super Brief History of Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh Market was first created as an informal gathering of street vendors near Ben Nghe River, now called Saigon River.

The name Ben Thanh came from the location of the market between a river port (“ben”) and Saigon’s ancient citadel (“thanh”), Gia Dinh, which was destroyed by the occupying French in a military struggle that preceded the establishment of the French colony Cochinchina. After the French colonial powers demolished the Gia Dinh citadel in 1859, they formally established Ben Thanh Market, and moved it to the current building in 1912.

Banner Image source: c1.staticflickr.com

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