Keepsakes from Vietnam

One of my favourite things about going on holiday is discovering the pretty little objects that are unique to a country and that will ultimately take up way too much space in my luggage on the way home. Whether you’re buying from street vendors, or in one of the exquisitely elegant boutique stores, shopping in Vietnam is a pleasure (and ridiculously cheap – so buy everything)! I’ve never been one for useless little souvenirs or tacky trinkets, I prefer things I can actually use in my home, so here are some of my favourite things to buy in Vietnam:

Pottery

I’d long had my eye on Vietnamese pottery, ever since I visited a store (Nam) on Columbia Road in London that imports bowls and other items from Vietnam, at prohibitive prices.

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A lot of the pottery in Vietnam is made in a village on the outskirts of Hanoi called Bát Tràng, located in an area rich with white clay, perfect for pottery making.

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The village has a long history of pottery making and can be traced back as far as the 14th century AD. You can tell the ceramics are all handmade as no to pieces are quite the same. I’m going to use the fish bowl above for dipping sauces (perhaps even fish sauce!) and the cup below for infusions and teas. I was really captivated by the dragonfly design, and bought quite a few pieces with dragonflies – a ladle with a rattan handle, mugs, and a bowl.

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If you want to buy pottery, head to Indigenous on Ấu Triệu in Hanoi for the best selection and best prices.

Water puppets

The Vietnamese water puppet show (múa rối nước) was one of the most captivating performances I’ve seen. Exciting dragons breathing fire, fairies dancing enchantingly across the water, a Punch and Judy style hunt for a fox and many more surprisingly entertaining sketches await you!

The puppets used in the show are made of wood and then lacquered. As they spend every night in the water, the lacquer quickly wears off and the puppets are no longer fit to perform (we were told that they are replaced every 4 months or so). However they do then make excellent mementos to take home!

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The puppets aren’t expensive – ignore the people that say that they’re selling antique puppets, for there are very few true antiques left in SE Asia, and they’re certainly not being sold on the street!

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Hand-carved stone

In all the shops in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City you’ll see little red and black coloured stone boxes, carved with pretty patterns – dragonflies, bamboo leaves, elephants as well as stone ornaments. However I loved the plain coloured stone best which was rarely seen in the street stalls! The boxes below are from Tan My design on Hang Gai in Hanoi.

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Rattan

I love anything made from rattan, and this little elephant themed bowl is adorable yet also very useful. Spotted at Cafe Noma in Hanoi where it was used to store napkins!

photo (7)Buffalo horn

Buffalo horn is really popular in Vietnam and all the tourist shops sell it en masse. The horn is made into a number of different objects, from plates to jewellery, combs, salad serving spoons, and ornaments. It’s hard to believe that the brown ridged horns on the buffalo can create such a beautiful material. The black buffalo horn is incredibly cheap, while the prettier(in my opinion) white horn is surprisingly expensive.

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Paper 

It might sound strange, but Vietnam is known for its handcrafted paper and the different posters and notebooks on sale make wonderful gifts. Most touristy areas stock a range of replica propaganda posters prominently featuring pictures of Uncle Ho along with other symbols of Vietnam such as the lotus flower. I however preferred the movie posters, with their vibrant colours and unique designs. I bought a poster of a drawing from the Little Prince for myself and a poster of The Life of Pi as a gift. I love the minimalist style!

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Hanoi is significantly cheaper than Saigon, so don’t get carried away in Saigon – you’ll regret it later (the shops in Hanoi sell all the same stuff, if not more!)

Whether or not you decide to buy anything on your trip to Vietnam, it’s still a lot of fun to wander in and out of the markets and browse the charming little handicraft stores. Although beware, you can easily end up spending far too much time shopping!

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6 thoughts on “Keepsakes from Vietnam

  1. Hi,

    I stumbled upon your lovely blog while trying to find out where I can find movie posters like the “Life of Pi” one that you have.

    I saw a lot of them whilst I was in Saigon and Hoi An. Believing that I will find them at my last stop in Hanoi and not wanting to risk damaging them on my way up, I skipped them altogether. And now that I am in Hanoi and with one last day to go before I leave, I can’t seem to find them anywhere!

    Do you remember which street or area in Hanoi where you purchased them? Thanks so much.

    Regards,

    Derek

    • Hi Derek,

      Actually now that I think about it, the one thing that I did buy in Saigon was in fact the movie posters! (On the road to Binh Thanh market) Having said that, Mã Mây (street) in Hanoi had a lot of touristy style shops! Might be worth trying there? Sorry for not being more helpful!

      • Hi Sarah,

        Thanks for your reply, I found a couple of shops along Trang Thi road that sells em. The selection is not as great as compared to Saigon but I’m not gonna complain.

        Thanks again for taking the time and replying to me, much appreciated. :)

        Cheers,
        Derek

  2. Hi Sarah,

    I returned back home to Singapore on Christmas day! This is actually my second trip to Vietnam, the first was 5 years ago. During that trip I only covered Hanoi and Sapa. This time around I started in Saigon, then to Dalat, followed by Hoi An, Hue and lastly Hanoi. Spent about 3 weeks there and I am having withdrawal syndrome already.

    I really like Hoi An and I have to say Hanoi and Dalat too. I loved the local coffee in Vietnam and their food.. Basically, I am in love with the country. My girlfriend, Irene insists that I must’ve been a vietnamese in my past life during the vietnam war. Ha! We actually met in Sapa 5 years ago. Irene started taking horse riding lessons this year and she is really enjoying it, but we don’t have vast landscapes in Singapore to really get into it. You have lovely pictures of you and your riding trips :)

    Anyways, it’s the last day of the year. You have a great one and a wonderful 2015 ahead! Stay in touch.

    Derek

    • I never made it to Dalat, Sapa or Hoi An unfortunately, only Saigon, Hanoi, Mui Ne and Ha Long! Which was your favourite place? I miss it too, but mainly because of the lovely weather and the food – and you have both of those in Singapore so I dont feel too sorry for you! ;)

      What’s the riding like in Singapore? Do you have the nam of the plave Irene rides? Some of my best friends live in Singapore so I really need to go visit them! :)

      Happy 2015 to you too!

      Sarah

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