What souvenirs are available to bring home?
Silk is probably high on most people’s list, either tailored or as uncut cloth. Hoi An, in central Vietnam, has become the place to get clothes tailor-made, but you’ll also find good tailors in Hanoi along Hang Gai and in Saigon. Beautifully embroidered cottons are another popular choice, as are printed t-shirts in a whole range of designs.
Traditional craft items include laquerware, items decorated with mother-of-pearl inlay, conical hats, carvings made of cinnamon and camphor wood, bronze Buddhist bells and musical instruments. A water puppet also makes a nice memento. Fabrics from the various ethnic minorities are either sold in lengths or made into bags, purses or skull-caps. Minority groups in the south produce wonderful basketry and bamboo pipes.
Vietnam has a thriving fine arts scene, with some artists commanding substantial sums, though you need to be wary of fakes. Galleries in Hanoi, Saigon, Hue and Hoi An also show works by lesser-known artists at more affordable prices. Look out also for lovely, hand-painted greetings cards.
Note that export restrictions apply to all items deemed to be of “cultural or historical significance”, including works of art and anything over 50 years old. To take any such item out of the country you’ll need an export license. Even if it’s a modern reproduction it might be worth getting clearance anyway, since customs officials aren’t necessarily very discriminating.
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