All photography by Christian Berg
Tribal textiles are prized possessions for tourists in Vietnam as the opportunity to see and buy such uniquely exquisite, hand-stitched craftsmanship is a rare luxury to those visiting from the West. Vietnam has a rich variety of ethnic groups (especially in the north) that relatively still makes their livings the same way today as they have done for hundreds of years. Buying authentic textiles from recognised dealers helps to keep their way of life and artistic skills alive. Fabrics typically start from $15.
Propaganda posters & prints are everywhere in Hanoi. Plaster your walls with bold graphic memories of Vietnam’s political ideology and patriotic nationalist past. You can pick up a colourful piece of history for as little as $7.
When you return home from your Vietnamese adventures, a set of chopsticks will probably be the cheapest, yet most iconic reminder of all those delicious, piping hot bowls of phở and bún chả you ate on your journey. Starting at $1 per pair.
Silk products are available in most stores around the Old Quarter in Hanoi. Everything from sleeping bag liners to dressing gowns to áo dàis can be bought for very reasonable prices, but the best place to buy authentic Vietnamese silk is on Hang Gai street (Silk Street) where you will find tailor shops stacked sky high with a rainbow selection of silks ready to be sewn into a design of your choice. $10 per meter.
Vietnamese coffee is what most tourists would probably write home about. Cà phê đá (black coffee), cà phê sua đá (coffee with sweet milk), cà phê sữa chua (yoghurt coffee), cà phê trứng (egg coffee)... the delectable list of caffeinated beverages just goes on and on. Vietnam is the world’s largest exporter of Robusta coffee and they sure know how to make the most of it. You can pick up a single-cup filter (phin cà phê) and bag of local coffee for just $5.
Paper lanterns are never ever a bad idea. Flat, packable and ready-to-go, these traditional lanterns will add a touch of sensual Vietnamese style to any garden or bedroom and are available in a spectrum of spectacular colours and materials from $4. Go for the silk variety if you’re feeling indulgent.
Dó paper is handmade paper produced from the bark of the Rhamnoneuron Balansae tree. Traditionally, Vietnamese Đông Hồ paintings depicting ages-old folklore were printed on sheet of dó. This charming artistic process truly encapsulates Vietnam’s history, imagination and craftsmanship. Prices vary depending on the print.
The áo dài is a national symbol of traditional Vietnamese beauty, femininity and sophistication, especially in Hanoi. The elegant tunic consists of long sleeves, stand collar and side seam slits up to the waist and is usually worn with palazzo-style pants. Vietnamese women can be seen wearing áo dàis on a daily basis in Hanoi, but it is most popular at weddings and around Tet holiday (Vietnamese New Year). The dress shirt and pants combo start at $25 per set.
Puppets and masks are used in traditional Vietnamese theatre productions and festivals throughout the year. Made from bamboo, palm leaves and lacquer, the masks are a popular sight in the north. The brightly painted faces represent the emotions of characters from folktales and legends.
Lacquerware in Vietnam originated from the Hanoi College of Fine Arts under the French occupation in the 1930s. The time-consuming skill is a technique that seals paintings, inlays, engravings and gold leaf designs under layer after layer of tree sap. Goods variously priced.
Bamboo bowls, baskets and bathmats are some of the products popular with both locals and tourists. This versatile material can be handcrafted into a multitude of traditional and modern designs at prices suitable for every budget.
Vietnamese herbs and spices are the perfect gift for all those foodies back home. Recognised as the foundation of all the culinary sensations consumed around the country, Vietnamese cuisine is praised around the world for its brilliant balance of fresh flavours, mouthwatering smells and tantalising textures. Nearly every destination from the Mekong Delta to Sapa offers regional cooking classes at varying levels of difficulty, so why not take your channel your inner masterchef and take a taste of Vietnam home with you? Sachets of herbs start at $3.
Conical hats are the most recognisable and classic symbol of the Vietnamese silhouette. The handwoven, palm leaf hat is rich with history, cultural sentiment and designed to protect people from the rain and sun. These are worn by people of both sexes and all ages although you’ll see it is most favoured by those prone to working outside in markets, rice paddies and on the water.