Local Crafts, Hanoi
Along Hang Manh you can find many shops selling crafts and products made of bamboo. Ask for the prices from different shop to check out the prices. Most shopkeepers know how to speak simple English especially the numeric price :) Then when you see something you really like, slashed the price by more than half and bargained. At best with determination, you can get it at 50% of the listed price. If not, you should at least get it at 75%.
What to buy: Bamboo shades. But try and buy it on the first day as you can wear it around for the fun of it. If you find it too cumbersome to bring back, you can always pass it to another tourist.
What to pay: I paid 10 000 VND for this. The asking price was USD 2.
In all the shops I went to in Hanoi, this shop owner was the only one that didnt push her products. Even though I didnt buy anything from her as it was only my first day there, she helped me with directions to get to my restaurant. I guess this is good customer service. A look around her products, the price tags looked reasonable but "bargain" is still a must.
What to buy: In this shop you can find, ceramic ware, stone ware and masks. I like the colourful ceramic tea set with a wooden tray. It is good for display or a gift.
What to pay: It really depends on the quality. On average about USD5.
Dong Xuan market is located in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Superficially, the external facade of the building looks like a railway station. When you enter the building, you will see rows of stalls selling goods like local handicrafts, kitchenware, clothes, household products, electrical products and other miscellaneous stuff. There are altogether 3 levels of such stalls. Bargaining is the order of the day. Do not be afraid to slash the price by 50% or more.
After browsing through Dong Xuan market, step outside and you are in the heart of the Old Quarter, a labyrinth of streets and lanes with shops selling a wide variety of clothes, shoes, belts, fake designer wear, Vietnamese crafts, silverware and other things.
What to buy: Lacquer ware: these take the form of fruit bowls, chopsticks, flower vases and jewellery boxes
Wood carvings: carvings of Vietnamese women and other objects
Vietnamese conical hats
What to pay: The prices are negotiable. For example, a set of 10 pairs of lacquer plated chopsticks will cost around 30000 to 50000 VND.
All along the Old Quarters, you will find small shops selling local crafts - good as souveniers - magnets, bookmarks, handbags, trays, little key chains, embroidery pouches, wood carvings, small marble statues, T-shirts, dresses ... so many to choose from.
What to buy: All local crafts
What to pay: Ranges from 500dongs to...... unlimited
The area around Hoan Kiem Lake in central Hanoi has dozens of shops full of nice souvenirs. In this area, I purchased a hand-stitched scene of the sunset over a Vietnamese lake. The designs in this type of art are made with individual strands of thread, beautifully arranged to form a landscape design. The price was around US$3 or 4.
The other souvenir I bought in this area was an egg shell painting that I purchased from a nice little shop where the owners spoke French rather than English. I think this cost about US$5.
I found that Hanoi had the best and most original artwork. Sure, if you want a copy of Monet or Van Gogh painting, you can get that anywhere in Vietnam - cheap. But if you are looking for something original, out of Saigon, Hue and Hoi An - Hanoi had the best artwork. There is a gallery across from Hoan Kiem lake - in a temple. They had the best work.
What to buy: silk, rice papers paintings or embroideries paintings
Wooden crafts in the form of masks, marionettes, boxes (lacquered and embellished with mother-of-pearl), chopsticks, incense holders, cutlery, keychains and bookmarks in the design of local Vietnamese or minority tribes make good souvenirs.
Chances of bargaining successfully increase if you buy more, so go with many friends and travel mates. A good gauge is to cut the price by a third of what's offered and gradually increasing to less than half. If you don't really want, don't budge. There are some not so enterprising shopkeepers who don't play the game - I think it's better to go to another shop.
If you fancy some local silk lanterns or lacquerware as non-pricey souvenirs, head to the Old Quarter. Remember to bargain hard.
What to pay: About 5,000VND for small lacquerbowls. Up to US$15 for quality stone lacquer / lacquerware (box about size of palm)
You can also give the artists a photo of yourself or a loved one and have them paint it for you. They usually take about 3 days or so, tailored to your requirements of course. Wander round and observe them at work before deciding on an artist whose style you really like.
Another beautiful alternative are lacquer paintings! Again you can get local art or repros of impressionist paintings made into lacquer egg shell paintings. I bought several when I was in Vietnam, including one of Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss"... polished to a high shine, with very attractive colours on a gleaming black background, these would make a nice addition to any home.
You may wish instead of buying repros to buy great original art by the local Vietnamese painters... scenes of villages, schoolgirls in their white ao dai and triangle hats, landscapes and waterscapes are of very high quality.
Many shops try to overcharge the foriegner. I was walking street by street asking the price for this small ceramic vietnamese doll. The price range from 10,000D to 15,000D.
Finally I got this good deal in a shop in Cao Go, 5,000D. The shopkeeper mistaken me as a vietnamese because I was using vietnamse to ask her the price.
"mot gai baun nyiur" (how much for one)
Some of them can easily recognise you are outsider, some dont. I am just lucky.
At the Old Quarters you can shop and shop and shop. Look out for traditional arts and handicrafts. Many of the '36 streets' of Old Quarter once upon a time in the 1300 if not earlier refered to the type of guilds... the tin, paper, coffin etc street.
Cat Dang and Kinh Bang - famous for lacquerware
Tu Van and La Xuyen for wood-carving
Dong Sam forjewellery.
Huong Canh, Phu Lang, Bat Trang, Mong Cai and Dong Nai pottery and porcelain-ware.
Lacquered carvings or lacquer ware, embroidery works, buffalo horns items, ceramic pots, lanterns, lamp shades, clothing...just to name a few.
I am now considering having curtains made there in my next trip to Vietnam....
Very good paintings of rather unknown artists, therefore affordable.
Not the US $ 3000 range as elsewhere (see photo, bought last year in Saigon) but US$ 200 - 300.
Bought three paintings there, very happy now!
What to buy: Everything!
You can find silk scarves and other local crafts in shops in many of the bigger hotels. You'll pay a premium, but you can still bargain.
The scarf on the left was purchased in a hotel shop. The one on the right was purchased at Craft Link -- see my "support local artisans" . I can't remember which place the middle one came from :)))
What to buy: Silk scarves are wonderful purchases -- they are fun to wear and give as gifts AND they don't take up much room in your luggage:)
Vietnamese silk is usually much softer and more supple than Thai silk -- but it depends:) The scarf on the right is "raw silk" and has little more "body" than the other two.
What to pay: Depends on the quality -- from $6 to $20 USD??