Monday, October 27, 2008

What to buy when you're in Vietnam

Vietnam has a variety of handmade gifts for amazingly cheap prices. Here's what to look for:

·  Hoi An. Good place to buy original art, including oil and watercolor paintings, $2-up; wood statues, $3; lanterns, $5-up; silk scarves, $6-up; mats, $20-up. Hoi An also has tailor shops that will custom-make a beautiful suit or silk dress in one day for you for about $40 for a suit and $25 for a dress. The 41 Le Loi Fine Arts-Handicraft Workshop even makes its own silk from silkworms.

·  Danang: The Tien Hieu 3 marble shop near Marble Mountain is a tourist shop, but it has good prices on beautiful marble statues and boxes, $8-up, and wood inlay boxes, $2-up.

·  Near Halong Bay: Government-run tourist shops near the bay are overpriced, but clothes are reasonable at $10-up; conical hats, $2-up; lacquerware, $4-up, and teak furniture, $100-up.

·  Saigon and Hanoi: Most tourists will find Hanoi and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) too confusing to do much shopping, because there are thousands of shops on a maze of streets. But if you have time, explore at least a few. Hanoi has designer shops, but most are mom-and-pop-type holes in the wall.

After I lost my hair elastics, I asked my guide to take me to a shop where I could buy some new ones.

The store he stopped at, called Tim!, displayed each individual elastic and barrette on its own, in orderly rows in big glass cases. Three elastics and a barrette cost about $2.

·  Airport shops. Buy a bag of Vietnamese coffee on the way out of the country, about $3. It is smooth, strong and cheap.