Best Souvenirs to Buy in Saigon

By: Kristian Goodchild

Successful souvenir buying is a lost art to many. The knack of picking an item that embodies something unique about a place, that feels authentic and emblematic yet not too twee or stale, is a subtle skill.

Vietnam is so blessed with a marvellous array of handicrafts and unique, delightful items that it can be hard to decide what to buy. So how best to go about it? What should you buy for your friends, kids or parents? Let us guide you through the best souvenirs that Saigon has to offer.


Souvenirs for friends

Ao Dai

Beautiful Vietnamese girl wearing a ao ad

Traditional, beautiful, flowing ao dais are central to Vietnamese ceremonial life. Worn for weddings, festivals and formal functions, the ao dai lends majesty and grace to any wearer. They make a breathtaking gift for anyone with exotic dress sense. However, be careful: ao dais are usually made to fit, so make sure you have a rough idea of the recipient’s size, and if in doubt, over-estimate: you can always get it brought in back home. A good option for tourists is to check out the Ao Dai Museum’s Si Hoang Show on Saigon’s walking street Nguyen Hue. They also sell magnificent ao dais!

Wartime Zippo Lighters

Wartime Vietnam Zippo

Since the end of the American war, US Zippo lighters have been big business for souvenir vendors. Marked with the insignia and heraldry of the various units that served in Vietnam, they present a somewhat macabre reminder of the individuals who were sent to fight here. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, markets teemed with genuine Zippos, discarded by fleeing or slain troops. Today the lighters are likely to be fakes, but the effect remains the same. Pop down to Dan Sinh Market (also known as Yersin Market) in District 1.

Non La (Straw Hat)

Non La

There is little more iconic and unmistakably Vietnamese than the non la straw hat. The supporting star of every Vietnamese film of the last 50 years, it is instantly recognisable and, still today, ubiquitous throughout the nation. Our advice is to seek out a market stall selling only non la, and haggle down to no more than VND 100,000 (maybe less if you’re patient). Plain non la are preferable to the gaudy painted variety in tourist traps, so head out to smaller, heartland markets and rummage around with the locals for authentic hats and best prices.

Propaganda Art

A propaganda shop in Bui Vien

Undeniably kitsch, stylish and relatively unattainable outside Vietnam, cold-war era propaganda art makes for an excellent souvenir. These are perfect gifts for that friend who wants a quirky addition to his Che Guevara poster. Check shops abound throughout the city, mainly in touristy areas like Pham Ngu Lao and Ben Thanh.


Souvenirs for Kids

Bamboo Dragonflies

Bamboo Dragofly

With their ubiquity throughout Vietnam it’s easy to forget that these delicate, simple novelties are unique to the country. Hand-painted and infuriatingly easy to break, they demand extreme care in transit, but get them back in one piece and they will mystify kids with their graceful balance and gentle movement.

Musical Instruments

Colorful guitars

A perfect gift for any family you don't have to spend too much time with, a Vietnamese flute, rattle or drum will keep kids entertained forever while slowly driving their parents insane. Target wisely. Try out Saigon’s Music Street on Nguyen Thien Thuat in District 3.

Bracelets

A set of bracelets

Simple yet effective, the hand-woven bracelets sold throughout HCMC by street vendors make for fantastic, easy presents. Many of them are parents from the North of the country who sell their wares in the South to fund their children’s education, so get to know your vendor before making a bulk purchase. The story of where the money went will keep you smiling long after your gift.

Hand-Embroidered Clothes

Hand-embroidered clothes in a shop

Vietnamese embroidery is world-famous for its delicate intricacy and vibrant colour. The attention to detail and level of craftsmanship is such that you might not think of it as a suitable adornment for children’s clothing; however, with relatively low prices it is possible to obtain magnificent children’s-wear at bargain prices. Check the items at Ninh Khuong’s website to see what’s available – well worth it for that niece or daughter you've been itching to spoil. Mekong Quilts is another great place to shop for hand-embroidered clothes, and a non-profit organisation!


Souvenirs for Parents

Coffee

Vietnamese coffee beans

Vietnamese coffee with its unique chocolatey smell is the ultimate gift for anyone who likes a morning brew. Quintessentially local in flavour but with a universal richness that any coffee lover will enjoy, it can be ground to suit any coffee maker in most shops. However, for an authentic experience, why not buy a Vietnamese coffee filter to go with it, that simple three-part aluminium ensemble that sits on your morning cup of ca phe sua? Slightly more expensive stainless-steel gift sets are widely available and provide a functional gift for even the most discerning coffee snob. Phuc Long and Shin Coffee are the classics for coffee souvenirs. Check out our Ultimate Buying Guide for Vietnamese Coffee Lovers.

Ceramics and Lacquerware

Lacqueware candles

The ceramics of Vietnam are internationally sought after for their durable quality and craftsmanship. Similarly, the vibrant colours of the lacquerware make wondrously bright centrepieces for any living room or kitchen. Available throughout the country, be prepared to haggle furiously if you buy in the central markets, as prices are staggeringly high compared to the markets of the outskirts and smaller towns. Be sure to check out Authentique Home to find some of Saigon's most beautiful ceramics and lacquerware. For something a little different from the usual bright colours, try Amai in District 2 for something with a more minimalistic cool and chic.

Silk

Coloured silk

Vietnamese silk is under-appreciated around the world, yet represents some of the finest the region has to offer. Thai Tuan Silk are the experts in town. The Chinese market in District 5 has some excellent varieties on offer, for surprisingly low prices. Raw, un-stitched silk makes an excellent gift for the handy parent who likes to work with fine materials. Alternatively, take your silk to one of the many seamstresses around the city with a pattern or just a picture of the table cloth, dress or whatever you like, to create a unique and beautiful present.

Sand Pictures

Beautifully ornate and painstakingly tricky to create, Vietnamese traditional sand pictures create breath-taking dioramas with the careful layering of coloured sand. Available in various sizes and levels of detail, they can fit any budget. Be careful when travelling, though: the pictures are best transported in your hand luggage as sudden knocks can shake the sand out of place, leaving you with less of a masterpiece and more a blurred mess.


Mangii Custom Made Shoes

By: City Pass Guide

It is not necessarily a well-known fact, but shoes are the most important articles of clothing that you will ever buy.

Most people don’t realise that the health of your feet sets the tone for the health of the entire skeletal system and therefore your entire body. Wearing shoes that fit properly and support your feet is vitally important in order to avoid or alleviate many common foot problems; however, it goes further than that.

Great Looks Bad Back

Many are tempted to simply wear shoes that they find aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately, great looking footwear is more often than not the worst choice for either proper foot function or overall health. In addition, about 70% of us have one foot that is bigger than the other by half a size. From that we can assume that literally billions of people are walking around with one shoe that is the wrong size.

Handcrafted Footwear

Vietnam is one of the largest exporters of shoes in the world. This is a multi-billion dollar industry that sees Vietnamese shoes being worn in more than 40 countries. Standards are high, and Mangii has taken them even higher. Using high-class leather, cork for comfort and metal shanks for strength, the shop handcrafts footwear of incredible style and quality.

“The shoes are assembled completely by hand and crafted into exquisite designs.”

All Mangii custom-made shoes are manufactured in Vietnam, close to the Cu Chi area of Ho Chi Minh City. Andy Nguyen, the owner, bought an existing factory with an already highly skilled workforce. It took him three years to train staff to the standards that he demanded. Five years ago he achieved his goal and opened up his first shop. Now firmly established, he has opened a second shop in Hanoi.

Bespoke Every Step of the Way

Mangii has an incredibly high percentage of repeat customers, and most of the clients come by word of mouth. The great beauty of the way they work here is that all patterns and measurements are kept, so even after people return to their homes, wherever they may be, they can and do still order online and receive their shoes by post. A string of 5-star ratings on TripAdvisor has also helped business growth immensely.

Customers can, of course, buy ready-made shoes and walk away with beautiful footwear in one day. It is, though, the custom-made collection that attracts most. The process is unique. Feet are measured and a drawing is made, then individual lasts are made from which the shoes are modelled. In fact, Mangii first makes a fitting shoe that customers can try on. The customer then says which part of the shoe, if any, is too tight or pinching and the shop adjusts the lasts and builds the real shoes. The customer then chooses the design and the leather that they want to use, and from this the process is completed.

This normally takes about two weeks. Clients end up with shoes that are unique and fit perfectly. This has resulted in the large number of re-orders from people who stay exclusively with Mangii. Most of the clients are business people, though increasingly, young people are demanding high class products.

“Half of Mangii’s customers are expats who, of course, often struggle to find shoes that even fit.”

Mangii custom-made shoes are an excellent investment for anyone who cares about their health while at the same time, wishes to look stylish. They are not as expensive as one would expect, and certainly not as expensive as buying similar shoes in the West. Unique, stylish, affordable, made to measure, and right here in Ho Chi Minh City. What more could you want?

Contact information:

Website: www.mangiishoes.com

Email: info@mangiishoes.com

Phone: +84 9 6275 0066

Address:  196 Le Thanh Ton, D1


The Ultimate Buying Guide for Vietnamese Coffee Lovers

By: Mervin Lee

Vietnamese Coffee is known for being some of the best available. The country is the top producer of Robusta in the world. Therefore, it is unsurprising that for travellers and expats in Vietnam, coffee is the top sought after souvenir and most often consumed beverage product.

However, with Ben Thanh Market and other familiar tourist destinations filled with hundreds of potentially dubious brands and nameless packets of coffee grinds roasted and left to stand for months and possibly even years, consumers are rightly apprehensive about the quality of what is on display.

vietnamese coffeeA dazzling display of coffee beans and powder at Ben Thanh Market - by Mervin Lee

We’ve put together a concise and simple to understand guide to help you understand java-science so that you can choose Vietnamese coffee of good quality which, hopefully, agrees with your palate!

Definition of ‘Vietnamese Coffee’ and Relieving the Confusion

Vietnamese Coffee refers to both a style of traditional Vietnamese roast and a style of brew. It is possible to brew Italian-style roasted beans with the ubiquitous Vietnamese phin drip filter, and likewise, also possible to brew traditional Vietnamese-style dark roasts with a foreign device such as a French press.

vietnamese coffeeSaigonese street coffee being mass-brewed using Vietnamese phin drip filters - by Mervin Lee

Traditional Vietnamese techniques involve roasting Robusta coffee beans very dark with additives such as butter, salt, whisky, rice liquor or even sugar and fish-sauce. These additives help to elevate the savouriness and palatability of the notoriously harsh and bitter tasting Robusta beans.

Chemical flavourings and fragrances are often added, with the most common being vanilla and hazelnut, the former an age-old cliché aroma sought after in Vietnamese coffee powder.

Fillers such as roasted corn, soybeans and red beans are common and some recipes call for filler content of up to 50%. Fillers are used to thicken, darken and somewhat sweeten the coffee and they also increase profits. Connoisseurs who are seeking pure coffee should note that it is practically impossible to gauge the purity of coffee in Vietnam based on looking at grinded coffee powder. Diligent people should opt to purchase whole beans at shops before requesting them to be grounded on the spot.

When extracted using the iconic Vietnamese phin drip filter, the espresso-like liquid is then served with or without ice, and preferably with condensed milk to offset it’s bitterness. This popular beverage is known as ca phe sua da, the renowned mascot of Vietnamese coffee.

vietnamese coffeeEnjoying a cup of ca phe sua da on a hot Saigonese day - by Mervin Lee

Advancements in coffee farming has allowed the development of higher quality Robusta and Arabica coffee beans. Globalisation and changing preferences has resulted in a trend of roasting pure, additive-free coffee and subsequently brewing them with a wide range of foreign methods such as Italian-style espresso and paper filter. When these coffees are brewed using a phin, the technique remains Vietnamese.

Thus, the first item that you should procur is a high quality Vietnamese phin drip filter if you desire a strong and traditional Vietnamese brew. The phin works by filtering coffee through 2 layers of tiny holes and allowing the coffee to fall with the help of gravity.

City Pass Guide recommends the Trung Nguyen phins made of quality aluminium and available at all Trung Nguyen coffee shops. For connoisseurs who prefer a non-metal solution, Minh Long offers a series of beautiful porcelain Phins handcrafted in Binh Duong Province.

Roast Levels and Blends

Taste preference differs between individuals. Not everyone enjoys bitter coffee without sugar, and although many people do not appreciate light roasted and acidic coffee, third-wave coffee snobs may insist that such qualities are preferred.

vietnamese coffeeImage source: sc02.alicdn.com

The three-waves of coffee culture was described by Jonathan Gold in his 2008 article “La Mill: The Latest Buzz" for LA Weekly.

“The first wave of American coffee culture was probably the 19th-century surge that put Folgers on every table, and the second was the proliferation, starting in the 1960s at Peet's and moving smartly through the Starbucks grande decaf latte, of espresso drinks and regionally labeled coffee. We are now in the third wave of coffee connoisseurship, where beans are sourced from farms instead of countries, roasting is about bringing out rather than incinerating the unique characteristics of each bean, and the flavor is clean and hard and pure.”

Robusta coffees are generally bitter and harsh in taste, while Arabica coffees are often more acidic, higher in natural sugar content and superior in fragrance. As a general guideline, a medium roasted coffee is a good balance between intensity, acidity, sweetness and fragrance, since ample time has been given for bitter compounds to degrade. Light roasted Arabicas are acidic but preserve the original aroma and flavour compounds, known as ‘origin character’ in third-wave coffee-speak. Dark roasted Arabica coffees are savoury and intense in flavour, having lost most of its acidity through the roasting process and may be bitter if coffee caramels have begun to burn in the roasting process if beans are not roasted with skill and care. French-style roast is an example of very dark roasted coffee.

As such, the skill of the coffee roaster and the art of blending different types of beans at different roast levels becomes extremely crucial for Italian-style espresso and Vietnamese phin coffee since these styles involve extracting coffee with very little water, resulting in highly concentrated and intense brews. Arabicas may be added to a predominantly Robusta blend to introduce pleasant acidity, aroma and to relieve the blend of dullness. Likewise, Robusta may be added to a predominantly Arabica blend to introduce body and crema for Italian-style espresso.

vietnamese coffeeImage source: i.ytimg.com

Common ratios and names of these ratios at specialty coffee shops in Saigon include 20-80, 50-50 and 80-20, describing the percentage ratio of Arabica to Robusta coffee.

Here is a breakdown of the various types of coffee beans and species that may be found by examining the printed contents information on packaged commercial coffee.

Arabica - The most popular and widely consumed coffee species in the world with countless cultivated varieties. It is known for its nuanced, alluring floral and fruity notes, which vary wildly depending on region and varietal. Arabica is disliked by some due to its acidity, which can be mildly sweet and berry or citrus-like in specialty varieties.

Culi (Peaberry) Arabica - In normal circumstance, a coffee cherry contains two coffee beans. Peaberries, known as culi in Vietnamese coffee-lingo, are coffee beans that have developed into a single spherical bean due to the lack of fertilisation of the other bean. Culi Arabicas are very rare and known for a higher intensity of Arabica’s attributes.

Robusta - The underrated Robusta is known for being bitter and harsh but is the choice for daily indulgence in Southeast Asia due to its natural lack of acidity. Advancements in cultivation and coffee processing has improved it’s flavour drastically.

Culi (Peaberry) Robusta - Culi Robustas are known to be more bitter, but also sweeter, and are said to contain considerably more caffeine.

Liberica and Excelsa - Rare and related species of hardy, tropical coffee plants. Liberica is popular in Malaysia and the Philippines and is liked for its attractive and earthy aroma that is often accompanied by a smokey taste resembling dark chocolate, berries and tropical fruits. Excelsa coffee is similar and is known to be tart and fruity with a lingering finish.

When buying ground coffee, It is critical for a buyer to check for the coffee roast date. Dark roasted coffees oxidize faster and light roasted coffees last longer if kept in airtight mason jars. As a rule of thumb, buy coffee that is as fresh as possible! When buying from shops that are able to grind fresh coffee beans, one should choose the grind size based on the intended brew method (e.g.: coarse for French press, medium-fine for paper filter and fine for espresso).

vietnamese coffeeImage source: caphenguyenchat.vn

If you’re intending on becoming a coffee snob, investing in a coffee grinder and relying on coffee beans may be your best bet if you’re a sucker for freshness.

Common Vietnamese Coffee Terms

Bột - Powder
Nguyên hạt - Unground coffee beans
Hạt Rang - Roasted coffee beans

Cà Phê Nguyên Chất - Pure coffee without additives
Cà Phê Rang Xay - Roasted and ground coffee
Cà Phê Hòa Tan - Instant/dissolvable ground

Cà Phê Mít - Mít means jackfruit in Vietnamese and Cà Phê Mít has nothing to do with the yellow-fleshed tropical fruit and refers to Liberica and Excelsa coffee.
Cà Phê Chồn - Civet coffee. Often known in the western world as weasel coffee. A coffee processed from faeces of civets which consumed coffee cherries. Natural wild civet coffee is very expensive while farmed varieties are more affordable. Most civet coffee in Vietnam is a made with chemical flavouring and/or artificial enzymes.

Video source: Best Ever Food Review Show

Hương - Artificial fragrance
- Butter
Rượu - Liquor

Price List for Some Popular Coffee Shops and Brands in HCMC

The Souvenir Favourites:

Trung Nguyen
20+ Locations around Ho Chi Minh City
VND50,000 - 100,000 for 340g of the popular Sang Tao 1 - 5 ground coffee series featuring various blends

Highlands 
20+ Locations around Ho Chi Minh City
VND40,000 - 75,000 for 200g of ground coffee featuring various blends

The Enthusiast Range:

Mr Viet Coffee 
Available at Annam Gourmet Market at Hai Ba Trung Street or Saigon Center

They have 4 types of coffee beans available in the 250g size:
Đà Lạt VND89,000
Good Morning VND107,000
Arabica VND137,000
Hương chồn VND163,000

The Coffee House 
19 locations around the city
VND100,000 for 250g of The Coffee House’s signature Arabica & Robusta blend

Tractor Coffee 
98 Lê Lai, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, D1

For 250g:
VND60,000 of Robusta
VND120,000 of Specialty Arabica

The Specialty Group:

K’ho Coffee 
K’ho Coffee can be sampled and purchased at Trekker Cafe
21 Nguyễn Văn Tráng, D1 “Journey sandwich & coffee
6 Lê Văn Miến, Thảo Điền, D2 “Soma art coffee
VND125,000 for 250g or VND250,000 for 500g of K’ho Coffee’s excellent specialty beans offered in light, medium and dark roast levels.

Shin Coffee 
13 Nguyễn Thiệp, D1
18 Hồ Huấn Nghiệp, D1

They have 9 types of coffee beans available in the 200g size.
Spirit Of Eakmat - VND300,000
Ethiopia-g1 - VND240,000
VN Phin - VND100,000
Shin Espresso - VND300,000
Khe Sanh Blend - VND100,000
Sơn La Blend - VND180,000
Shin Blend - VND300,000
Đà Lạt Blend - VND150,000
Ethiopia Yirgacheffe - VND240,000

Vietnamese Coffee Republic 
8A/7B2 Thái Văn Lung, D1

Republic Blend - Arabica/Robusta
30-70 VND115,000 for 250g
50-50 VND135,000 for 250g
70-30 VND155,000 for 250g
100 percent Arabica VND185,000 for 250g

The Workshop Coffee 
27 Ngô Đức Kế, Bến Nghé W, D1 (2nd floor)

For 250g:
Vietnamese coffee beans - VND240,000
Foreign coffee beans - VND315,000

A Cafe Specialty Coffee 
15 Huỳnh Khương Ninh, D1

For 250g:
Espresso - VND188,000

Arabica - Robusta Blend:
50-50 : VND90,000
70-30 : VND82,000
30-70 : VND98,000
100 percent Arabica - VND110,000
100 percent Robusta - VND70,000

City Pass Guide highly recommends readers to visit, like and share the Facebook pages of these excellent coffee cafés and suppliers for more information!

Banner Image source: Mervin Lee


Saigon’s Top 10 Hidden Markets

By: J.K. Hobson

Saigon brims with energy, much of which comes from its abundance of commerce, especially the local markets. Some of them, like Ben Thanh, Tan Dinh and Binh Tay markets, are famous tourist attractions that seem to stimulate every sense at once. There are myriad specialised markets in Saigon that eschew the tourist-trapping nature and are a deep part of local life. Much of Saigon is hidden under its rich layers. These hidden markets are rare gems.

Hidden marketsImage source: blisssaigon.com

Lantern/Decorations Market

Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street in Chinatown is the go-to spot for anyone interested in purchasing decorations and especially lanterns. It is especially frequented by locals looking for decorations during the Tet festival. You’ll find artificial peach and apricot blossoms, models of red carp, gold coins, and red envelopes for handing out the traditional “lucky money”. Tasty snacks like sticky rice cake are abundant on the street. In the month leading up to the mid-autumn festival a variety of traditional lamps are available for the holiday of the harvest.

Hidden marketsCrossroads of Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street and Luong Nhu Hoc, District 5 - Image soucre: citipos.vn

Chinese Medicine Market

The Chinese Medicine Market in Cho Lon (Chinatown) is home to over 180 Chinese medicine stores and clinics. Located on Hai Thuong Lan Ong street and the bordering streets of Luong Nhu Hoc, Phan Huy Chu and Trieu Quang Phuc, the area boasts the biggest collection of traditional Chinese medicine in the south of Vietnam. The smell of herbs permeates the air as visitors peruse the aisles. It’s the place to go to procure the ingredients necessary for a time-honoured tradition of medicine.

Hidden marketsHai Thuong Lan Ong street and the bordering streets of Luong Nhu Hoc, Phan Huy Chu, Trieu Quang Phuc, District 5 - Image soucre: kingfucoidan.vn

Motorbike Accessories Market

With over 8 million motorbikes and counting, Saigon is the motorbike capital of the world, so it stands to reason that it would have a dedicated market for motorbike accessories. It’s on Nguyen Chi Thanh street in District 5. Hundreds of stores peddle wholesale and retail parts for Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Piaggio motorbikes, ranging from original expensive parts to cheap Chinese knock-offs.

Hidden marketsImage source: spadaforaphoto.com

Thuan Kieu Bird Market

One of the most colourful markets is the lively Thuan Kieu Bird Market, a well-hidden gem at the crossroads of Thuan Kieu, Hong Bang and Chay Van Liem streets in District 5 and nestled under an old tamarind tree. Opening at 6am and closing at 6pm, hundreds of bird cages and birds of many colours, sizes and breeds are displayed. Probably more plentiful and noteworthy than the birds are the stockpiles of insects like locusts, crickets, centipedes, grasshoppers, ticks and termites sold as avian cuisine. Be sure to check the collection of scorpions, snakes and other uncommon creepy-crawlies.

Hidden marketsImage source: scootersaigontour.com

Le Hong Phong Pet Market

Le Hong Phong street is the proverbial place to “see a man about a dog”. It is home to a strip of pet stores. First moved from District 1 to District 5 in 2000, locals refer to it as the Pet Market, and it is is known as the primary place where pets (mostly dogs and cats) of numerous sizes and breeds can be purchased, some of them for thousands of US dollars each. On a more unfortunate note, this is one of the first places that people who are in search of their stolen pets come to in hopes of being reunited with their furred friends.

Second-Hand Items – Binh Thanh

The somewhat poetically-named Market of Unused Things (Ve Chai) in Binh Thanh is the closest thing to a never-ending garage sale. Ve Chai refers to articles that no longer have use. Established in the late aughts, it features used knick-knacks such as watches, Zippo lighters and jewellery. You might even be able to find some vintage vinyl treasures.

ShoppingImage source: thanhnien.vn

Trang Tu Fruit Market – District 5

If you’re looking for affordable fruits and veggies, go to the produce market on Trang Tu street in District 5. Next to the Cho Lon coach station, sellers bring delectable delights directly from the Mekong Delta and other farmlands in Vietnam. Fruits like mangosteen, tamarind, sapote, soursop, dragon fruit and rambutan can be found here. You can peruse and purchase produce without even having to get off your motorbike.

Hidden marketsImage source: media.foody.vn

Ho Thi Ky Flower Market

Ho Thi Ky Flower Market is the premier wholesale flower market in Saigon. It is a mere 500 metres, but along its kiosks, everything necessary to create ornate floral arrangements can be purchased. The array of flowers make it one of Saigon’s most beautiful (and exquisitely-smelling) markets.

Hidden marketsImage source: stacieflinner.com

Electronics Market – District 10

Ly Nam De, Tan Phuoc, Vinh Vien, Ly Thuong Kiet Street in District 10 are where you’ll find the largest conglomeration of electronics shops in Ho Chi Minh City, including items that may be seen as outdated to some but are very well-priced. It features an abundance of smartphones, laptops, adapters, headphones and other electronic accessories, displayed on plastic sheets spread out across the pavement.

Banner Image source: media.dulich24.com.vn


Apartment Boutiques in HCMC: Fashion that Fits Just Right

By: Emilio Piriz

Many colonial buildings are being renovated and turned into hip-looking coffee shops, workshops, co-working spaces and fashion boutiques. They mix the old and the new to cater for the new generation of Vietnamese who love the fresh ambience in these places.

We met up with three fashion designers who own their boutiques and design every item that’s sold there. They all share a young spirit, a deep love for fashion and an entrepreneurial drive.

Young Spirit

Nguyen Anh Thi (24) is the youngest. She has been running her “BeUnique” boutique on the 2nd floor of 42 Ton That Thiep for two months and, despite her brief experience, feels confident about her decision. “I have always loved fashion and truly felt the need to design clothes for young Vietnamese like me,” explained Thi, who taught herself everything she knows in design. Most young designers who embark in a small business consider their family’s and friends’ approval a must for their journey, and so does Thi.

boutiques in saigon

“Every time I am about to release a new design, I ask my friends for feedback. My parents supported me from the very beginning because they thought I was capable of succeeding,” she says.

While talking to her, the shop gets a bit crowded. “People coming to my shop range from the age of 18 to 26. This apartment is well-known in Saigon among youngsters, that’s the main reason why I chose this place.”

Rent tends to be the deciding factor for these young entrepreneurs. “I pay between VND 10 and 15 million every month. Even if my sales grew considerably, I wouldn’t consider moving the shop to a street-level location because then I would have to spend more money on rent and cut costs on materials.”

Facebook Power

Originally from Korea, Lee Seohyun arrived in HCMC when her husband relocated for work. She opened the Elephant’s Closet (2nd floor at 26 Ly Tu Trong) a year later. Getting settled in a new place plus having two babies probably felt like a full-time job. However, shortly after, she started designing women’s clothes and hired a tailor. Now she caters for Vietnamese moms who look for unique designs for her kids’ closet as well as for theirs. Seohyun’s matching outfits for moms and kids give her a unique edge.

boutiques in saigon

Generally speaking, customers in these boutiques tend to be awed by the affordable clothing but also by the cosy atmosphere. The visually striking setup represents one side of the business; the other part plays on social media. “I make great use of Facebook to showcase my newest creations, and then the word-of-mouth does the rest,” Seohyun says.

Entrepreneurial Drive

The first apartment boutiques in HCMC appeared about five years ago. Tu Anh opened hers, Thank God I’m Fabulous (1st floor at 26 Ly Tu Trong), four-and-a-half years ago, a pioneer in the business. “The concept sprung off of L’Usine, so, based on that idea, we tried to convey a similar shop experience while dealing with the constraints of being an entrepreneur.” Although most of these shops are in the heart of the city, the owners prefer apartments where rents are cheaper than a street-level shop.

Tu Anh studied fashion design in Australia 10 years ago and then enrolled in a business course in Singapore, which probably provided the vision she exhibits these days. “I spent nearly a year in planning out the business. Branding took up most of the time, since I really want to serve my clients’ needs while matching my desires for designing. I would say that’s my vision,” she recalls when asked about her first steps with the shop.

boutiques in saigon

Nowadays, Tu Anh has eight people, including tailors and pattern makers, working at her workshop, which allows her to release a new collection every three months. Her clothes are mainly office outfits for women who have a stable income. “I target ladies who prefer to pay a bit extra for high-quality clothes.” Tu Anh is currently searching for a location in D1 to open her second shop at a regular store space instead of an apartment.

 


Vietnam’s Rising Ecommerce Industry

By: City Pass Guide

Vietnam’s ecommerce industry is increasing at the second highest rate in the Asia-Pacific region, and growth is clearly expected to continue throughout the next five years, raking in an estimated $10 billion by the year 2020.

What does this mean for the retail market, and how will it affect local and international shops in the future, if at all? According to the Vietnam E-commerce Association, the online shopping industry is expected to rise around 30% or more each year throughout the next decade. As of now, a huge portion of the revenue made from online shopping has been highly concentrated in Hanoi and HCMC. However, once ecommerce hits the outer provinces and countryside areas, this could mean unprecedented growth in the online shopping sector.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade claimed that there are currently around 220 fully functional online shopping websites, all of which have combined to generate about VND1.66 trillion to date. One of Vietnam’s most prominent online retailers for clothing and accessories is Leflair.vn. I sat down with their CEO, Loic Gautier, to get some insight on the current state of the ecommerce market, the struggles of start-up, branding and the direction ecommerce is headed.

leflair.vn founders Loic Gautier and Pierre Antoine Brun

Who is Shopping Online the Most and What are They Buying?

Most might light heartedly joke that, yes, women do the most online shopping and the statistics show that this is in fact true. Overall, females aged 35-44 make the most online purchases and Leflair.com states that about 80% of their purchases are made by women as well.

MasterCard surveys have stated that the top three shopping categories for Vietnam are airline tickets, home appliances and electronic products. It is estimated that more than 50% of consumers are shopping from their mobile devices like iPhones and tablets, and, as expected, the peak time of day for purchases made in Vietnam is in the morning (before work) and the evening (after work).

Branding/Foreign Investment

There are a limited number of international brands available for sale in Vietnam due to the fact that foreign investment is a tricky subject. Obstacles like high taxes and inadequate information result in less foreign interest in the market. As a new online shopping company, big name brands can be hesitant to trust your website due to a lack of established online shopping sources in the past. Since ecommerce just kicked off five years ago, there is still a lot of work to be done in order to establish a trusted industry model. As long as online shopping continues to offer a sound alternative to retail shopping in regards to products, brand options and convenience, ecommerce will certainly continue its upward ascent as it gains the trust of even bigger brand names.

Competitive Market

Although there are a lot of online websites currently functioning in Vietnam, the competition for sites that sell globally recognised brands is limited. Despite the fact that there are many regulations currently in place, the Ministry of Industry and Trade has realised the economic potential and has decided to spend more time promoting ecommerce. They have initiated numerous training programmes, as well as launched several of their own enterprises geared at vamping up the market. Currently, some of the most widely used websites are Leflair, Hotdeal, Lazada, Muachung and Chotot. However, as entrepreneurs become more educated, and more expats integrate into Vietnamese markets, we can expect an increase in competition as well. Those who survive will be the ones that keep one step ahead of the game. Ecommerce requires a depth of technological insight and a marketing savvy both online and off. Social media is clearly another key component to success and it will, in my opinion, make or break future ecommerce sites.

What’s Next?

There is no debate that this is a booming industry. However, it is difficult to predict the direct effect it will have upon the retail market scene. Will they evolve together, or will online shopping steal the crown? Perhaps ecommerce will be a way for local independent designers to platform their designs and avoid the ridiculous rental prices in prime shopping areas. Whatever the outcome, it certainly rings true that everything digital is advancing, and taking place of more antiquated industrial avenues.

Sources: Thanh Nien News, AmCham Vietnam, The Saigon Times, Vietnam News
Header photo by: Robbert Noordzij

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