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.


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Top 5 places to go shopping in Saigon

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Key Opinion Leaders: Influencing Retail Decisions in Vietnam

By: Sivaraj Pragasm

The term “influencer marketing” is a common marketing buzzword used globally by brands and advertising agencies to target specific groups of consumers by involving an individual or personality with a strong social media presence to create branded and unbranded content.

Influencers—also generally referred to as Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs)—are seen as both ambassadors for a particular brand and a representation of the typical consumer with an opinion that goes far and wide, thereby being able to influence consumer choices.

By helping to build awareness and sales among a target demographic—usually the tech-savvy and those who spend more time online than in front of the television—influencer marketing is on its way to becoming more popular than traditional marketing tactics relying on print and television ads.

Influencers in ShoppingImage source: www.cmo.com

The Country’s Influencers in Various Industries

So who are the notable influencers in Vietnam today?

According to Influence Asia Council, Vietnamese influencers are listed in various categories. Well-known “Beauty” KOLs include: Changmakeup, Chloe Nguyen, Trinh Pham and Quynh Anh Shyn.Decao, Chau Bui and Kelbin Lei are sought after for their opinions on fashion. And for food, Helen Le, Kiyoshi Jiro, Ninh Tito and Esheep Kitchen top the charts in terms of followers and social media reach.

Other content categories where these figures are active include health, lifestyle and parenting. YouTube personalities such as An Nguy, Pho Dac Biet, JVEvermind and HuyMe Productions are also constantly engaged by brands to incorporate branded and unbranded content into their channels.

Becoming an Influencer

Celebrity endorsements on television commercials are still a common marketing tool for brands. However, these commercials are mostly staged and the personality in question may or may not actually be using these products.

This is part of what gives the opinions of KOLs a stronger edge. They typically have active Instagram and Facebook accounts specialising in a particular topic, and they start to gain recognition as an opinion leader.

Beauty bloggers for example, often start off by highlighting products which they feel are best for their skin and by applying the products in front of a camera. They then post reviews about the product. This format gives consumers a chance to see the products in action, with a credible review by someone who actually used it.

Sometimes the road to becoming an influencer can appear by chance. For example, when popular YouTube content—like video game commentary by bloggers like PewdiePie, or even videos of new products getting unboxed by tech geeks—receive high viewer numbers the content creator can be transformed into an influencer.

GIF source: Chloe Nguyen

Almost Everyone Online Follows One

In Vietnam, influencer marketing has reached new heights with global brands such as Samsung getting into the fray. Samsung recently launched their Galaxy S9 phone with a campaign featuring YouTube personalities creating content using the phone’s camera and highlighting its enhanced slow motion feature.

More than 60 percent of internet users of all age groups in Vietnam have interacted with an influencer by either liking or sharing their content, according to consumer research firm DI Marketing.

Nearly half of internet users have gone one step further and commented directly on the content.

Most internet users in the country rely on Facebook or YouTube to follow influencers. According to a 2016 survey by DI Marketing, 84 percent of respondents follow an influencer on Facebook, 61 percent on YouTube and 59 percent rely on online news sites. The wide reach of these influencers is the main reason why marketers in the country are resorting to social networks as a key marketing channel.

Three Modes of Engagement

There are three styles that define the way influencers and brands interact.

The first is that of mutual benefit.

Influencers and brands can share a symbiotic relationship by giving influencers the freedom to post content the way they always do, while incorporating the brand’s message. This was achieved by Samsung Vietnam, with the Samsung Insider Circle, a community made up of invited influencers with tailor-made content for the brand. This allows influencers to post Samsung-related content on their own channels without veering away from their usual content and still get paid for it.

One example would be the social media campaign for the new Galaxy S9 phone where KOLs such as beauty blogger Chloe Nguyen released videos of her usual makeup routines that were shot on the phone, using its “super slo-mo” function and uploaded on her Facebook and Instagram accounts. Although the actual video was unbranded, the captions that accompanied the videos, including the hashtags #samsung_vietnam and #WithGalaxyS9 were more than enough for audiences to know what camera the videos were shot on.

The second style is drawing the KOLs by designing events tailored to the influencer’s needs.

Influencer marketing is still a very new trend and many brands view influencers as a media channel, instead of a creative in their own right. Le Meridien Saigon solved this by offering a 6-month long campaign that invited influencers to give workshops and be a part of the hotel’s coterie of luminaries.

The third style is to provide a real experience.

The current practice among beauty brands is to provide a sample of their product to an influencer to showcase and review, which usually yields a positive response by the influencer.

For the launch of beauty brand Kiehl’s’ Calendula line for example, they created a creative concept titled Peace, Love and Calendula and sent out physical invites to influencers for an event at Takashimaya Saigon. At the event, beauty bloggers were invited to the Kiehl’s counter to get exclusive access to the products, and the chance to meet their fans while at it.

Influencers in ShoppingImage source: www.diva-in-me.com

This turned what could have just been a digital campaign, into an interactive, offline experience where products could be seen and touched and the audience could see the product applied in real time on their favourite personality, instead of just through a cold photograph or video on their newsfeed.

If You’re Big, It Pays

As the relationship between brand and influencer continues to evolve, with more integrated brand messaging platforms thanks to digital marketing agencies and influencer platforms innovating ways to reach bigger audiences, being an influencer might just be a legitimate career path for those seeking to establish themselves as a credible source of information, while enjoying the spotlight and the many benefits that come with it.

YouTube pays the most, according to Forbes. Those with 7 million followers earned US$300,000 for sponsored content. On Facebook and Instagram, the influencers reported earnings roughly half that.

Influencer platforms such as Hiip, the largest in Vietnam, has a database of over 2000 influencers with a clientele that includes international brands such as Heineken and Unilever. There are also dedicated media production companies such as Yeah1 Network that specialise in working together with influencers to create video content for them in partnership with brands.

Influencers in ShoppingImage source: image.vtc.vn

Ultimately, it is up to the influencer to determine if they want to be a credible source of information for their followers, or turn into a media channel themselves by becoming the bridge between brand and consumer, or in an ideal situation, striking the right balance between both. This can only be done by being particular with the campaigns they choose to get themselves into and not be bogged down by posting content they don’t believe in.

Banner Image source: Shutterstock


A Dragon’s Sống: Metiseko’s New Sustainable Silk Collection

By: Molly Headley

Designing textiles that value both artistry and ethics.

The importance of a positive workplace.

Whether it’s luxurious silks or quality cottons, Metiseko has exactly what you’re looking for.

Sống - Definition: life [noun], to live [verb]

In the Metiseko silk boutique at 101 Dong Khoi in Saigon, an array of beautifully displayed garments beckons visitors to step inside and run the glossy silk through their hands. Ruby red dragon scales wind their way through cumulus clouds on a bomber jacket in Metiseko’s signature print - Long Dao, while across the room, tangerine waves awaken electric blue depths on a flowy dress in the Sunrise print. Beyond their beauty, there is an ethical advantage and underlying meaning woven into each piece in Metiseko’s new Sống collection. 

Metiseko

Vietnamese Artisans and Universal Elements 

Designed to stir the viewer to delve into the legend of Vietnam, The Land of the Dragon, the hand screen printed mulberry silk textiles are splashed with motifs from traditional folk paintings. Air, Water and Fire, the elements that are believed in the East to make up the universe, create an additional layer of meaning. 

The colour palette of the Sống collection was created to reflect the theatricality of Cải Lương, the country’s traditional opera, with shades of tangerine, carmine, black and Persian blue. This bold collection is a departure from their previous botanical prints and water coloured pastels.

Metiseko was created with the idea of designing textiles that value both artistry and ethics with a strong Made in Vietnam identity. 

Metiseko

How Positivity in the Workplace Results in Excellence at Metiseko 

One of the first truly sustainable and fair-labour fashion brands in Vietnam, Metiseko is constantly working towards complete transparency in the production process. Every piece in Metiseko’s repertoire is made by one single artisan, from the first cut into the fabric to the finishing touches. The company uses the small production motto of “Sell one piece. Make one piece.” 

As Owner and General Director Erwan Perzo put it... 

“When you buy something from us, you’re truly purchasing the work of an artisan from A to Z...” 

Metiseko

Beyond simply constructing the pieces in the collection that end up in their boutiques, there is a strong ethos behind the work at Metiseko. Organic; sustainable; ethical; handcrafted...these are buzz words that actually mean something to the company. 

Things such as fair wages, reasonable working hours, medical insurance for workers and their children, partnered with low environmental impact dyes and Global Organic Textile Standards certifications create a positive workplace and low staff turnover that is difficult to surpass in Vietnam. 

Metiseko

Two Textile Universes in Saigon 

Dong Khoi, Ho Chi Minh City’s premiere luxury shopping avenue is home to two separate Metiseko stores. One encompasses their organic cotton collections while the other showcases gorgeous mulberry silk pieces. Above Metiseko’s Silk Boutique, you can also shop the artisanal homewares of Sadéc District Boutique, as well as quality lingerie offered by Miss30, making 101 Dong Khoi a true stand-alone shopping destination, celebrating local design and local creativity. In District 2, their newly redesigned store features a curated selection of both collections. 

Metiseko

Metiseko’s screen printed textiles and ethical ideology optimise quality and consumer confidence while constantly reinventing their creations. It takes commitment and hard work, but in the Land of the Dragon the creative inspirations run deep. 

Where to Shop for Metiseko in Vietnam:

SILK BOUTIQUES 

101 Đồng Khởi, P. Bến Nghé, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
140 Trần Phú, Minh An, Hoi An

TANMY DESIGN CORNER 

61 Hang Gai, Hoan Kiem District, Ha Noi

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 Tran Ngoc Dien, district 2, Ho Chi Minh City

VICTORIA CORNER

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

www.metiseko.com

Image source: Metiseko


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


Travellers: VN Lacks an Essential Souvenir

By: Jesus Lopez Gomez

On a muggy afternoon, Vladimir Egoshin—a Russian national living in Indonesia who just arrived in Vietnam that morning—passively eyed the wares that were facing him at Ben Thanh Market.

Asked if he would be purchasing any souvenirs apart from the non la he was already wearing, the only Vietnamese memento seemingly de rigueur for tourists, he shrugged noncommittally.

“I don’t know,” Egoshin said, laughing.

“Everywhere I just buy a bottle,” he said, signalling the beer he was swilling streetside, “and just, you know, have a look.”

As tourism grows, travellers’ spending has failed to follow suit.

souvenirImage source: citypassguide.com

In 2017, Ho Chi Minh City hosted 6.4 million tourists in 2017, according to the municipal tourism department. The 23 percent increase in tourism that year delivered a mere 12.6 percent increase in tourist spending in the same time period.

When Tuoi Tre reported on the phenomenon in March, the city’s tourism officials rued the lack of major shopping destinations but also cited the 2.6 day-long stay that the average tourist spends in Ho Chi Minh City.

souvenirImage source: res.cloudinary.com

That’s about how many days Joost van den Elsakker was staying in Ho Chi Minh City when he spoke to #iAMHCMC. Outside of the “Tintin” comic painting he wanted to buy for his dad in the Netherlands, he said most of his purchases had just been food and drink.

souvenirImage source: justgola.com

A traveller who’s come to Vietnam after visiting Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand—a country that he noted aligns itself strongly with elephant imagery as a sort of de facto brand on its souvenirs—he said nothing in Saigon had yet enticed him as something he needed to remember his short visit.

Video source: iTravel Channel


An Interview with Mr. Bernard Kervyn, Mekong Quilts director

By: Fabrice Turri

MekongMekong Quilts employs Vietnamese women in communities northeast of Ho Chi Minh City and Long My in the Mekong Delta.

In addition, Mekong Quilts offers employment opportunities to Cambodian women through a similar project located in the village of Rumduol, near the Vietnam/Cambodia border.

The first quilts were sold in friends’ homes. Today there are seven shops and over 340 women in full-time employment.

An Interview with Mr. Bernard Kervyn, Mekong Quilts director

Jacques

When did you create Mekong Quilts and what are its main objectives?

The company began in 2001. Based on Mekong Quilts’ success, we decided to launch Mekong Creations in 2010. Mekong Quilts is about quilts and Mekong Creations sells other handmade products andnatural products. Both projects share the same goals: create employment through gratifying, high-skill jobs that provide good incomes for local populations. Roughly, we aim to double people’s income after they join the programme. Usually, women working for us earn 100 U.S. dollars per month. We aim to provide employment to these women in a location very close to their homes.

How do Mekong Quilts and Mekong Creations differ?

Mekong Quilts is concerned with quilts, bed covers, bags and the like and Mekong Creations is a brand new enterprise using materials like bamboo and papier-mâché. We want to create new things and see what happens. Right now, we have quite a few successful products.

We received The Good Design Award in Tokyo in June 2013. This award is supported by the Japan Institute of Design Promotion (JDP) and ASEAN-Japan Centre. The Good Design Award supports design-oriented companies that are selected on the basis of how they use traditional materials, craftsmanship and mode of production.

Mekong Creation 2
How are your products different?

Regarding bamboo, for example, we try to use it differently. We don’t want to compete with products that you can find inside Ben Thanh Market or on the streets of Hanoi. We try to make products nobody else is producing. We are deliberately focusing on the tastes of foreign customers, expats and tourists. We don’t want to compete with local businesses – they have their own skills, and we have ours.

Are all of your products made by hand?

Mekong QuiltsMost of our products are handmade, by women. Only for ourbamboo productsdo we use machines, and in that case we also employ men. We don’t want to be too dogmatic though. If the machine can make a better quality product, we’ll use the machine. We don’t want to be too focused on the handmade angle and then end up with poor quality products. Although bamboo products are also produced by craftspeople in Thailand, Philippines and Africa, the quality in Vietnam is very good. And today our price is around 25% cheaper than the competition’s.

Our bamboo products are also very resilient. For instance, in the beginning, our staff didn’t believe that our bamboo bikes would be strong enough, so I said, ‘Ok, let’s break one.’ They took a hammer to the bike to destroy it, but they got more and more impatient. They hit it repeatedly and ultimately gave up. They couldn’t break the frame! It’s really strong. It will bend but it will not break.

Mekong Plus 4Can you speak a little about Mekong Plus?

Mekong Plus is an NGO which was first created in France 20 years ago. This year, we are celebrating its 20th anniversary. We first started in Vietnam and then expanded to Cambodia.

We began from scratch, from nothing, just two or three friends, each putting 2-3000 dollars on the table for the first year, volunteering without payment for a while. We grew fast and today have 250 staff working in five districts in Vietnam and one district in Cambodia. We have roughly 180,000 beneficiaries every year and we provide scholarships for children, employment and set up minor infrastructures in the Mekong Delta such as bridges and small roads. I say, ‘we’, but that is not entirely correct: Mekong Plus relies on the participation of those we partner with. We don’t do anything if the people don’t work with us from the very beginning.

When we first went to the Mekong Delta, we never thought about bridges, but people told us, ‘We need bridges to go to schools, to go to the clinic, to the market.’ They really insisted. So, we told them, ‘Ok, but what can you contribute?’ So now, locals contribute two-thirds of the cost and Mekong Plus funds one-third. For everything, this is the same policy.

 
How do you achieve such great results in such a short time?

A lot of people can hugely benefit from a bridge. If you build a bridge, you can count the number of motorbikes crossing.Mekong Plus 3A bridge costs 4-5000 dollars to build, but if you factor in the time savings, it’s amazing. Say, for example, a person wants to sell a pig [at market] and there’s no bridge. They usually lose 20% on the regular price because they can’t bargain. The longer the route to the market, the more petrol you buy. And the longer the wait, the more you have to feed your pigs. But if there’s a bridge it’s possible to get to market faster and sell at the actual market price. The impact really is huge.

We are also working on health education in primary schools and kindergarten. Today, we reach 65,000 children and work in almost 200 schools. In Vietnam, much is learned by heart. You learn by heart how to brush your teeth, but the irony is that sometimes there is no toothbrush. Nevertheless, we noticed that people’s health was not so good, so we launched a health education programme in schools. When children go home, they tell their parents about what they learned in school. This has a huge impact on the entire community.

Where do your funds come from?

Mekong Quilts 2Mekong Quilts and Mekong Creations generate profits. If you buy something in the shops that costs 100 dollars, fifty dollars goes back to the village. Roughly, it’s half-half. But we also have fund raisers and private donors. This year we organized a Brussels-Saigon trip with 20 teams to raise money.

Is it possible to visit the villages where your products are made?

If you want to visit the villages, just ask at the shop when the best time to visit is. Then, we’ll try to group people and organise a one-day trip. The return trip takes eight hours.

Visits are not organised on a frequent, regular basis, but rather several times a month. However, prior to departure, we need to ask for police permission, as these are very poor, isolated areas. We need two-week’s notice and one copy of your visa and passport. Everything can be processed by email. You can find more information on our website www.mekong-quilts.org/our-news

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