Wandering through authentic local markets in Asia is an entire (and completely valid) reason for jumping on a plane for many of us. It’s the sights, the sounds, the colours, the smells; all accompanied by some great bargains to please and satisfy the most extreme shopaholic.
In Vietnam, it’s all about the markets. There’s no faster way to a true travellers heart than the thrill of discovering an authentic local market, and not just a souvenir haunt targeting tourists. You could call it a travellers treasure hunt!
Shopping in general is a delight in the big cities, but where do you go to discover the real market life and authentic local crafts of Vietnam?
Thanh Ha Village
Between the World Cultural Heritage sites of Hoi An and My Son, take a trip to Thanh Ha Village in Quang Nam province. Since the 16th century, Thanh Ha locals have preserved the ancient craft of pottery and create pots, vases, cups, and some beautiful tiles, all in the same tradition as their forefathers. Locals welcome visitors and are happy to teach you some of their talented skills.
Khmer mao (hats) and masks are traditional and sacred parts of costumes used in festivals, cultural performances, and local opera. Created from fabric and a kind of paper m¢ch©, skills have been handed down through generations using heads crafted in the shapes of sacred animals represented in their spiritual culture.
The creative process is labour intensive. First moulds are created from plaster, covering and shaping in clay, followed by the application of fabric and paper. The framework is left to dry for a few days before the artist’s brush is applied to make the characters come to life.
The results can be quite spectacular in their detail, and artisans take their work very seriously and requires a solid understanding of Khmer culture. On the most part these mao and masks are made to order for approaching festivals.
In the northwest of Vietnam, Sapa is a cool and welcome escape from the tropics, and home to the town of Lao Cai. The local ethnic minority of Mong, Dao and Tay, create unique crafts for visitors you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. Look for sellers outside the old stone church and street side.
For years the way to get around in Vietnam has traditionally been by bicycle. While the motorised variety has somewhat taken over, this country still has an abundance of bicycles, and a great heritage to go along with it. In Hanoi, next to the city’s West Lake, each weekend bicycle lovers gather to celebrate old traditions. On the corner of Thanh Nien Street, you can find legitimate vintage bikes, some in pristine condition.
Original Peugeot bikes from the 1950s, Mecier, and many others, the majority of which date back to the 1960s. You may not be able to fit it in your carry on, but it’s a wonderfully authentic piece of Vietnam.
It’s also a lovely place to see the local elder generation chat and reminisce about the good old days.
Fabric in Ho Chi Minh City
In the Chinese quarter of bustling Ho Chi Minh, the Soai King Lam market is a fabric lovers dream. The atmosphere is electric with around 500 stalls and shops offering clothes, fabrics and handmade accessories.
The market is made even more pleasurable by the warm friendliness of the sellers, and are known to speak a number of languages. It’s well worth a shopping for a bargain type mission.
Pack a big bag and go shopping in Vietnam, and for all information or assistance regarding visas for Vietnam, check out Vietnam-visa.com.