Sometimes shopping can be the best part of travelling. Sifting through souvenirs, taking home new things and trying on fun clothes that you may never have seen yourself wearing before, Hanoi Vietnam is no let down. Form markets to souvenir stores, Hanoi has it all on offer.
Guide to shopping in Hanoi
Masks are a traditional part of the Vietnamese culture and faces painted onto bamboo trays represent the characters played out in the traditional theatres. Each basket or face represents a very specific emotion and can be quite enchanting. Masks are distinguishable by colours ie, white for women or educated urban men, red for men of the military and kids are represented by dark red colours. These masks can be fun to take home and make a great souvenir for friends and family.
Another popular trade in Hanoi is that of embroidery. Handmade quilts are beautifully designed here and represent animal scenes, village life as well as simple imagery. So much work has gone into each of these special masterpieces that once almost cannot believe that they are not just simply painted. The most famous of embroidery stores is the one in which Hillary Clinton made purchase. Tan My Embroidery lies at 66 Hang Gai and is the oldest embroidery store in Hanoi.
Although the Chinese are famous for their porcelain art, the Vietnamese too have made a history in this ceramic masterpiece. A gift like this for anybody is a fine treasure to keep as the ceramics come in the shapes of bowls, teapots and other fine forms. The designs are borrowed not only from China, but from Vietnamese culture as well as Cambodia, India and Champa.
The process of applying laquer or the varnish from a tree has become a collectors dream as people seek out lamps, paintings and crockery. This natural cashew varnish has been applied to many items to give it a finish that is simply beautiful. Pieces are layered up to 15 times in the resin and can take almost 3 months to complete the intensive process. These items have been the talking points of many a dinner party and remain a much loved souvenir from a wonderful holiday.
The Dong Xuan Market is one of the oldest and largest markets in Hanoi, and certainly carries the title of the most vibrant. Built in 1889 and then rebuilt in 1994 after a fire ripped through it, this was once the busiest trading areas in Vietnam. Today it covers an expansive 600 square metres and sells anything and everything. Be it that you are looking for a new bicycle helmet? Or perhaps a handbag with a designers name on it? This market sells it all, including soup and art, tour packages and even souvenirs and food items. As you walk the rows of traders you can expect to hear much bargaining and bantering as prices are set. You will find this market in the Old Quarter on the corner of Pho Dong Xuan and Pho Hang Khoai.
If you are looking for fine materials and silks, then the ultimate place to be is the van Phuc Village. Here you will find everything from raw materials to silk scarves and beautiful clothing. Originally the prices here were super cheap and traders could tell you exactly what you needed and how much before you went off to a tailor. Unfortunately the tailors realised this and stepped up their game, which meant the traders had to up their prices. Although the selections are still fantastic, the prices are now pretty average. The draw card however is that these items are spun on traditional looms right in the very households you see before you. The majority of this village is involved in some process of the material trade. You will find this market about 30 minutes outside of Hanoi on the Nhe Thi River banks. The villagers are out selling their wares every day except Sundays.
If you are into ceramics and little statuettes, then you simply cannot miss out on Bat Trang.
Here you will find a remarkable array of trinkets and ceramics to take home. From colourful vases to candle holders, this place offers a wide selection. And for the particularly arty, why not design your own ceramic. Many of the actual ceramics are now imported so it you want something specifically from Bat Trang, look underneath to make sure it has the Bat Trang stamp on it – if not then it has been imported. Bat Trang is located about 9kn’s after the Chuong Duon bridge just a short little drive from the centre of Hanoi.
The Old Quarter is made of a total of 36 streets that are well known for being incredibly challenging to navigate. Commerce has been going on here for over 1000 years and even thought so much has changed, so much has stayed the same. Now7 a popular tourist spot not only for its beautiful architecture, but also for its shopping, restaurants and nightlife. The items for sale are categorically organised so you will see streets called ‘Hang’ followed by a name. This literally means ‘merchandise’ and whatever name follows is what is sold in that street. There are also some fantastic bars in this area if you are out for a night tipple.
If you are an avid collector of contemporary art then Hanoi has a treat for you. In The Old Quarter you will find the Green Palm Gallery which since 1996 has been home to some of the best collections of contemporary Vietnamese art. The gallery is permanent although there are a few exhibitions. Be it that you are there to purchase or simply there to browse, the staff are welcoming and are only too happy to show you around. The gallery is open daily from 8am to 8pm.
Another popular place to purchase art would be the Manzi Art Space on 14 Phan Huy Ich street. Here you will find authentic pieces by local up and coming artists hoping for their big break. Manzi Art Space also offers book reading evenings as well as musical shows and film screenings.
For more unique art items you should visit 54 Traditions. This place offers handcrafted objects from the 54 peoples of Vietnam and is spread out over 4 floors of viewing. The items for sale here are rich in culture, created in love and certainly one of a kind. The owners of the gallery are more than happy to show you around as well as give you the full ethnic tour.
Of course all of the markets will sell clothing as well as fake brands and the best of commercial merchandise. But if you are looking for something specifically Vietnamese then visit the two Ipa-Nima outlets on St. Josephs Street and in Ho Chi Minh City. With humble beginnings in 1997, this brand has taken off around the world and is well known for its funky7 creations and interesting ranges. Nothing here is conventional nor is it to be found at any other common store. This is definitely a must stop for the budding fashionista in you.
For other unique clothing items, visit Khai Silk on 26 Nguyen Street. Here you will find the finest quality silk items as well as a few other things like suits and hand bags as well as household items and accessories. The difference between this store and all the others though is not just the quality, it is the elegance of the items that they have available for purchase. You can also purchase traditional garments here to take home as souvenirs.
Being such a tourist city, most major credit cards are accepted at the retail stores. Be prepared to barter, as some items can be quite pricey but retailers can spot a tourist a mile away and prices will be higher for you than for a local. Hanoi offers such a variety of items on sale that it really is hard to know where to even start. From household thing s you never though you would buy, to the finest of silks and embroidery and even a little art and decor – Hanoi has it all just waiting for you to come and get it.