Top 10 Things to Buy in a Vietnamese Market

The following is a guest post by Will Peach.

Having had the privilege of living and working in Vietnam for nearly two years, choosing a favourite thing about this Southeast Asian gem is tough. From buzzing bia hoi’s, to braving mad traffic, Vietnam provides a rush like no other. If I had to choose? It’s got to be the markets. It’s home to some of the worlds most bustling, cheapest and wackiest!

From Hanoi to Hoi An, right on down to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s diverse markets each offer a distinct experience. Step inside them and you’ll be amazed at some of the crazy, wondrous and exotic delights that await.

How best to drop a few dong? Take a look at these wallet-worthy goodies.

THINGS TO BUY IN VIETNAM

Things to buy in Vietnam - snake wine!

Flickr CC brockzilla

Snake Wine

Vietnam’s answer to “Budweiser” or “Carling” (not quite), snake wine is the sort of gift likely to send your grandmother into a coronary (great if you want her will money for extra travel!) There’s not much “wine” to it – the snake is infused in grain alcohol – but at least it’s novel to look at. Believed to increase virility by the Ancient Chinese, having a bottle of this on your bedside table is probably more likely to kill the mood rather than reinvigorate it.

Conical Hat

Yes it’s obvious but you know what? I love conical hats. Owning one and popping down to your local Wal-Mart or Tesco is always going to raise a few eyebrows. Get one from the markets in Vietnam’s old capital of Hue and you can even get a little poem inscribed inside. It’ll be in Vietnamese of course. “I wandered lonely as a cone” and all that. A dollar well spent.

War Souvenirs

Do you know Vietnam and America were once at war? Who’d of thunk that eh? Especially given the good ol’ US of A’s pacifistic record (note the sarcasm there). But jokes aside, as America has done their best to forget about that little blip on their record, Vietnam, on the other hand, has turned it into a fully blown tourism business. Just as well though because the Zippo lighters you can pick up, replete with platoon philosophy like “Though I Walk Through The Valley Shadow of Death I will fear no Evil For I’m the Evilest Son of a Bitch”, make sparking up a spliff back home look even cooler.

Things to buy in Vietnam: traditional vietnamese dress known as ao dai

Flickr CC leo_nghinphu

Ao Dai

What western girl wouldn’t want a tight-fitting little silk number to take home and wow the boys? The Ao Dai, Vietnam’s traditional national dress, isn’t just for girls though. Guys can pimp themselves up too with their own tidy tunic and pantaloon get-up. Pull this off in corporate America and I’ll personally come over there and high five you.

Iced Coffee

Who would have thought that drinking iced coffee out of a bag could be so good? Known as cafe da to the locals, it’s a beverage best savoured in Bin Thanh, Saigon’s huge indoor market in the centre of the city. Supping on one always had me buzzing for hours. The kids I was teaching at the time? Must have thought I was on crack.

Ho Chi Minh T-shirt

The image of lovable Uncle Ho, despite the fella being dead for well over 40 years, is everywhere in Vietnam. Enter into a market and you’ll notice swathes of T-shirts with the good man himself emblazoned across them. Ho goes really well in pink. Any hipster worth their Smiths vinyl will tell you that.

Pho

Whether you love or hate the staple beef noodle broth, there’s no better place to get pho than in the middle of a busy Vietnamese market. Head to Hanoi’s labyrinthine Dong Xuan for some of the best in the country. I’ve seen many a backpacker go mad for a dish of pho cuon (beef wound in long thin strips of rice vermicelli, with aromatic herbs and spicy fish sauce).

Things to buy in Vietnam - weasel coffee

Flickr CC jonwick

Chon

If I told you that chon is made by a group of weasels chucking up coffee beans you probably wouldn’t want some would you? But bring a bag home for mum and she’d never need to know until after the point she’d had a nice big warm cup of weasel puke. At less than a dollar for a month’s supply? You know it’s the right thing to do!

Pig Parts

From pig’s tails to trotter to even snouts, Vietnam’s markets are the place to go for piggy produce. A stern vegetarian myself I couldn’t quite stomach the sight yet I knew many a meat-eater who would go ga-ga over the chasing of a good bit of tail. Apparently the trotters go well in soup too. I’ll let you test that out for yourself.

Watercolour Painting

Everybody’s got a soft spot for a nice little mantelpiece watercolour. Picking up a painting of a pastoral scene of Vietnam’s stunning countryside is well worth doing. The artists here, the great copy masters that they are, do their own thing really well too.

So whether it’s gifts for your loved ones you’re after or just something nice to help spruce up your hostel or house back home, the madness of Vietnam’s markets has got you covered. What’s number one on your shopping list?

21 Comments

  • Snake wine? Weasel puke? Interesting. I think I’d stick to the silk dresses and iced coffee!

  • Stephanie - The Travel Chica says:

    I’m not big on buying souvenirs while traveling, but these sounds look just strange enough to tempt me.

  • I’m with Steph–I’ll stick with the watercolors. Although I know a guy who wore his conical hat to the Texas beach, and he got lots of attention!

  • Fidel says:

    Good list. When I went to Hanoi, I purchased a lot of old propaganda posters. They look great framed.

  • theindianfoodie says:

    hey you din’t try out that Ao Dai?

  • Nick says:

    I bought 4/10 of these when I was there this year. T-shirt is still my favourite though

  • I would be tempted to buy snake wine and the Ao Dai for my friends and myself, of course.

  • vietnam68 says:

    Hey, i’m very excited to read your blog , you are really some one who know Vietnam . I like your very detailed explanation , and agree absolutely with you about this topic . Maybe, i add some tea bags, if you want to have a nice, cheap , light gift from vietnam
    vietnam68 recently posted..How to prepare well your luggage for your Vietnam travelMy Profile

  • Boris says:

    This reminds me the day I just came to Vietnam. I was ripped off many times by motorbike drivers. I have learned a lot about Vietnamese and I believe there still be honest people (sellers) out there.

  • Anne says:

    Hi,

    Liked the tips on what to buy. But just wanted to give a warning about wearing ho chi minh shirts in the US. Most of the vietnamese people in US were originally from the South, so they may take offense to wearing shirts like that.

  • How about other traditional gifts such as coffee, tea which are very popular in Vietnam?

  • Kristie Ngo says:

    Please tell me why no one caught the IMMENSELY disturbing adjective employed to describe Mr. Ho..
    Now why in the WORLD would anyone want to wear a t-shirt with the face of a man that was responsible for the deaths of hundreds and thousands of innocent lives.. why would I want his face on a t-shirt.. why would EVER i want to WEAR something like that ? lol
    He was the leader of the Vietnamese Communists – how does that make him “lovable” Uncle Ho ? I hope it’s just sarcasm .. I feel like its no different than wearing a T-shirt with Hitler on it, and advertising to others “hey everyone, make sure you pick up this awesome tee of our LOVABLE old man Hitler”. Like sure, okay. Why not I guess.
    Then again it is a free country and we can all wear whatever the hell we want anyway. I’m fine with the idea of a t-shirt, like hell. Why not. I’m just confused as to why a killer could have POSSIBLY earned the adjective of “lovable” next to his stickin name.

    And yes, I know. We are all entitled to our own beliefs, thoughts, speech, expression. It’s America, I know.

    • Dave says:

      Kristie, sometimes there are so many ways to look at something. You know who else made decisions that resulted in the deaths of many? Abraham Lincoln and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Those are just two people that come to mind. It’s my opinion that Ho Chi Minh was a Nationalist. Communism was only a means to an end. He loved America and we broke his heart. When he was our ally during World War II, we promised to support Vietnamese independence. He carried a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his wallet. He achieved what he wanted, an independent Vietnam without foreign occupation.

      Here’s what I find a little offensive. I felt Audrey was a bit callous in her mention of the selling of personal property of dead Anerican G.I.s, most of whom didn’t want to be there. I would be equally offended if the dead soldiers were N.V.A. or Viet Cong. I would be more offended if those Zippo lighters were real but I don’t believe they are actual artifacts (for lack of a better word) but rather manufactured replicas made to look 40 years old. You can buy them on eBay.

      I guess that from Audrey’s point of view, it’s okay to be thoughtless on the topic of that “little dirty war” in southeast asia. After all, to her, it’s just a chapter in the history books. While I agree with her politically and philosophically, I wish she had used a little more sensitivity.

  • Quynh says:

    I’m planning my trip back home to visit and haven’t been since I left in the 90s.

    That snake wine looks pretty freakin’ sweet, but will it get thrown out by customs? I don’t think the Vietnamese airport security will care all that much but I am worried some knuckle-dragging TSA guy in Atlanta will freak out and have me put on a no fly list.

  • NEKU says:

    My fiance is visiting Vietnam, later this year, and I was looking for a shopping list to give him. 😀
    Please tell me how much an “Ao Dai” will cost in USD please?

    • Audrey says:

      Hi Neku, I didn’t buy an ao dai so I couldn’t tell you how much they cost.

      • Huy Nguyen says:

        Hi Neku. Ao Dai which use silk and custom designed would cost you from $200 to $500. You can check all shops along Dong Khoi street in Saigon. Any others material I think the price would be less. Good luck.

  • Khuyen says:

    What do you expect in a souvenir shop?

    I’m considering to have my own souvenir shop and want to ask your opinion if you don’t mind.

    Do you want price to be listed clearly, you don’t need to negotiate so much?

    I’m thinking of making souvenir packs, which in a pack, there are different small things:
    like a magnet, a keychain, some goodies, small purse/wallet, …
    So traveller just need to buy the packs and no need to think or consider too much.

  • Annett Ceder says:

    The Vietnam conical hat is one of the few things I bought during my stay in Vietnam. I came across their snake in a bottle but I lacked the courage to buy it.

  • Valarie says:

    Travelling to Vietnam soon and I’m looking for light souvenirs. Perhaps ao dai and brocades are the best! 🙂

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