It is no secret that one of the reasons why people go to Vietnam is to go shopping. Hanoi is peppered with “Made in Vietnam” stores that sell factory overruns or seconds of branded clothes like Banana Republic, for example, whereas Ho Chi Minh City seems to be more popular for The North Face items. Shopping in Ho Chi Minh City is an adventure in itself and could take an entire day. There are plenty of places and items that would surely quench anyone’s shoppinglust.
Number one on the list is the Ben Thanh Market where lots of goods are available, from the conical hat, Non La, to the made-to-order wooden clogs. Others like scarves, ceramic wares, souvenir shirts and ethnic bags are also everywhere. One thing to note about the Ben Thanh Market is that its vendors are very used to having tourists around so during bargaining, be firm or start walking away from the store so they would go shouting after you and asking for the price that you want. I’m no good when it comes to haggling and I think we got ripped off a couple of times, but well, help for the local economy right? Hehehe.
On one of the streets close to the Ben Thanh Market was the store called Tony Fashion. There, the boys bought Onitsuka shoes that were more or less original-looking. They were very happy with their purchase.
A much better shopping place than the Ben Thanh Market would be the Saigon Square. It is less rowdy and there is air conditioning as well. One significant thing I noticed was that the vendors were not quite as aggressive as in the Ben Thanh market. They won’t grab your arm or peddle off their items to shoppers. They’d just sit there and chill until such time as you deemed it worth your time to ask them for samples, etc. We were able to buy cheap The North Face bags in Saigon Square at one of the stalls where lots of Filipinos were also buying them. Yes, we also walked around several times but that store seemed to have more stocks and choices.
Admittedly, we were excited to go to Ho Chi Minh because we were looking forward to buying some cheap stuff. For the boys, they wanted to buy some cheap The North Face bags and Onitsuka shoes, which they did. Of course, everyone was initially being OC about whether or not they would be buying fakes or originals. We did take some time in checking the internet as to how to tell a fake from the genuine thing. We found that for original The North Face bags, things to look out for are the whistle, the hologram and the orange stitching. For original Onitsuka shoes, the logo should be printed with light green ink instead of bright green and that the insoles should be fixed and not removable, etc. But really, if these things get published on the internet, what’s to stop a manufacturer from adjusting accordingly?
So towards the end, I don’t think it mattered anymore whether or not the bags and shoes they bought were original or not. The items did look convincingly “original” but sold at a very low price. And since they would be used for everyday wear, they should be able to last long enough to get some real value for money.
Anyway, there are lots of choices for stuff to bring home as pasalubong. First, I recommend getting the Trung Nguyen instant coffee (63,000 VND: 1 box of 21 sachets), Vietnam’s most famous coffee brand, from the Ben Thanh Market. Better yet is to buy their filtered coffee that should come with a filter to use. You can also check out their kopi luwak or civet coffee, but this should be priced at least six times more. Other good deals from the Ben Thanh Market would be the cashew nuts, the omnipresent keychains and ref magnets. Just make sure to haggle.
Other pasalubong items could be found during the Mekong Delta Tour, such as honey from the bee farm on Unicorn Island, some coconut or durian candy and the plate-sized banana chips near the coconut candy factory on Phoenix Island.
Anyway, other places where pasalubong could be found are in the Saigon Central Post Office. However, those items though tend to be more expensive than the ones in Ben Thanh Market and bargaining is not possible since the items have tag prices on them.
Read more: Ho Chi Minh City Tour
The Handicapped Handicrafts where we had our stopover on our way to the Cu Chi Tunnels is also a good place to buy some beautiful decorative lacquer displays. And if you buy there, at least you’ll know that a part (or all?) of your money would go to the handicapped people who created them.
A final tip on shopping in Ho Chi Minh: Be conscious of your luggage weight. The airport people from Cebu Pacific are very strict about this. They measure everything, like one hand-carry bag per person, not weighing 5 kg, and the check in luggage should not weigh more than 7 kg. Otherwise, it is 10 USD per excess kilo. Lots of people, including us, in the check-in counter had difficulty with this.
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