Hanoi has little in the way of high-end shopping, but there are many small shops selling local crafts and manufactured items. The "Old Quarter", also known as "36 Old Streets", is a good place to explore as well as shop. The "36 Streets" name for the district comes from the thirteenth century, when Hanoi's 36 guilds each had their own street. This is why, if you translate the street names of this area, you get "Silk Street", "Silver Street" and so on. You can't rely on the old guild separations any more, but you can still find plenty of silk, silver, lacquer and other crafts in the Old Quarter.
If local handicrafts are what you're after, then 'the' place to go is Craft Link. Craft Link is a Vietnam based non-profit organization that acts in the interests of traditional craft producers. Products in the shops are purchased directly from the craftsmen and profits are used to fund development activities such as business training, product development and marketing.
If you're particularly enthusiastic about quality textiles, clothes and handicrafts, shopping in Hanoi will not disappoint.
The city also has a good range of day and night markets, both indoors and outdoors and you'll find that night markets are more of a social than shopping occasion but that doesn't preclude finding bargains at night.
There's a good arts scene alive in Hanoi and let's face it; in a city this size with a shopaholic population you're going to find a lot to buy but under less stressful conditions than frenetic Ho Chi Minh City.
Try to master key Vietnamese words such as "Bao nhiêu tian"? (How much is this? – pronounced: bow nyu thien) and "Dat quá". (Too expensive! – daht quah). When you are given an initial price try a few "Oi Gioi Oi’s" (Oh my God! – pronounced: oi zoy oi) and you'll find things will go a lot better. Remember – keep things lighthearted.
There are a good number of these in Hanoi, often dealing in silk creations catering to Hanoi's Beautiful people. However, tourists also buy ao dai's (Vietnamese traditional long dresses) to fit their size. Many young local designers cleverly mix Vietnamese and western styles which make the Vietnamese fashion industry even more attractive.
A couple of good designer boutiques are: Khai Silk, 96 Pho Hang Gai Tel: +844 825 4237; La Boutique and the Silk 6 Pho Nha Tho. Tel: +844 928 5368.
Ethnic Minority Products
Vietnam has more ethnic minority groups than any other Asian country (about 54). Most of them hail from mountain villages in the north.
Each has their own style and colors of clothing, with distinctive embroidery and weaving patterns.
With the surge of tourism, many of their handicrafts and clothes are now sold in craft shops, especially in Hanoi.
If there's one thing Hanoi has no shortage of it is art galleries and most are conveniently located in the old quarter. Young hopeful artists make full use of Hanoi's many private art galleries – most situated on Pho Trang Tien, between Hoan Kiem Lake and the Opera House.
Typically the galleries are open until 21:00 and bargaining is expected.
Hanoi's ethnic greetings cards, watercolor and folk paintings, bamboo-bound notebooks and vogue table lamps are all made with 'Do' paper (rice paper) made from the bark of the Do Tree.
Rice paper cards with embroidered squares cost around $2, bamboo bound notebooks $1.50 and hemp covered notebooks, from $2. Shops along Hang Gai and Hang Bac Street sell rice-paper products.
Hang Gai, or Silk Street, is the best place to shop for silk in Hanoi. Located on the edge of the Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake, Hang Gai consists of two or three blocks of small shops that all specialize in silk and embroidery. The merchandise at the various stores is similar but the prices, selection and service vary.
Souvenirs in Hanoi
T-shirts, bandanas, wall hangings, tribal handicrafts and weavings – they're all to be had downtown old quarter Hanoi.
You'll have to be willing to use your bargaining skills in most of these shops and stalls to get prices down.
Air-conditioned Hanoi Moment (101 Hang Gai Street) comes highly recommended above the sometimes grimy street markets.
There are so many natural woods that this results in a broad range of handicraft products in Hanoi. These are transformed into carvings, statuettes, chopsticks and boxes.
Look out too for water puppet figurines, hand-carved for centuries in traditional artisan villages. All these are available in countless souvenir shops in the Old Quarter.
You'll find everything under the sky for sale at Dong Xuan Market. If you've ever been to Ben Thanh Market in Saigon, this is Hanoi's equivalent. There are silk bags here for less than US$10 here. A three-storey market located in the Old Quarter, 900m north of the Hoan Kiem Lake.
There are around Dong Xuan Market morphs into a night bazaar at the weekend. This is much more a social occasion than a shopping one and if you are seriously looking after bargains with little time to spare perhaps this is not the best destination. Be wary of pickpockets.
What to buy in Vietnam?
A good shopping session in Vietnam might start off with clothing, especially tailored suits and dresses made from quality fabrics including silk. Many women tourists also buy ao dai to fit their size.
These are the traditional Vietnamese long blouse and pants made in light, float, material, and perfect for warm weather.
Many young local fashion designers have learned to take inspiration from both Vietnamese and Western styles, making their designs more attractive.
What to Buy?
Traditional conical Vietnamese hats can be found everywhere, as well as such unique gifts as slippers, shoes, and handbags made from traditional materials like silk and bamboo. For those who love handicrafts, it is easy to find beautiful items such as lacquer ware, vases, trays, rosewood boxes, wood-block prints, oil or watercolor paintings, blinds made from bamboo, reed mats, carpets, ceramics and leather work. For more valuable items such as art, antiques and jewelry, you should know that some of these are subject to regulations governing the export of antiques. Ask the dealer about this.
Also, when buying really expensive items, get an expert to certify whether the item you plan to buy is a genuine antique or an imitation; copy “antiques” are not uncommon in the Vietnamese market. As for jewelry, although Vietnam is rich in gemstones, this does not mean they are cheap, so be suspicious of “special” deals. It is wise to shop for such items only at highly recommended outlets – the last thing you need is to pay large sums for colored glass.
How to Buy?
Experienced visitors to Vietnam recommend always driving a hard bargain when shopping in this country. Hard does not mean aggressive, however. The trick is to bargain with a smile and to be polite – this way, you will probably get what you want at a price with which you and the dealer are both happy. If you have time to spare, it is always wise to compare products and prices; don’t just buy the first item you see in the first shop.
Many people will also tell you that buying from street vendors is cheaper than buying in malls or markets, but this is not always the case, so shop around. It is better to take your time and enjoy searching for good Vietnamese souvenirs and gifts for your family and friends.
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