There’s lots of great places to do a bit of shopping in Ho Chi Minh City. If you know where to look, you can find some really unique souvenirs to bring home.
I’m not one for regular souvenir shopping. The “I was here…” t-shirts, scenic tea towels, and printed mugs all leave me a bit cold. But I do like to bring home something unique and/or useful that reminds me of previous travels. (Which is also a crucial part of Stage 3 of my method to triple your travel happiness.)
In Saigon, earlier this year, we had plenty of time to wander around the streets and while doing so, discovered some fabulous, unique shops.
43 Ton That Thiep, District 1, HCMC
Tel: +84 8 3821 8019
Saigon Kitsch lives up to its name with a store full of quirky, reasonably-priced souvenir items. There’s fridge magnets of government propoganda posters, a range of ‘Mr Men’ apparel with a distinctly Vietnamese twist (Mr Banh Mi, Mr Cyclo…), t-shirts with interesting designs, notebooks with vintage themes. I bought a protective cover for my iPad, which featured recycled Vietnamese packaging materials. That cover has since protected my iPad through countless baggage checks and flights.
32 Tran Ngoc Dien, Thao Dien, District 2, HCMC
We first came across the gorgeous Amaï ceramics while we were having lunch at The Mach House. They were used there to plate up beautiful meals and they caught our eye. Then, totally by accident, The Poolboy stumbled across the Amaï shop while out for a walk in District 2. So, that gave us an opportunity to purchase some to bring home. (Beautifully packaged, as in the photo above.)
The irregularly-shaped ceramic plates and dishes come in a range of soft pastel colours and are very thin and light weight. Although they give the impression of being delicate, the dishes are fired at 1250 degree Celsius temperature, which actually makes them very strong. In addition to the ceramics, amaï also retails towels, wooden serving boards and stainless steel items.
The Amaï Pinterest page has some great photos of the shop in District 2.
78A Dong Khoi Street, District 1, HCMC
Tel: +84 8 3521 0112 / 0906 958 928
Located on the main tourist shopping strip, Dong Khoi Street, Cincinati has a relatively narrow street frontage that you could easily walk right past. However, walk down the corridor and up the stairs, and a whole floor of genuine leather bags and accessories designed and handcrafted in Saigon will be revealed.
There’s a wide range of very reasonably-priced bags and accessories, in a rainbow of colours. The bags have a distinct and unique style, and are of high quality craftsmanship and good grade of leather.
Born in Saigon
29 Dong Du Street, District 1, HCMC
Tel: + 84 8 3825 1259
We didn’t actually buy anything in this shop…but woah, it was worth a visit. And with a bit more time and planning, The Poolboy may well have been tempted to get a pair of shoes made.
The Dominique Saint Paul collection, which is found in the Born in Saigon store, is a range of high quality mens’ shoes and leather goods, handcrafted out of first-rate materials and (in the case of the shoes) custom-made to order. The leather in the shoes was unbelievably soft. The shoe styles are a combination of traditional lace-ups, buckled and slip-on shoes, in literally any colour imaginable (they can create a custom-coloured leather on demand). The small leather goods collection comprises belts, wallets, business card holders, telephone cases, small bags and cigar cases. The high quality of these products also comes with a relatively high price tag.
The shop itself is stunning, and definitely worth a look.
151/1 Dong Khoi St, District 1, HCMC
Not only does L’Usine have a fabulous Le Cafeteria, which is a great place to pop into for a coffee, lunch, drink or light meal, it also contains a concept store retailing global and Vietnamese fashion, home and gift ware which is inspired by the timeless elegance of the Indochina era. The fit-out of the shop is very classy, and as we’ve been in there multiple times over the Christmas season, I can attest that they do their festive season shop-dressing in a very creative way.
The Mach House
75 Pasteur St, District 1
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/TheMachHouse
Tel: +84 8 3827 3829
Like L’Usine, but on a smaller scale, The Mach House combines a concept store with an upstairs cafe/wine bar. Downstairs, the store features the M.U.K range of Vietnamese designer, Caroline Mach. This Facebook album contains pictures which give an idea of the style of fashion and accessories.
I couldn’t resist having a bit of fun with the mannequin…and yes, I ended up buying the outfit too. That mannequin made my tan look really good, but she out-did me on the red lipstick. 🙂
Cho Ben Thanh
Lê Lợi, Bến Thành, District 1, HCMC
Let’s not dismiss markets and street stalls for some unique shopping experiences. Bến Thành Market is a large marketplace in central Saigon, and the market building is one of the earliest surviving structures in Saigon. Under the market roof you’ll find everything from live seafood, chickens and ducks, scorpion wine, fresh fruit and vegetables, knock-off designer handbags, watches, clothing and shoes, fabrics by the metre, spices, cookware…you name it. The trick is to do a circuitous reconnoitre of the premises first, NOT making eye contact with stall holders, who will all try to entice you to buy from their stall. Once you’ve spotted something you’re interested in, you can start the negotiations over the price (if it is not fixed).
Be warned, negotiations are fierce, the stall holders are pushy, and you will nearly always be ripped off (but once you convert to your own currency, it’s usually by a smallish amount). One time, a stall holder actually slapped The Poolboy as he gave up and walked away from protracted negotiations. On our last visit to HCMC, many more of the stalls had signs saying that the prices were fixed, which should gradually phase out some of the more anti-social behaviour.
If you are staying for any length of time in Saigon, the flower stalls offer incredibly cheap floral displays that can brighten up your hotel room or apartment.
Cho Tan Dinh
48 Ma Lo, Tan Dinh, District 1, HCMC
Tel: +84 4 3820 6662
Remember my story about how a visit to a fabric market turned into an ‘Amazing Race’ type of experience? Well, that story took place at the Tan Dinh Markets in HCMC, which are known as the markets to go to if you’re on the hunt for fabrics of any colour, print, type and description.
Folded lengths of fabrics are piled high on stalls with narrow walkways separating each aisle. It’s an experience, just to work your way through the overwhelming abundance of textiles.
Then, right across the road from the market (on Ha Bai Trung Street) is a strip of fabric stores that are collectively known as ‘Fabric Street’. It’s less chaotic to buy fabric from one of these shops, but the prices inside the market are generally cheaper. (Remember to barter for the best price). We bought metres and metres of fabric for one of Queenie’s fashion project requirements this year, all at a fraction of the cost of buying it in Australia.
Some of the fabric shops specialise in lengths of silk chiffon fabric which are designed to be made up into traditional áo dài (the Vietnamese national costume, most commonly worn by women consisting of a tight-fitting silk tunic worn over pants). These fabrics often have a beautiful border pattern or embroidery along one selvage so that they’re ready to be whipped up into the tunic of the áo dài.
Of course, if you are not that handy with a sewing machine yourself, you can seek out a HCMC tailor to have your chosen fabric made up into exactly what you want. See my earlier post for tips for tailoring in Vietnam.
1st Floor, 68 Le Loi Street, District 1, HCMC
Tel: +84 8 2210 3110
Mekong Creations is a project of the non-government organisation, Mekong Plus, which runs community development programmes in remote villages in Vietnam and Cambodia. Mekong Creations products are handmade by village women from rural areas in Vietnam and Cambodia, using natural and recycled materials wherever possible. From a social perspective, this work allows the women to remain close to home and care for their families, while also earning income.
All profits from products sold are returned to the villages both directly in the form of salaries, and indirectly in funding for community development projects.
The product range includes unique hand crafted household and gift items, including papier mache, silk, bamboo and water hyacinth products, which incorporate traditional arts and crafts techniques with contemporary design features. Mekong Creations also produces items for the luxury French brand Terre D’oc and has permission to sell these designs locally.
A particularly unusual Mekong Creations product is their range of bamboo bikes. There are over 30 frame types in the range (including ones for children), with the most popular being the ‘City Bike’ design.
Bamboo? you say. Would that be strong enough for an off-road bike? Watch this video to find out what happened when the folks at Mekong Creations intentionally tried to destroy a few bikes (even loading one up with three people for a spin around the streets).
My Way Deco
258Ter Dien Bien Phu Street, Ward 7, District 3, HCMC
Tel:+84 8 3932 2068 – 3823 8532
We first visited My Way Deco when they had a shop in Ngyuen Thiep Street, just off Dong Khoi, but when we went to revisit it in January, we were dismayed to find it had gone. However, a bit of Googling and we found that they now have an interior showroom in District 3.
The My Way Deco range of homewares comprises high quality laquer ware and decorative accessories taking inspiration from a ‘Zen-Art Deco’ style. Think, Gatsby-meets-Indochine and you’re in the style ball-park.
There’s everything from gorgeous high-gloss laquer jewellery cases to lamp bases and tea boxes. What we particularly sought out however, was the range of stainless steel and horn serving utensils, which we often use at home (reminding us, every time, of Vietnam).
113 Lê Thánh Tôn, District 1, HCMC
Tel: +84 8 3822 8052
71/1 Mac Thi Buoi, District 1, HCMC
Tel: +84 8 3823 8811
Authentique Home has existed since 1995, with the aim of celebrating and upholding the fine crafts traditions of Vietnam. With two stores and three workshops (pottery, carpentry and textiles) in HCMC, Authentique is helping to preserve the Vietnamese craft heritage, while also expanding it through innovation of new designs and ideas.
The wooden furniture is stunning, and the detail of craftsmanship superb. But we weren’t looking to bring home a table or dresser in our carry-on baggage! However, the espresso sized coffee mugs were perfect to squeeze into the suitcase, and we also bought some other ceramics as gifts. The staff are great at wrapping items for travel, and (if you were considering a piece of furniture, or even just a huge haul of ceramics) international shipping can be arranged.
KhaisilkFlagship store: 107 Dong Khoi Street, District 1, HCMC
Tel: (+84 8) 38291146
Unfortunately, I don’t have photos of any of the Khaisilk shops, but my white Khaisilk kimono-style silk dressing gown is one of my favourite reminders of Saigon (and was a Christmas gift the year we spent Christmas in Hoi An).
Khaisilk started in 1980 with one shop and has grown into a national brand of boutiques, restaurants and hotels. The stores are filled with luscious silk scarves, ties, shirts and blouses, in both traditional designs and more brightly coloured, contemporary styles. There’s also luxurious bedding, leather handbags and accessories.
Vietnam Designers House
161A Hai Ba Trung Street, District 3
This was another shop that we didn’t actually buy anything from, but we were very glad we visited. Vietnam Designers House (there’s one in HCMC, and another in Hanoi) apparently grew out of an idea from Vietnamese designers themselves. It aims to provide both young and more established designers a place to show their collections, and an outlet for marketing and selling their products.
The Vietnam Designers House Pinterest page contains many boards which showcase the work of local designers. It was really interesting to see the types of collections being created by these designers.
Highlands CoffeeHighlands Coffee
To find your nearest one in HCMC: www.highlandscoffee.com.vn
Of course, the perfect daily reminder of a holiday well-spent is the coffee you drink each day back at home. Having acquired a taste for the Highlands coffee ‘traditional’ blend while we were in HCMC, The Poolboy stocked up on bags of beans to bring back to Australia. We did declare these coffee beans on re-entry to Australia, but had had no trouble at all with bringing them through customs and quarantine checks.
Highlands Coffee originated as a packaged coffee business in Hanoi in 2000, but has rapidly expanded into a chain of coffee shops right throughout Vietnam. They offer a range of roasted & ground (or unground) Vietnamese coffee in take-home packs, but do have a sit-down (or takeaway) coffee in one of the stores first to try the coffee before committing to a big bag of beans.
Do you bring home souvenirs of your travels? What do you buy?
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