It's sad and I really do not want to promote piracy but folks looking for bargains on books, even though they are pirated ones, may just find yourself lucky in HCMC! There are many stalls and peddlars, especially around the main backpackers areas, hawking Lonely Planets guides (for almost everywhere) and popular novels and travelogues (especially those by Bill Bryson). Bargain hard if you really wish to go for these, and you can get them for US$4-5 or less.
What to buy: Bill Bryson's travelogues are a hit, (poor Bill must be crying at the loss of copyright fees) as well as Lonely Planet guides.
Short of ideas for a gift to bring to your folks back home? This shop offers great quality woodwork, craftmanship and artwork in most beautiful colors, all at very reasonable prices. Now back home, I am sorry that I didn't buy more of it. But it is always possible to order by e-mail.
What to buy: Have a look at the website. The quality (and the price) may vary, depending on the paint finish.
What to pay: Most items cost between 2 and 15 USD.
I NEVER thought I’d make this recommendation! If you’re like me you’ll want to LIMIT THE READING MATERIAL YOU BRING INTO VIETNAM
The reason I am saying this is twofold.
1) I found very little time to read while I was in Vietnam. Even when I needed to unwind I found myself looking out my window or chilling in a café watching the action on the street rather than picking up a book. In fact, I didn’t read a single book my entire time in Vietnam (I cannot say this about any other country I have visited)
2) Local children in the big cities sell a wide variety of books at inexpensive prices…so buy your books from them…they cost less than you’ll pay at home AND most of the children selling things on the street are doing it to supplement the families meager income so they can afford to go to school.
Tourist areas in Saigon and Hanoi are filled with children carrying several feet of books in their arms. If they don’t have a book you want ask for a catalogs and take a seat… They talked me into buying 7 books…one I bought just for the title, “There is no Toilet Paper on the Road Less Traveled”
Underprivileged children, Land mine and agent orange victims are all on the street trying to make a living. So buy your bottled water, travel guides, books, post cards and tiger balm from them and make their life a little better. It may cost you a few cents more but it will make a big difference in their lives.
The "copy" book peddlars are found along the streets in HCMC, pretty comon sight in the Backpackers Street and the last time when I was at War Remnant Museum, there's a Vietnamese young man selling them to tourist who are there to check out the museum.
I'm not a big fan of fake goods etc but I have to admit that the 'copy books' are pretty attractive (esp if you only need to spend a fraction to get a copy of the various versions of Lonely Planets, books Cu Chu Tunnels etc). They are pretty hard to resist and looks pretty good! Tip : If you have set your mind on getting a copy, ask them if you could open up to check the pages (sometimes, the pages might be "glued" together by accident or printing might be truncated).
What to pay: Just bargain . Should probably not pay more than US$8
As you stroll along the streets you will notice people trying to sell you lonely planet book. Beware that these are fake books and if you are interested to buy one, be ready to bargain the price like crazy. I have known a guy who got a lonely planet book for as low as USD3. Think you can beat that?
The FAHASA in Q1 I think its on Nguyen Hue has a good selection of maps. You should at least have a map of sai gon which are cheap and easy to find.
FAHASA locations -- www.fahasasg.com
often can be found above a coopmart
Or Nguyen Van Cu - multiple locations. fair about of giftage etc
What to buy: maps and gifts to avoid cho ben thanh
What to pay: average