VIETNAM FOR SHOPPERS
Prized as being among the best in Asia, the handicrafts and jewelry made by ethnic minorities in Vietnam are exquisite. Local markets and Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are good places to shop. However, Hoi An, with its amazing array of lacquerware, clothing, and crafts, is the ultimate shopper’s paradise.
Vietnam is renowned for its lustrous silk clothing, though cotton and hemp are also used. The traditional ao dai can be found off the rack, but local tailors can also custom make these. Known as the tailoring capital of the world, Hoi An has a multitude of excellent tailors, but Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are also good places to shop for bespoke tailoring.
Ceramics and Lacquerware
Using the famous white clay deposits found near Hanoi, Vietnam’s potters produce lovely ceramic vases and tea sets using traditional glazes with intricate hand-painted designs. The best place to find these is Hanoi. Beautiful lacquerware items, often inlaid with mother-of-pearl, are ubiquitous.
Hand Embroidery and Woven Handicrafts
The minority groups of Vietnam’s Highlands excel in these traditional art forms. The designs and complex appliqué textiles traditionally used in tribes’ clothing are also applied to pillowcases, scarves, handbags, and other souvenir accessories.
Silver is a traditional symbol of wealth among many hill peoples. Ornate silver belts, earrings, and bracelets, all hand worked, are commonly available in shops in major towns and villages. Lowland Vietnamese specialize in 23 or 24 karat gold jewelry, burnished in color. It is sold by weight in gold shops in most cities.
The fine art scene thrives in Hanoi, and while famous Vietnamese artists command high fees, many lesser-known names do excellent work at reasonable prices. Any art lover should visit a gallery or two while in Hanoi, such as Thang Long (41 Hang Gai), which showcases new and established artists.
TOP 5 MARKETS IN VIETNAM
Traditional markets in Vietnam not only provide a great selection of goods at the best prices but also open a window into the lives of the locals. Here are some of the best markets:
Cai Be Floating Market near Vinh Long
Hoi An Central Marke
Dong Ba Market, Hue
Dong Xuan Market, Hanoi
- Bac Ha Market, northern hills
INSIDER TIP Haggling
Smilingly offer half of the asking price. If the counter-offer is too high, politely decline and walk away. It’s likely that a further drop in price will be offered.
From diving and snorkeling among spectacular coral reefs to hiking vertiginous mountain trails, you’re sure to find something to enjoy outdoors in Vietnam. While some pursuits require special training and high fitness levels, others, such as bird-watching or a short nature walk, are open to all.
Sapa in Northern Vietnam is the epicenter for trekking, offering not only spectacular views but fascinating hill peoples’ villages. For hiking in remote parts and visiting local mountain tribes, book a trekking trip through Topas Adventure. Most of the treks are steep and challenging, including the two-day hike up Mount Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest peak. Other great destinations for trekking are Cat Ba and Bach Ma national parks with their stunning waterfalls and lakes.
Surfing, Kitesurfing, and Windsurfing
Mui Ne is world-renowned for wind- and kitesurfing due to its nearly constant breezes. Training is available from the shops, such as Jibe’s Beach Club, who rent the gear. Conversely, the wind is not the friend of surfing, which relies on ocean swells – these are best at Danang and Nha Trang. Unless you’re a very experienced surfer, start with a small and light boogie board before attempting a stand-up surfboard.
With over 800 bird species indigenous to the country, and many butterflies, the national parks, particularly Cuc Phuong and Bach Ma, are the best places for birders. Vietnam Birding is the leading local specialist for birding tours.
Snorkeling, Diving, and Swimming
Exploring the aquatic life of the South China Sea can be as easy as donning a mask and snorkel. Phu Quoc and Con Dao islands are the best destinations for snorkeling. To reach greater depths, scuba diving is popular around Nha Trang and the Cham Islands. Trips are organized by Rainbow Divers, which has branches in all the best offshore dive spots. The best beaches for swimming are around Mui Ne and Nha Trang, as well as Hoi An, Danang, and south of Quy Nhon.
Placid waters, innumerable grottos, and spectacular scenery make Halong Bay the best place for kayaking. Overnight trips, with camping on an island, can be booked via Asia Outdoors. Other key destinations include the Con Dao Islands, Cat Ba Island, Dalat, and around Hoi An
Cycling and Motorbikin
From a two-week cycling tour from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City to an afternoon pedal to the beach in Hoi An, a bicycle is a great way to explore Vietnam. The route from Dalat to Mui Ne is largely downhill, while the Mekong Delta offers level terrain through rice paddies. Spice Roads offers tours that include homestays with locals. Motorbiking, especially popular in the North, is great for sightseeing if you have the requisite skills. Alternatively, you can hire a driver via Easy Riders.
INSIDER TIP Safety Advice
Research tour companies carefully, and check that your travel insurance does not exclude claims for any activities you are pursuing. Keep a sharp eye on the weather – storms approach quickly. Don’t have your first experience on a motorcycle here as the traffic is chaotic and drivers often don’t adhere to rules. Don’t stray from established paths when hiking – Vietnam still contains unexploded ordnance.