Spoilt for choice
Hanoi offers superb shopping, from interesting Vietnamese tourist trinkets (or tat, depending on your perspective) through to stunning, world-class art, and almost everything in between: think historic propaganda posters, water puppets, traditional musical instruments, hand-crafted quilts, Bat Trang’s famous ceramics, coffee filters as well as coffee … the list is long. Buy that extra baggage allowance!
Shopping locations in Hanoi vary widely too, from traditional markets and jam-packed holes in the wall, through to glass-fronted boutiques and air-conditioned malls. Consider the following merely an introduction to get you hunting. Places come and go, though some have been around for a few generations.
For your basic tourist souvenirs, such as T-shirts, flags, silk scarves, lanterns, fridge magnets and so on, Old Quarter is packed to the gills with little shops. Prices may be marked or not; if they aren’t, you may haggle, remembering to keep it friendly and fun for the best results. In general, offer half the asking price; then expect to meet the vendor around half way between the two. One unusual item to keep an eye out for that we like are personalised stamps, an ideal gift for that someone who seemingly has everything.
Old Quarter’s Hang Gai, or Silk Street, is the place to head for good-quality silk and tailors. In particular along this stretch, you’ll find Tan My Design, one of the most beautiful standalone shops in Hanoi, its plate-glass frontage giving a glimpse of the treasures within its two storeys. Here you’ll find silk as well as a range of higher-end souvenirs. Opened in 2009, it's a genuine emporium, boasting an excellent selection of jewellery, clothes, lacquerware and tableware. Many of the items here have been created by some of Vietnam’s best designers. There’s an in-house cafe if you need a break (though to be honest our pick would be somewhere else Old Quarter with more atmosphere). Prices are quite high and fixed, so this is not for the bargain hunter.
Established in 1969 at 66 Hang Gai across the road, parent shop Tan My Embroidery has spanned three generations and sells hand-made embroidered clothing, homewares and accessories. The story goes that during the war years Madam Bach started to embroider pillow cases and messages from loved ones on handkerchiefs, which soldiers carried with them throughout the war. Today’s business is now run by her daughter, Huong, and granddaughter, Thuy Linh, with the focus still on high-quality embroidered items.
If you have a taste for high-end fashion, and a generously sized wallet, Thuy Design House has stunning ao dais amid its other lovely designer offerings. It's worth a look for something special, with Western sizes.
Vietnam’s war-era propaganda posters are a popular souvenir and for good reason. The posters were painted to help rally the North Vietnamese troops and raise spirits; the printing of them continued for about a decade after the end of the war. The bold images, powerful messages and strong use of colour make them both historically interesting and aesthetically pleasing—they are increasingly recognised as works of art. During the war, paper and ink were in short supply and presses practically non-existent, so work was often painted or reproduced on buildings, trucks and trees. Originals are rare, but picking up a reproduction is easy.
For a good selection, try Thanh Long Gallery at number 16 Hang Bac Street. They also sell originals, but you’re getting into four-figure price tags at this point. A sprinkling of other shops throughout Old Quarter also sell them; if full-size posters are outside your budget, postcards should fit the bill instead. Shops selling posters will roll them and provide cardboard tubes for safe and easy transportation home.
If you’re interested in browsing and perhaps snapping up some original Vietnamese art, see our information on galleries. If what you’re looking for, well, doesn’t need to be original, Hanoi has you covered as well. The Old Quarter is littered with art shops selling life-size copies of a wide range of artists’ work, from Van Gogh to Da Vinci to Klimt. These aren’t prints but rather freshly painted by talented copy artists whom you can often see tracing and painting away in the shops. They’re generally sold off the frame for ease of transport, and cost anything from a few dollars up.
Textiles in Vietnam can be so exquisite as to pretty much be considered art. We adore Mekong Quilts (previously Vietnam Quilts) on Hang Bac, where you’ll find a stunning array of hand-crafted quilts, scarves, children’s toys and much more. They take credit cards, so consider yourselves warned. Quilts and Arts is a bit harder to get to, with outlets on To Ngoc Van in Tay Ho and Doi Can Street (and also way out in Hung Yen), and has a similar range of items. Both are social enterprises, helping women and disabled people respectively to learn a skill and make a living. Craft Link on Van Mieu by the Temple of Literature is another good socially responsible choice. This not-for-profit, fair trade organisation aims to help traditional craft producers revive their culture. They offer clothes, as well as lacquerware, ceramics, bamboo items, lamps and textiles like cushions and table runners. Again, prices are higher than similar products in the Old Quarter, but here the quality is high, and the source is definitely Vietnam (some mass-produced stuff will actually be made in China.
It's hard to characterise some shops as they stock such a varied range of items; Vietnamese House falls into this category, with an array of beautiful textiles, jewellery, candles and essential oils. We particularly liked the jewellery here. Then there are the more antique-y sort of places, like delightful Thai-Hoa art and souvenirs on Hang Bo. You've really got to look to unearth the treasures at cluttered old shops like these.
For high-end lacquerware, Hanoia is the place to go, with five locations spread across the city, including 87 Ma May and Hoa Lo Prison (yes, that seemed a little odd to us, too). The company began in 1997 in Binh Duong province in a village specialising in lacquer since the 14th century. They have been super-successful, supplying high-end European fashion houses with items like sandals and jewellery. It’s stunning stuff, with price tags to match.
For a wide variety of ceramics, check out Oriberry on Au Trieu. Many of the items are from Bat Trang and while you can of course spend a half-day getting out to Bat Trang yourself, if you’re just keen on picking up some of Vietnam’s distinctive blue and white pieces, it’s just as easy to pop in here. Prices are comparable, and you can have some very good coffee while you’re at it. Or try a coffee at Loading T, and peek into the shop behind, where you’ll find a lovely collection of unusual ceramics.
Elsewhere along Au Trieu and adjacent Nha Tho are particularly worth a browse for its clothes, jewellery and homewares boutiques, a step up from the usual Old Quarter stuff. We liked Ao Chan Bong for its little pouffes and colourful cushions.
Bookworm behind the Hanoi Cooking Centre near Tay Ho, is the place to go for books, including a good range for children. They claim to be the “best little book cafe in Southeast Asia” and while this might be arguable, it’s definitely worth a stop. The cool, tidy interior is modestly sized but a pleasant spot for browsing. The choice of more than 10,000 new and used English-language books ensures you won’t go away empty handed. Refreshments are available in the courtyard garden which separates the book shop from the cooking centre.
When it comes to clothes, Hanoi isn’t the best place for Westerners to find everyday items, but there are certainly some options. For T-shirts, check out Papaya and Ginkgo, Vietnamese T-shirt brands with outlets in Hanoi and across the country. Their designs are a bit more stylish than your usual street-side find, and the quality’s good, while their XL size really is extra large. You’ll find long-sleeved options too, perfect for Hanoi’s chilly winter. One of Papaya’s outlets is right next to the entrance to Cafe Pho Co, so tie in a visit with an egg coffee with a view.
Keep an eye out too for Made in Vietnam, sprinkled all across Hanoi. In theory they sell factory seconds of brand-name clothes made in Vietnam for export, but as you may expect in Vietnam, they’re not all authentic. Stock is variable across locations and from day to day; they get what they can, when they can, but if you’re lucky you’ll manage to snag a bargain.
NinoMaxx at 10 Hang Dao has mostly Vietnamese-style clothing, but may stock some larger sizes, including shirts that won’t rip like the Incredible Hulk’s when you reach for a beer. Old Quarter's Hang Bong is also home to a number of sports shops, including Adidas, Puma and Reebok, in case you’re going for the sporty look. If budget’s no option, then head to Vincom for a gleaming modern mall with all the usual international brand name stuff, or further out west near the Australian embassy, Korean-owned Lotte Centre (and pop up to the observation deck while you’re there, though it’s not cheap). In both malls you’ll find international brands, but expect to pay a premium on what you might pay in Western countries. Be warned that sizes still tend to stop at smaller than in the West, and styles are limited. Three-storey Hang Da market is the place to head for secondhand clothes. We can’t guarantee you’ll find much in larger sizes but the petite among you might have some luck.
Another option of course is to get something whipped up using a tailor. Try one of the ones along Hang Gai, but there are other options. We had a good experience with Vintage Boutique in West Lake, which has a cute range of women’s vintage-style dresses, shirts, skirts and pants (some real vintage, some not). If you don’t fit into what’s on the rack, they’ll whip you up a version using their fabrics (we paid 300,000 dong each for our dresses). Nearby Clom’s Closet also has a tasteful range of more neutral clothes, with a tailor also available for creations and alterations. Pretty much any tailor will do a reasonable job; if you’re getting a few items made, it’s best to try just a piece to begin with to make sure you’re happy with the quality. (If you’re heading to Hoi An, perhaps hold off for their renowned tailors instead.)
Aside from boutiques and malls, Hanoi’s a city full of markets worth exploring, some for just having a look and others useful for souvenirs. For cheapo traditional Vietnamese coffee filters, for instance, head to the kitchenware shops on the outskirts of Don Xuan market; inside you’ll find local-style clothes and dry goods galore, which are worth browsing but perhaps not too fruitful for purchases.
Food markets can be found all over town as despite the growth of the supermarket, most shopping is still conducted at local wet markets and neighbourhood shops. Among the most accessible is the market along Phuong Hung Street, a good place to go if you want fresh fruit—the price will be lower than from the street vendors but still make sure you negotiate. Chau Long, at the junction of Chau Long and Nguyen Truong To, is also worth a visit if you're near Truc Bach. Cho Hom, on Pho Hue near the junction of To Hien Thanh, has a particularly wide range of food in the wet market downstairs, plus a good cloth market on the upper floor.
It’s worth checking out Quang Ba Flower Market too, a bit of a trip out on Au Co Street, to the north of West Lake, and best during the early hours of the morning—as in after midnight—but worth it for the colour, even if you’re not buying.
The pedestrianised Dong Xuan night market, running along Hang Ngang and Dong Xuan streets, from the junction with Hang Bac right up to Dong Xuan market, is another good spot for a browse during the evenings, Fridays to Sundays. The target market is more local than tourist, but the vibe is buzzy and you can graze while you wander.
Finally, if you want to go home totally prepared to hand over some gifts, head to Hang Ma to find wrapping paper and cards to prep it all before your departure. Happy shopping!
Ao Chan Bong: 10 Au Trieu, Hoan Kiem; T: (098) 326 0187; https://www.facebook.com/pg/tiemaochanbong/; open daily 09:30-19:00.
Bookworm: 44 Chao Long, Ba Dinh; T: (04) 3715 3711; http://bookwormhanoi.com/; open daily 09:00-19:00.
Clom's Closet: 31A Xuan Dieu St, Tay Ho; T: (04 3718 8233); https://www.facebook.com/Cloms-Closet.
Craft Link: 43–51 Van Mieu; T: (04) 3733 6101; http://www.craftlink.com.vn/.
Dong Xuan Market: Bordered by Nguyen Thien Thuat, Cao Thang, Hang Khoai and Tran Nhat Duat; open daily 06:00-19:00.
Ginkgo: 3 locations, including 44 Hang Be, Hoan Kiem; T: (024) 3926 4769; http://ginkgo-vietnam.com/; open daily 08:00-22:00.
Hang Da Market: Cnr Hang Da and Yen Thai; open daily 05:00-17:00.
Hanoia: Several locations, but main store at 38 Hang Dao, Hoan Kiem; T: (024) 3710 0819; http://hanoia.com/.
Lotte Centre: 54 Lieu Giai St, Ba Dinh; T: (024) 3333 2500; https://www.lotteshopping.com.vn/; open daily 09:30-22:00.
Mekong Quilts: 13 Hang Bac, Hoan Kiem; T: (04) 3926 4831; http://www.mekong-quilts.org.
NinoMaxx: Several locations, including 10 Hang Dao St, Hoan Kiem; T: (0948) 840 808; www.ninomaxx.com.vn.
Oriberry: 36 Au Trieu, Hoan Kiem; T: (0977) 799 911; http://oriberry.com/.
Papaya: 30 Hang Be and 11 Hang Gai, Hoan Kiem ; T: (http://papaya-tshirt.com/; open daily 09:00-21:00/09:00-22:00.
Quilts and Art: 31/343 Doi Can Street, Ba Dinh and 53 To Ngoc Van, Tay Ho; T: (04) 3762 2214; http://www.quiltsandart.com.
Tan My Design: 61 Hang Gai, Hoan Kiem; T: (04) 3938 1154; www.tanmydesign.com; open daily 08:00-20:00.
Tan My Embroidery: 66 Hang Gai, Hoan Kiem; www.tanmydesign.com; open daily 08:30-19:00.
Thai-Hoa Art-Souvenir: 42 Hang Bo St, Hoan Kiem.
Thanh Long Gallery: 16 Hang Bac St, Hoan Kiem.
Thuy Design House: 9 Trang Tien St, Trang Tien, Hoan Kiem; T: (024) 3937 8323; http://www.thuydesignhouse.com/; open daily 09:00-21:00.
Vietnamese House: 92 Hang Bac St, Hoan Kiem; T: (04) 3826 2455.
Vincom: 191 Ba Trieu St, Hai Ba Trung; T: (0243) 974 1919; http://vincom.com.vn/vi/tttm/vincom-center-ba-trieu-ha-noi; open daily 09:30-22:00.
Vintage Boutiquer: 17 Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho; T: (043) 718 4139.
Samantha Brown is a reformed news reporter. She now edits most of the stuff you read on Travelfish.org, except for when you find a typo, and then that's something she wasn't allowed to look at.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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