Buying souvenirs is always a bit of a bore but invariably a necessary one. After a long bout of traveling you will not want to go home empty handed, but choosing the perfect gift for each person on your list can prove difficult, especially with so many repetitive stands often selling identikit stuff. So, where is the best place to pick up presents for pals back home?
The shops in and around Hoan Kiem Lake are great if you want something that says: “This is Vietnam,” at a reasonably low cost. Fridge magnets, shot glasses, chopsticks, pop-up cards, and postcards are available anywhere from 20,000 to 80,000 VND.
These trinkets, oft decorated with classic pictures of women in conical hats or celebrated figures such as dragons, make for fun, easily affordable gifts. You can pick up cutesy woolen dolls from Viet Craft Bazaar, which go from cheap to the slightly more pricey depending on the quality and level of craftsmanship you desire. It is a great area if you want to buy lots of items at speed.
For aunts, uncles and close friends you might want to go mid-range, and you can find gorgeous coconut bowls at most souvenir shops in the Old Quarter. These bowls are both decorative and useful. The colorful bowls have beautiful cut pieces of ceramic, painted and inlaid into the shell of this exotic fruit (or is it a nut?).
If you want to go all out, why not make a complete set with a couple of bowls (60,000-80,000 VND), two pairs of chopsticks (40,000-80,000 VND), some woven placemats (60,000-150,000 VND) and coasters (30,000 VND) to make a full dining set for a loved one to enjoy a taste of Hanoi back home. For the coasters we recommend the ceramic ones from Artbook on Dinh Tien Street; though they are more expensive (about 60,000 VND) they are also longer lasting and better designed than the more generic ones.
Another cheapish option is to get wood, copper, rubber or stone ink stamps made on Cau Go Street. These can be made a simple animal and the name of the person you want to give to the stamp to (from 80,000 VND), or if you are willing to invest a little extra time, money and effort, they can make excellent personalized stamps from a small photograph of a friend or loved one (from 180,000 VND). They even do them for couples, should you be in to the whole two-birds-with-one-stone thing. A stamp made from a personal photo will take about two hours to make at the most, but make sure you invest in some red quick ink because, oddly, the stamp shop does not actually sell the ink.
After dinner, your recipients might just be in the mood for some traditional Vietnamese coffee. Go to one of the many shops in the Old Quarter that sell coffee beans (100,000-300,000 VND for a good sized bag). There is an array of choice, but of course the most popular is the famous Weasel brew, which has been digested by a live animal for extra flavor! Purchase a few Vietnamese metal coffee percolators so people can get high on the aroma of a strong cup of the black stuff when back home. If you want to go a little fancier, try one of the beautifully decorated ceramic coffee percolators.
Another wonderful option is to buy some traditional handmade wooden water-puppets. These are absolutely beautiful and have a small piece of string at the back that sets them in motion, a small one costs about 125,000 VND but the larger ones can start to enter the expensive range hitting around 700,000 VND. These are unique to Vietnam, ooze charm and are one of Chào‘s absolute favorite souvenirs, and are bound to be a particular hit for anyone that has ever seen a traditional water puppet show in Vietnam.
Another spot for those seeking something truly original is Tired City art shop. They sell original shirts (500,000 VND), posters (235,000-345,000 VND), and a few other artful knick-knacks. The art is a mix of traditional and modern Vietnamese. All of the items are designed by local Hanoian artists and 10% of the proceeds go directly back to the artists. This shop is a great way to step away from the monotonous souvenir buys and find something that really stands out.
Take a walk around the shops near Hoan Kiem Lake or enjoy the night market there on the weekend and you are sure to find the perfect gift for each of your tribe back home. You can expect to spend as little as 30,000 VND for little trinkets and up one 1 million VND for that really special gift. Do not be afraid to haggle, as it is generally the custom in Vietnam that prices are not set in stone. Now go on, get shopping.
11A Phố Báo Khánh, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm
+84 24 6270 2900
53 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
+84 024 32668538
Viet Craft Bazaar
5 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
+84 (0)969 617 698
84 Cao Go Street, Old Quarter, Hanoi
+84 (0)913 084 162