|Vietnam Shopping Guide|
Until a few decades ago, the most memorable thing about Vietnamese store was the emptiness of its shelves. Today, the scene has changed dramatically, as shops all across the country are over flowing with a variety of products; including distinctive conical hats, fine silk, designer clothes, colorful lamps, delicate ceramic ware, and elegantly carved bamboo furnishings – all available at surprisingly affordable rates.
Perhaps the most converted of all goods are the traditional wares, such as exquisitely embroidered textiles, handicrafts, and jewelry made by Vietnam’s ethnic minorities. While upmarket malls are present in major cities, the local markets and the shopping streets and districts of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are the best places to shop. However, Hoi An, with its amazing array of lacquerware, apparel, and craft is ultimate shoppers’ paradise.
Most city shops open at about 8am and do not close until late in the evening at 8pm or 9pm. The newer malls and department stores in big cities open by 10pm. The traditional markets, such as Ben Thanh in Ho Chi Minh City and Dong Xuan in Hanoi, generally operate from sunrise to sunset. Some of these offer a thriving night market on the street outside as well, which runs untill midnight. Virtually all retail operations operate seven days a week. However, during Tet, some shops shut down for a few days, while others open later than usual.
How to pay
Though the Vietnamese dong (VND) is only legal tender in the country, nobody would refuse a US dollar. In areas that are very popular with visitors, especially the more expensive districts, most shops prefer quote prices in dollars rather than dong. The reason being that dollars are more profitable for sellers than the dong because of its fluctuating exchange rate. Hence, as the buyers, always try to pay in dong as it will be cheaper.
All major credit cards are accepted in high-end-shops, hotels, and restaurants in big cities and major resort towns and villages, as well as at local bus stations, markets, street food stalls, and other such places, only cash is accepted.
Rights and Refunds
As a general rule, all sales are final. Though some of the new department stores in big cities may offer a return policy, by a large, once money, goods or any service have changed hands, there is no going back. Some goods, especially electronic items such as cell phones, do come with a guarantee. But even here, it covers replacement, not refund.
Unless you are in one of the upscale new stores or malls, the asking of price of anything other than food or drink is not the final price. Typically, the rate quoted is more than what the merchant is willing to settle for. This applies to services such as cyclo and Honda om rides as well. As such, be prepared to bargain.
Effective negotiation requires three things. First and most importantly is a pleasant attitude, even a sense of humor. Remember that this is not just a commercial transaction, it’s a social encounter. Secondly, be ready to spend some time. You cannot get the price down from US$ 50 to US$ 25 easily. A transaction of that magnitude can take up to ten minutes. And lastly, try walking away. At times, this prompts a drastic reduction in price.
Department stores and malls
Though increasing in number each year, shopping malls in Vietnam are still relatively rare. Most of them can be found in Ho Chi Minh City, including Diamond Plaza, the country’s newest, biggest, and most exclusive retail center. It offers a range of high-end products at prices to match. Located in the city’s popular District 1, it also has a movie theater, super market, and bowling alley.
Nearby is Parkson, a classy, four-story department store, boasting brands such as Nike, Guess, Estee Lauder, and Mont Blanc among others. It also has a supermarket and several eateries. The centrally located Tax Trading Center host numerous stores, and offers better prices than most, and Zen Plaza, with six floors of outlets and cafes, is ideal for anything from clothing to furniture and artifacts. Close by Saigon Shopping Center, excellent for consumer electronics. For browsers in city’s Cho Lon district, An Duong Plaza has many stores offering a range of goods, including a wide variety of Asian items.
In Hanoi, Trang Tien Plaza is an international level shopping center, hosting several brands, both foreign and local, while Big C Thang Long supermarket is not just a great place to buy quality foodstuffs. This two-story mall has goods ranging from fresh food to appliances, garments, home decorations, and electronics. The first four floors of the massive Vincom City Towers are a hub for shopping and entertainment. It also has a food court that serves an eclectic selection of international cuisine.
Markets and Street Vendors
While modern malls seem to be cropping up in large cities, the traditional markets are still the best places to shop. They are considerably cheaper, and ideal stopping points to absorb the city’s atmosphere. The biggest markets in Ho Chi Minh City are Ben Thanh in district 1 and Binh Tay in Cho Lon. Both carry an amazing selection of products, from clothing and groceries to appliances and furnishings. For imported foods, drinks, personal items, accessories and much more, the Old Market is worth a visit.
In Hanoi, Dong Xuan Market is a favorite among visitors, and carries a vast array of household goods, as well as clothing, souvenirs, and more. For a great selection of fabrics, visit Hang Da Market. You can also get clothes tailored here. One of the most charming markets in Vietnam is in Hoi An. While the day market teems with clothes, lacquer and ceramic ware, silk, footwear, and handicrafts, the night market is ideal for a fascinating evening stroll.
In addition to local markets, the streets are overflowing with roadside vendors selling souvenirs, kitchenware, counterfeit goods, and clothes.
Shopping Streets and Districts
All the streets in Hanoi’s Old Quarter are named after products once sold there. For example, Ma (paper) Street offers paper goods, Hang Gai (hemp) Street has rows upon rows of silk shops, Chieu (mats) Street has rush mats and bamboo blinds, and Thiec (tin) Street offers tin and glass items, as well as mirrors. Although the placement of products on these streets is not so strict today, they remain excellent places to browse the wide range of goods at bargain prices.
The main shopping district in Ho Chi Minh City is Dong Khoi, with a huge selection of outlets selling clothing, antiques, arts and crafts, and home furnishings.
Vietnam is simply packed with counterfeit goods, which can be bought on almost any street corners. The commonly purchased articles include Rolex watches, army dog tags, and Zippo cigarette lighters with regimental markings.