Shopping can be an interesting, but also a very exasperating experience. So arm yourself with plenty of time and patience and get out there to find the amazing variety of great deals Vietnam has to offer. Do not miss the markets, among the most atmospheric in Southeast Asia and still the hub of commercial activity everywhere in Vietnam. The idea of a fixed pricing system is still quite novel, which means that good-natured haggling is an important habit to develop. Anywhere outside of supermarkets, restaurants and anything controlled by the state, bargaining is probably possible and usually essential.
Local specialties include lacquer painting, carvings (stone & wood), reed mats, embroidery, tailor-made ao dais (female national costume), ceramics painting, and mother-of-pearl inlay on ornaments and furniture, not to mention the ubiquitous conical hat. Hoi An and Saigon are some of the best places in Vietnam to shop for souvenirs at bargain prices including clothes, shoes, silk, precious or semi-precious stones (Jade), jewellery, handicrafts, antiques and paintings. Very good copies can be found, particularly items such as clothes, sports equipment and luggage. Souvenir shops in Hanoi & Saigon offer an incredible collection of genuine imitations of Zippo lighters with war logos, dog tags and other military paraphernalia.
Do be advised that there is no trading standards authority in Vietnam, so check the quality of what you’re buying very carefully, especially if there are safety concerns involved. Don’t expect to get your money back if you change your mind after making a purchase, or even if you realize that the goods you have been sold are not as advertised. Check everything yourself before handing over your money.
Tips to savvy shopping:
- Do always ask around to get an idea of basic prices for common necessities. Fore more important purchases, try and get a local friend to go along with you, or better still, let them do the buying without you
- Don’t feel awkward or rude about bargaining, everyone bargains in Vietnam and you’ll look like a green tourist if you don’t
- Don’t look happy or resigned to paying what you’re asked, always begin by showing your gentle disapproval or saying something like Dat Qua (too expensive)
- Don’t hesitate to walk away if you cannot agree on a price: either they’ll come after you or you’ll find the same thing on sale somewhere else
- Do buy ethnic minority products directly from ethnic minority people if at all possible, rather than from shops run by ethnic majority merchants, who often exploit their suppliers