Shopping in Vietnam
Shopping in Vietnam is a fun and interesting experience, and guarantees good bargains to those who know what to look for. It is true to say that you can find nearly anything in Vietnam. Markets vary from high class shopping malls, supermarkets to bustling open market, galleries, boutiques and street stalls.
It is not recommended that you buy imported, famous branded products such as clothing, perfume or electronics in Vietnam as tax makes these items more costly than neighboring countries.
In terms of shopping for tourists, Vietnam is most famous for its handicrafts, war souvenirs, authentic clothing, art, antiques and gems.
Art and Antiques
Vietnam has very strict regulations about exporting real antiques. Most “antique” and art pieces sold to tourists are fake or copies of the original. Be careful and check your sources for certificates if they claim to sell you an original or antique piece.
If you are in the market for antiques, the best place by far is Hanoi, where replicas as well as the real thing are readily available. Be aware, however, that the Vietnamese are touchy on the export of antiques and if you don’t have the right certification for genuine articles, you may have them confiscated and/or a fine imposed at the airport.
It is always worth keeping receipts, even when the item you have purchased is not antique, to prevent possible seizure at the airport. For those who plan on buying genuine antiques for export, it is wise to contact the Ministry of Culture to ask about permits.
Clothing varies greatly from tourist T-shirts to beaded handbags and traditional ao dai (the traditional costume) made to fit your size. Items made from silk are a popular buy, with prices varying depending on the material and tailor. Pre-made traditional dresses are sold in many places. However, it is more recommended to have the dress made to fit your body, which takes more time and slightly more money.
Shoes, slippers and handbags made from traditional materials (silk and bamboo) can also become unique gifts and accessories.
The Vietnamese traditional conical hat, can be found everywhere throughout the country, but hats made in Hue are most famous as they have a poem embroided on the inside.
Gems and jewelry
Vietnam is rich in gemstones. The jewelry business is also increasing during current years, and sophisticated works are produced by both big businesses and traditional crafstmen. The quality of the gemstones sold is sometimes doubtable, so it is recommended that you buy gems at prestigious locations and be ware with cheap prices.
Most war souvenirs sold today in Vietnam (for example, Zippo lighters engraved with platoon philosophy) are fake reproductions. Be careful while transporting these items as many airlines do not allow weapons, even fakes to be carried on their planes.
Handicrafts are a big seller in Vietnam; raw materials are easy to come by and crafts can be made cheaply at a high quality. Reed mats, embroidery, lacquer painting, made-to-measure ao dai (female national costume), furniture, and mother-of-pearl ornaments are among the best buys. Ho Chi Minh has the best shopping options with excellent clothing choices in the markets.
Nearly all shops and markets in Vietnam are open from early in the morning to late at night every day of the week and they even do not close for lunch. Most shops now accept internationally recognized credit cards. Shops and market accept US dollars and Vietnamese Dong; at markets your change will be returned in Dong. There is no goverment tax on shop purchases.
Remember to bargain
A growing amount of galleries and shopping centers have price labeled on the products and do not allow bargaining. This does not mean that these centers offer the best price and many times a lower price can be obtained for the same product elsewhere, through bargaining. If the price is given to you by word of mouth, it is always necessary to bargain. Shop sellers, especially at tourist attractions, may raise the price from 2-5 times to what the product is actually worth. Early morning is especially not a good time to haggle, as you might be one of the first customers, and shopkeepers might become cranky if you set a bad start to their business day. There is no definite rule on how to bargain and what price they will sell the product at, it also depends a lot on your skill and luck, so have fun!