#1- Nón lá - Vietnamese Conical Hat
One thing you can hardly miss in Vietnam is their iconic conical hat called Nón lá. Locals around the country (especially the countryside) wear Nón lá during the day to protect themselves from the sun or rain, depending on the season.
Did you know that the first appearance of Asian conical hats dates 3,000 years ago?
If you're looking to get Nón lá as a gift or souvenir, don't worry as you can find these hats everywhere. Locals usually use palm leaves and bamboo to make Nón lá hat.
It's interesting how styles differ depending on the region. For instance, in the northern province of Thanh Hoa, people tend to wear a hat featuring a wider frame, while Hue is famous for a thin leaf hat and Binh Dinh for extra small and thick hats.
The best place to get a traditional Nón lá would be Chuong Village that sits just about 30 km from the capital.
As we've already mentioned, people can find Nón lá on every step in Vietnam, so don't worry if you're not visiting villages or the countryside. A visit to any night market will present you with a vast variety of conical hats.
Prices in the market and touristic places vary - 20,000 - 150,000 VND is what we usually see as the price tag. In the countryside and specialized local shops, the prices won't exceed 20,000 VND.
#2- Áo dài - Traditional Vietnamese Dress
Áo dài, a silk-made traditional long dress, is probably one of the most recognized Vietnam souvenirs you can find. The history of Áo dài dates back to the Nguyen dynasty (19th century) who required court people to wear Áo dài. During a colonization era and 1950s, international designers saw massive potential in Áo dài and decided to create a modern, unisex dress that is known today as Áo dài.
If you ever find yourself wandering around the Old Quarter in Hanoi or the Ancient Town in Hoi An, you'll see mainly Vietnamese women walking around wearing traditional Áo dài with different graphics, colors, and styles. When picking Áo dài, think about the contrast - trousers should contrast a dress color (see on the picture above - red/black combination).
The most popular place for tailoring Áo dài (and other clothes) to your size is Hoi An. Since the town became extremely touristic, prices of tailoring Áo dài climb through the roof, so don't forget to negotiate. People usually wear Áo dài during significant holidays, such as Tet Holiday or Mid-Autumn festival.
The prices for a tailored Áo dài usually start at 700,000 VND and can reach 2,000,000 VND depending on the fabrics, colors, graphics, and shop.
#3- Thuốc lào - Tobacco Bong
Thuốc lào, or Nicotiana Rustica, is a particular sort of tobacco that contains up to 10 times more nicotine than the regular one. It's fascinating how a tobacco bong ritual can be found only in the northern provinces while it's tough to see anyone smoking Thuốc lào in the south. Locals love to get a nicotine hit from a bong after a big lunch accompanied by a cup of Vietnamese coffee and herbal tea.
Since tobacco is powerful, people usually feel dizzy or high after inhaling through the pipe. Never take massive hits from the beginning, but instead start small and slowly increase.
Thuốc lào is a term for unique tobacco, while a water bong is called Dieu cay or Dieu bat, depending on the material. As we've already mentioned, the best place to find a pipe and tobacco is Hanoi, Thanh Hoa (best tobacco by locals), and Nghe An provinces.
Prices may vary, but expect to pay around 200,000 VND for a bamboo or metal pipe and up to 700,000 for a wooden one (which might be harder to carry it back home since border regulations).
#4- Traditional Vietnamese Coffee & Coffee Phin
What would be a better souvenir from Vietnam than delicious and potent coffee? Did you know that Vietnam is the second-largest coffee exporter in the world? Well, that says everything about the coffee in Vietnam. Once you set your feet in Vietnam, you'll see coffee everywhere. Locals are talking with sips of strong coffee and tea, a coffee scent on each step, and booming of cafe shops.
Coffee in Vietnam is rooted in culture. Vietnam mainly produces Robusta beans, but Arabica can be found in the Highlands, especially around Da Lat and Buon Ma Thuot, which is regarded as the capital of coffee in Vietnam. We recommend visiting local farms and families producing coffee in the Highlands if you're looking to bring coffee back home.
The prices from the farms usually start at 100,000 VND for 200 grams of packed coffee beans. In the markets and shops (Big C, Vincom, locals markets), you can get Trung Nguyen for about 70,000 VND (350g).
Don't forget to get a coffee phin (filter) for about 30,000 VND that will make a delicious Vietnamese coffee.
#5- Guốc Mộc - Traditional Wooden Footwear
Wearing wooden traditional footwear in Vietnam dates from Nguyen dynasty times when people started to wear Áo dài, Nón lá and famous Guốc Mộc. The beautiful and oldfashioned wooden shoes can be seen on Vietnamese women during special occasions such as the Tet Holiday celebration, Mid Autumn Festival, or similar.
The history of wooden footwear in Vietnam is fascinating since farmers were mainly working barefoot until the Tran dynasty in the 15th century. Did you know that indigenous people living in Cao Bang province (near China border) wear stone clogs? During the Nguyen dynasty, wooden clogs became mainstream footwear among wealthy people, and soon after August Revolution in 1945., the first factory for producing wooden clogs was opened in Hue.
The rest is history. Nowadays, we had a chance to see older women wearing Guốc Mộc while driving around Nghe An countryside. Apart from that, I've seen plenty of artistic traditional footwear in Hoi An during the Mid Autumn Festival (authenticity is questionable).
You can get your hands on wooden clogs around the Old District in Hanoi or Benh Thanh Market in Saigon or the Ancient Town in Hoi An.
You can expect to pay around 250,000 VND in these touristic places for a pair of wooden clogs.
Silk might remind you as a luxury, but the times when the elite and royal family only wore silk were far behind us. These days you can find loads of silk products, long dress (Ao Dai), shirts, and much more on the markets and stores. For instance, Hoi An is widely recognized by tailors who're going to make beautiful and elegant clothes from silk for your size.
Are you looking to buy high-quality silk in Vietnam? Head over to Silk Street (Hang Gai Street) in Hanoi's Old District, and you'll be surrounded by hundreds of small shops and silk vendors.
In Hoi An, there is a popular Cocoon Silk store that not only specializes in selling silk but also educates people about silk and its history. Other great places to buy silk are Cam Chau (Silk Village around Hoi An), and Toan Thinh Silk in Saigon.
Expect to pay around 100,000 VND per meter of Vietnam silk.
#7- Herbal Tea
Did you know that Vietnamese tea is considered as a hobby of older people? You see, you can't miss getting some tea as a souvenir from Vietnam back home! There are many different types of tea consumed in Vietnam and the most popular are lotus, jasmine, and green tea. It's not surprising that wherever you go to Vietnam, you'll see people, young and old, enjoying green tea while socializing.
The best place to buy tea is by far Thai Nguyen province (around 150km north from Hanoi). If you don't go there, try your luck in Lai Cau or Da Lat.
Jasmine and green tea costs about 50,000 VND per 100 grams, while Lotus tea can reach 1,000,000 VND for 100 grams. We bought a delicious tea (don't know what it was) in Trang An area (Ninh Binh province) from our guest house.
The tea was a mixture of many herbs, roots, and leaves, but the majority of people in that area consume tea like that. We remember it was the most delicious tea we've ever tried.
The price was around 200,000 VND for around 100 grams.
#8- Do Paper Postcards
Do Paper is a particular type of paper made from the inner layer of do trees. This paper had a crucial role in Vietnamese tradition and history since the folk artists throughout history were painting the historical moments and events on this paper. Nowadays, do paper isn't widely used, but relevant documents, books, and valuable paintings are still printed on it.
The most famous art made on Do paper is by far Dong Go painting. Sometimes, it can be tough to find a store that sells do paper, but don't worry, we have you covered. Head over to Craft Link or small shops on Hang Gai in Hanoi's Old District.
There you can get traditional postcards, notebooks, shiny pictures, greeting cards, and much more for the price starting at 30,000 VND.
p.s. If you're looking for digitalized postcards from Vietnam, don't hesitate to check our postcard page.
Also, we're creating digital postcards on demand, in case you're looking for something creative and original. :)
#9- Traditional Hand Embroidery
Hand embroidery is rooted in Vietnamese culture so deep that even Vietnamese ancestors liked to say:
"Men read books and recite poems. Women have to do embroidery and sewing."
You can find literally anything embroidered, including sheets, quilts, pillowcases, table runners, bags, sleep dresses, and much more.
The majority of embroidered products differ in prices, quality, and material, so pay extra attention while buying. For instance, locals tend to buy hand embroidery made from cotton or silk as they believe it's the best. If you're heading to Sa Pa or norther provinces where ethnic minorities live, be sure to take a visit around the villages and support their hard work. Embroidery from the north is arguably the best and most durable.
Buying embroidery in Hanoi is effortless and can be found around Hoan Kiem lake. Check out Hang Gai street and Hang Da Market (2nd floor) for creative handmade embroidery products.
Expect to pay up to 300,000 VND for bed sheets, up to 150,000 VND for a handbag and around 200,000 VND for napkins.
#10- Traditional Musical Instruments
Traditional Vietnamese musical instruments by Shankar S.
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Music plays a huge role in the life of the Vietnamese people. Once you stay in Vietnam for a while, you'll soon realize that almost anyone plays at least one musical instrument. I was positively surprised when walking through tiny streets in Hanoi or Da Nang and hear uplifting local music. People tend to gather, get tasty local food, and play guitars, and other musical instruments.
Also, they always encourage people to join them, so how to say no to that? During my time in Vietnam, I've learned to play the guitar and I actually bought one. You can find musical shops on each step, even in smaller places and the prices are reasonable.
I've got my first acoustic guitar (Chinese version) for around 1,500,000 VND (around $65) which is a nice deal. Anyway, chances you have someone in the family who's passionate about the music are high, so getting a musical instrument would be a nice gift from Vietnam.
The best musical instruments that go as handy souvenirs from Vietnam are:
- bamboo flutes (schoolkids usually play it!)
- miniature Trong Com (a colorful Vietnamese drum)
Since these instruments are made from different types of wood, be sure to check with your airline and immigration since some materials are restricted. I faced a problem of bringing a wooden Thuoc Lao (tobacco bong) when I was coming back to Croatia but was happy that my girlfriend could take it. When buying Vietnam souvenirs, the best places to check are the main local markets.
Each town or city has its market where you can find anything, from food and souvenirs, to live animals and motorbikes. You name it. If you're in Hanoi, head over to Dong Xuan Market. In Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), you should go to Ben Thanh Market, while in Da Nang it's Han Market. For smaller places, just do a search on Google Maps and look for Chợ - a Vietnamese word for the local market.
The prices for musical instruments start at 30,000 VND and can easily reach 2 million VND. Always bargain!
Vietnamese food is extremely diverse, but rice stays staple food. If you've ever eaten with a Vietnamese family, then you know how much rice they eat. I've been living with a local Vietnamese family for more than 4 months, and I can't remember a single day without a bowl of rice. As a soup goes perfectly with a spoon, the rice goes well with chopsticks.
I don't know anyone who didn't start to use chopsticks on a daily basis after returning from Vietnam. You can't miss with a set of traditional chopsticks. You can find basic chopsticks at any local market for the price of 10,000 VND.
I've bought a whole wooden set (around 10 pairs) for about 20,000 VND. If you want to be fancy while eating, aim for metal chopsticks or the ones with the art such as dragons.
#12- Vietnam T-Shirts
I simply love Vietnamese t-shirts! Buying t-shirts is a whole experience for itself since there are so many options to choose from. While buying Vietnam souvenirs, you can't miss by getting one, or two or ten t-shirts. Since Vietnam is one of the biggest manufacturers in the world, it's not strange that the t-shirt market is enormous! You can find t-shirts in various colors, sizes, text, graphics, funny slogans.
During our last trip, we initially planned to spend around an hour at Ben Thanh Market in Saigon, but we stayed the whole afternoon. Be careful as your wallet will get smaller and smaller - it's addictive.
p.s. the prices vary, but I'd say an average for a printed t-shirt is about 100,000 VND. Don't forget to bargain as locals are masters in getting a better price from you.
Here are some of the best catches during our shopping:
We hope our list of 12 souvenirs from Vietnam will help you in deciding what kind of traditional product you'd like to bring home. There are still many other conventional products you can take as souvenirs, but we didn't mention all since some are too big or heavy to be practical for transportation. If you have any other ideas, feel free to share it with us. Enjoy Vietnam! ;)
Please share your Vietnam souvenirs ideas in the comment section.