Traditional Ao Dai Costume
Ao dai, widely regarded as Vietnam’s national costume for women, consists of a long tight-fitted dress that’s worn over slacks in contrasting colours. Although ready-made ao dai can be found in tourist-friendly markets and fashion boutiques, some travellers may require the service of a local tailor to get your costume fitted according to their body type. Hoi An is renowned its professional tailoring services, where you can choose from an extensive collection of fabric and have your very own custom-made aoi dai for about VND 700,000 to VND 1,500,000.
Silk in Vietnam is made from the cocoons of silkworms using manual looms, and comes in a variety of patterns and colours. You can find plenty of fashion boutiques and souvenir shops selling shirts, ties, accessories, and dresses at relatively affordable prices. Unfortunately, counterfeit goods are very common in Vietnam, so the best places for authentic silk products are Hoi An Silk Village and Van Phuc Silk Village (about 10km southwest of Hanoi). A regular Vietnamese silk typically costs VND 70,000 per metre while premium fabrics are priced over VND 100,000 per metre.
Vietnamese coffee beans can be found just about anywhere in Vietnam, from local markets and quaint cafes to shopping malls and international airports. Hanoi is arguably the epicentre of Vietnam’s café culture, where you can get a 1kg bag of whole or ground Robusta beans for about USD4. With numerous branches in Hanoi, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh City, Trung Nguyen is one of the most popular local coffee brands in Vietnam.
Pearl farms are mainly found in coastal locations such as Ha Long Bay and Van Phong Bay, with Saigon Pearls widely known as the best place in Vietnam for authentic pearls and jewellery. Located in Nha Trang, this home-grown brand has several showrooms selling necklaces, bracelets, pendants, earrings, and rings at VND 3,000,000 upwards. If you’re not a fan of pearls, accessories made with gold and colourful gemstones are available as well.
Buying a conical hat may seem novelty, but it’s one of the most practical items for travelling, especially during Vietnam’s downpours and scorching summers. Also known as non la, these hats have been around since the 18th century and are typically handwoven using bamboo, palm leaves, and the bark of Moc trees. Depending on the quality, conical hats sold at souvenir shops cost between VND 30,000 and VND 100,000 while local markets sell them for less than VND 10,000.
Lacquerware is a traditional form of craftsmanship commonly used on furniture, dishes, bowls, vases and paintings, which takes up to four months to produce. There are several galleries along Hang Bac Street in Hanoi and An Dong Craft Market in Ho Chi Minh City selling high quality lacquerware at reasonable prices, many of which depicting mythical creatures and the daily lives of the Vietnamese. Prices typically start at VND 200,000 for a saucer-sized product while lacquer paintings cost VND 2,000,000 upwards.
Hand embroidery in Vietnam often depicts natural scenes and wildlife, though travellers can visit prominent craft centres and embroidery shops to have their very own personalised designs. Our favourite place for quality embroidery is XQ Hand Embroidery in Nha Trang, which specialises in silk apparel and hand-embroidered portraiture. It is built to resemble a Vietnamese village home (complete with a garden courtyard), where you can see locals in traditional clothes working on new pieces around the store. You can purchase a premade item for about VND 500,000, but if you have time, you can also have your portrait embroidered at the shop.
Propaganda posters were used by Ho Chi Minh and the northern Vietnam government in efforts of rallying the troops and raising the spirits of the local population. Often painted on walls, trees and large vehicles during the Vietnam War, these artworks feature colourful imagery and powerful slogans. You can easily find reproductions of propaganda posters in several art galleries along Hanoi’s Hang Bac Street, costing between VND 500,000 and VND 800,000.
Nuoc Cham Sauce
Nuoc cham is Vietnamese for dipping sauces, which are served as condiments with spring rolls, rice and noodle dishes. Available in sweet, savoury, salty and spicy variations, the most popular nuoc cham sauce is made with a mix of lime, sugar, minced garlic, bird’s eye chilis, and fermented fish sauce, called nuoc mam pha. You can easily purchase bottled nuoc cham at local markets all over Vietnam, from Dong Xuan Market Hanoi to Hoi An Central Market.
Snake wine is undeniably common in Vietnam, and is produce by infusing whole snakes (mostly venomous ones) in a glass jar of rice wine. A popular novelty item amongst backpackers, you can find one sold at most markets (Binh Tay Market) and touristy shops for about USD25. Locals believe that drinking snake wine helps increase one’s virility and alleviate rheumatism, though those claims have yet to be verified by professionals.