When you are in Hanoi you might ask yourself, “What should I buy in Hanoi that will be a real bargain?” or “What can I buy as a special and unique gift or souvenir?”
So here are some ideas for shopping and my small suggestions for visitors who would like to buy something really special for themselves and their friends, or family.
1. Shopping in Hanoi – Lacquer, and Lacquer Paintings
Lacquer is the sticky resin that comes from the sơn tree. There is a style of lacquer painting unique to Vietnam is known as sơn mài. The lacquer finish is applied to all sorts of Shopping in Hanoi with Lacquer and lacquer paint decorative and useful objects – vases, boxes, trays, ‘Bento’ boxes, tableware, as well as paintings. Sometimes other things such as eggshell or gold leaf are added to give more decoration to the deep lacquer finish.
The sơn mài or lacquer paintings are available in the traditional Asian/Chinese style but also in more modern pieces. Lacquer has a unique and deep, rich warm colour and a sheen that only comes from rubbing and polishing by hand. It is also quite robust and can be used for everyday items (although it is certainly not dishwasher-proof!).
Hanoi has many shops selling lacquerware items and many galleries that specialise in the ‘Sơn Mài’ paintings. You can buy lacquer products in the Hanoi Old Quarter – in and around Hang Manh, Hang Hom and Hang Trong streets There is also a traditional village for lacquer products close by to Hanoi – ‘Ha Thai’ village – where they produce many high-quality lacquer items for export. This is a great place for a day trip and for you to buy lacquer. Maybe all you need to do is rent a car or a ‘Xe Om’ (motorbike taxi) to go to the village and browse around by yourself. Or maybe you might like a guide to go with you to visit the village and then you will be able to talk to people there.
2. Shopping in Hanoi – Pottery and Ceramics
Vietnam has a long history of producing high-quality and beautiful ceramics and pottery. The dark blue glaze that became famous in pottery such as ‘Delft’ pottery came from this part of the world. Still today Vietnam produces some unique pieces of pottery. Bat Trang village is a traditional craft village on the banks of the is a very good place to buy pottery and ceramic products.
There are all sorts of shops, studios, and a small market specialising in pottery. You can either join a group tour or rent a car or a ‘Xe Om’ transport. You can do a half day in Bat Trang village if you go on Monday and Friday. Otherwise, you can find a number of pottery shops in Hang Hom street in the Old Quarter.
3. Shopping in Hanoi – Silk and Embroidery
Vietnam makes beautiful silk. From the rustic hand-loomed silks of the ethnic minority peoples to some of the most delicate silk embroidery, you can find on the planet. You can buy silk clothes, scarves, lamps, sleeping-bag liners(believe it or not!), bedspreads, duvet covers, and embroidered items. You can buy painted silk, printed silk, or patterned silk with traditional and modern designs and decorations. A silk gift is light and easy to transport home.
In Hanoi, Hang Gai (silk street) is named for that reason, and there are many silk shops along this busy road…or turn left into Hang Trong. But one of the best places to go is Van Phuc Silk Village, which (thanks to urban development) is now really an outer suburb of Hanoi. Here you can find all kinds of silk items, as well as silk fabric. If you stick your head around the corner you can usually get a glimpse of the various stages of silk production. If you want to visit Van Phuc village, it is not far from central Hanoi (around 12km) so you can easily get there by taxi or Xe Om.
Hanoi is also famous for silk embroidery. Close to Hanoi is Khoai Noi village, in Thang Loi commune, Thuong Tin district. But it is also easy for you to buy embroidery in the Old Quarter … such as in Ly Quoc Su street and Hang Gai street. Quoc Su Gallery (http://quocsu.com/service.html) has many hand-embroidered silk paintings. Tan My Silk (www.tanmyembroidery.com.vn) is a world-renowned family company of three generations selling all kinds of silk embroidered items.
4. Shopping in Hanoi – ‘Do’ paper and the Dong Ho Painting Village.
‘Do’ ( Zo) paper is made from the bark of the ‘Do’ tree – a wild plant that was often found around local riverbanks. But nowadays it is difficult to find around Hanoi. It was used popularly for many years before modern paper production was invented. It is difficult to buy ‘Do’ paper now. These days ‘Do’ paper is mostly used to make cards, paintings in the ‘Dong Ho’ village, watercolours, and bamboo-bound notebooks.
Dong Ho Village is located on the southern side of the Duong river (about 40km to the east of Hanoi). Here they carry out the traditions of making the Do paper and printing traditional woodblock prints.
The printing paper is made from the bark of the “Do” tree. The background paper is originally white but then coloured with natural materials. The final colours of orange, pink, yellow, and purple, are created by using various kinds of tree leaves that can be easily found in Vietnam. The deep red colour is taken from earth of local hills. The black colour is from the ash of burned bamboo leaves; the glittering white colour is made of crushed sea shells. Finally, the painting is covered with a layer of sticky rice paste (called “ho nep”) to protect the paintings and their colours.
Dong Ho paintings are printed by hand using carved wooden blocks. The black outlines are printed last. These charming folk prints make great gifts. Dong ho village is a great day trip that can be reached through a tour or by car/taxi or Xe Om.
5. Shopping in Hanoi – Fashion Clothes, Suits, and ‘Ao Dai’
Hanoi is a great place for fashion and clothes shopping and most shops have clothes in larger sizes. There are lots of ready-made clothes in classic or funky new styles. Men’s and Women’s suits are really good to get tailor-made in Hanoi. You can get clothes copied by showing them the original of a much-loved and favourite item. You can also show them a photo from a magazine or the internet. The quality will almost always be better than the stuff you buy in Hoi An or Bangkok. Especially tailor-made men’s and women’s clothes and suits. I know one place where I often take my friends to get suits made while they are visiting Hanoi.
Mrs Oanh – ‘Phan Nghia and Dao Oanh’ Fashion Garment shop at: 68 Hang Trong street. She has made our friends some wonderful hand-made suits, and the costs start from just around $180 USD –depending on your choice of fabrics.
Ao Dai is the traditional women’s dress in Vietnam. Although it is traditionally Vietnamese, you can also get Ao Dai in many modern and exciting styles. It would be a truly special piece of clothing, especially if you have it made with quality silk. There are a number of to get an Ao Dai made in Hang Gai street at Khai Silk village.
For the ladies, you should definitely drop into Ipa Nima. This world-famous fashion brand was founded by former Hong Kong lawyer Christina Wu. Her handbag and accessory designs are featured in fashion events and venues around the world. Their shop is at 34 Hàn Thuyên, Hoan Kiem District Hanoi, phone (04) 3933 4000.
6. Shopping in Hanoi – Other products
You might want to buy some reproduction propaganda posters from the American war. Or maybe a T-shirt with TinTin, a label such as” I Love Phở” or “I Love Vietnam” or maybe a hat with the Vietnamese star or the Communist Hammer and Sickle.
There is no lack of things to buy in the Hanoi Old Quarter, just strolling around and finding interesting things you love is a great way to spend some time.
Of course, you can also buy all sorts of ‘non-original’ items like sunglasses, sportswear, CDs/DVDs, bags, and clothing.
Useful Tips when you are shopping in Hanoi and the whole of Vietnam.
– Some shops have ‘fixed price’ – usually the more expensive shops. But in most places, you can bargain and negotiate a discount of 20 – 30% from the original quoted price. Remember to have fun and bargain with a smile on your face
– It is better to shop around to check and compare the prices and then select the items you are most interested in.
– Please note: Try to avoid shopping in the early morning because following Vietnamese culture for their business. The first customer that comes into the shop will be very important – it will reflect the mood for the whole day.
Some shopkeepers may be unhappy and sad if you come into the shop and do not say anything (like negotiate prices or ask about their products). So please note that experienced bargain hunters are always polite and friendly with a ready smile and a laugh – especially in the morning.