Thursday, January 3, 2013

Shopping in Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi

People say that you can buy a lot of things in HCM city in Vietnam - Well, it actually depends on what you want to buy. The most famous market in Ho Chi Minh city is the Ben Thanh Market. It is like the Divisoria (Manila, Ph) of Vietnam! Other than the delicacies and souvenirs unique to Vietnam, it is very similar to Divi -- The narrow aisles, crowded stalls, overflowing class-A or overrun products and a much humid climate! Ben Thanh is unique in several other ways though. It is divided into several sections like dry goods, textiles, local cuisine and souvenirs including the áo dài. Reminder: When in Ben Thanh, do wear comfortable clothes and bring a lot of patience with you as this is a big big place with heaps of tourists and a mix of locals visiting everyday.

This is actually my second time to visit Ho Chi Minh city. The first one was from a cruise trip and we had HCM as a stopover. We also went to Ben Thanh that time and nothing much has changed. The dry goods were just so-so. We were highly doubtful of the quality and we find it hard to believe that those products are overruns. Yes, a lot of products are "made in Vietnam" but that doesn't make them real/ authentic. It might look the same but the quality will be different.

We asked our tour guide the best thing to buy as gifts for relatives back home "pasalubong". Their answer was coffee beans. Our local tourist guide recommends to buy these coffee beans from their famous homegrown coffee shops like Trung Nguyen and Highlands Coffee. (Highlands coffee is already in Manila!)

We bought the hand embroidered painting on the left in a tourist stop called ABC Stopover for 310,000 VND (620 pesos)
Since we had limited time, the best place to get local souvenirs would be Ben Thanh Market. They have a wide range of merchandise for sale. Clothing, bags, shoes, local coffee beans, souvenir magnets, decorative plates,  keychains - you can find them all here! Just don't forget to haggle. Our tour guide informed us to haggle at least 50% off, off the price! For example, I bought the plate above (to the right) in Ben Thanh market. The original price was 400,000+ VND. We haggled it down to 250,000 VND. (Here's a trick to convert it to peso. Don't be intimidated with all the zeroes. What we did was remove the last 3 zeroes and multiply it by 2. Therefore, 250,000 less 3 zeroes is 250 then you multiply it by 2. 250,000 VND = 500 pesos more or less. (Click here for Google's conversion)

At night, Ben Thanh market closes but the streets outside it convert to a night market. At night, they mostly sell shirts, shoes and food. More photos from Ben Thanh Market:
Local delicacies
Coffee beans!
Random items?
Disclaimer: Pho from hotel breakfast. Not Ben Thanh.
Back to Ben Thanh, you can also get your authentic Vietnamese "Pho" noodle soup too! We just didn't have dare to try it because of hygienic reasons as we saw the preparation. It looked great though and some of my cousins said that it was the best Pho ever.

Tip: Other than Ben Thanh, typical package tours will bring you to various "tourist spots" where they sell merchandise with high profits (Like the ABC Stopover below). We highly suggest you to visit Ben Thanh instead because prices here are much cheaper and yes, you can still haggle their price unless stated that it's fixed.

Recommended: For those who get dizzy because of too much people, I suggest Saigon Square (B). It's a good walk from Ben Thanh Market (A). It's not as crowded and merchandise for sale are more organized - this is actually what most people say as we didn't get the chance to go here due to lack of time.

ABC Stopover(en-route to Ha Long Bay)
We stopped at this tourist center for tourists and they sell a wide range of stuff from Jades, to hand embroidered paintings (as seen in the photo above, beside the plate) to local delicacies and bags (Kipling). For those who love jewelry shopping, they say that Jade here is good. Of course, you will need to do your due diligence and check it for yourselves. We were able to buy an authentic Kipling bag here for $75 USD. That same bag is being sold in Manila for more than 5,000 pesos. (There's free WiFi here!)

Branded goods
Before going to Vietnam, I've read in various trip sites like Tripadvisor, Virtual tourist etc that you can get good deals on several branded items that are Vietnam made like North Face, Samsonite, Kipling etc. Well, it's not that easy to find those good deals because when we went to a shop Hanoi, there were a lot of stalls selling "The North Face" bags and as per inspection, I highly doubt they are authentic. This shop was a recommended shop by both the tourist guide and some review sites.

We did get a slightly good deal at the Tan Son Nhat Airport in HCM city. We got a Le Sport Sac bag at USD 120. Here in Manila, it is being sold for 7,450 pesos. Not too sure though if all branded goods are cheaper there but it is suggested to check prices here so you have a base amount for comparison and better study the quality and design to make sure that it is authentic.

Oh, and Don't fret if you run out of VND on hand as most of the sellers accept US Dollar!

More about Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay soon!

Related articles about Vietnam:

Vietnam Shopping Guide
Bhaya Cruise Day 1 - Activities, Food and the Cruise
Bhaya Cruise Day 2 - Surprise Cave 

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