Make sure you plan before buying small gifts and souvenirs — don’t leave it to the last minute, don’t go to the cheap touristy knickknack store.
Avoid the embarrassment and regret: get things that you will admire and love for years. In fact, all of the following items we wish we’d bought more as back-ups.
Vietnam has a deep culture of exquisite craftsmanship and technical sophistication, meaning that there are plenty of affordable, good-quality items that you can fit in your luggage. Don’t miss the opportunity!
1) Bamboo/Rattan Purses – Perfect Vietnamese Gift for Young Women
- Price: 50k-200k VND
We love these hard-case small women’s purses. They’ve matured from simple round purses to a huge industry of natural-fibre fashion accessories and furnishings.
They’ve exploded on Amazon, as savy dropshippers have tapped into the trend — but you’ll find that sourcing them directly from the streets of Hanoi will be cheaper and you’ll have much more variety.
They are small, robust, and look stylish: you should load-up on several of them as gifts for your female friends.
FUN TIP: You can actually visit the manufacturing villages where these and other handicrafts are made — it is an interesting experience to witness how traditional Vietnamese culture is adapting to global capitalism. Read more here.
2) Rượu Bàu Đá – Specialty Vietnamese Alcohol
- Price: 500k VND for 500ml
Rượu Bàu Đá is a type of specialty rice wine that comes from the village of Bàu Đá . The town boasts of a special herb-laden watershed that gives the alcohol special properties.
The ornate bottles are themselves a wonderful gift, and can be proudly displayed by any collector. Beware of cheap knock-offs — try to procure the wine from reputable shops (perhaps at the airport).
The town is an example of a traditional guild village: in the past, such villages were singularly dedicated to a one high-quality craft for Vietnamese aristocrats. Today, the ancient springs have dried up, but the multi-generational craftsmanship lives on and fuels an increasingly sophisticated high-end spirit for the Vietnamese domestic market.
3) Stretchy Elephant Pants – Fun and Comfortable Vietnamese Clothing
- Price ~60k-100k VND
These stretchy pants are a favourite among boho/hippie travelers. We love them just to wear around the house. In public, they are guaranteed to start a conversation.
One size fits all, affortable; a nice “solo-backer around the world” type of look. Make sure you buy more than one (you will regret it if not!)
4) Small “Copy” Painting – A Gift to Showcase Vietnamese Talent
- Price: 275k-500k VND
Vietnam has amazing painters and a thriving art-scene. While original & signed paintings will cost you $2000-$6000 USD, there are many affordable unsigned art-pieces that are spectacularly beautiful. Technically, they are called “copy paintings” — they operate in a grey area between outright copies and hand-made reproductions.
Due to weak IP regulation, there are dozens of copy painting shops that sell un-signed, high-quality art for $30-$100 USD. A nice 10x10inch painting can easily fit in your luggage and will brighten anyone’s wall. Our only regret is that we didn’t buy five-times more of these beautiful little creations. If you find one you like, get more!
Our favourite art-pieces are the flowers, trees, and abstract cityscapes. If you are in Hanoi, go to Hang Gai street or Dinh Liet street to find many of these galleries, both original and copy-painters.
RELATED: Our favourite promising and talented Vietnamese painters who paint amazing dark cityscapes.
5) Vietnamese “Weasel Coffee” – A Gift for Coffee Enthusiasts
- Price: 200k/kg
Vietnam’s tropical-meets-temperate mountains allows the production of a wide variety of coffees. The most luxurious of which is the weasel coffee: the coffee comes from a unique fermentation process wherein the coffee-berries are ingested by a mongoose-like animal known as civet-cat. This natural fermentation apparently removes harsh & bitter phytochemicals from the berries, making them more palatable and pleasant.
My favourite is to get a big sampler pack — collect 200g from each of the major coffee regions of Vietnam. For example, Dak Lak, Da Lat, Tay Nuguyen. I love coffee and I can’t imagine a more satisfying gift that a geographic flavour-tour of the remote highlands of Vietnam.
6) Dried Exotic Mushrooms – A Vietnamese Gift for Foodies
- Price: 70k for 100g
One secret to making great Vietnamese cooking, such as homemade spring-rolls, is the use of a variety of special mushrooms. Such mushrooms are both revered and commonplace in East-Asian cuisine, but they are rare to find in Western groceries. These are often the missing ingredient when Westerners try to replicate East-Asian dishes, which then end-up bland and boring.
For example: dried wood-ear mushrooms (mộc nhĩ), black-fungus mushrooms (nấm hương), or oyster mushrooms (nấm sò) are very common in Vietnamese food. You can buy these dried-goods for a very reasonable price at any supermarket in Vietnam. A little goes a long way — one meal would typically only use 3-8 mushrooms — they add a slight proteinaceous flavour.
These make great gifts for anyone who wants to make authentic Asian cuisine.
7) Hoa Dào Ornaments – an Elegant Traditional Vietnamese Ornament
- Price: 60k-300k VND (depending on material)
These ornaments have quasi-religious significance: they are meant to bless the bearer with wealth, good fortune, and happiness. The more elegant ones have real marble and gem stones. They work perfectly as Christmas Tree ornaments, making them a suitable gift for older female relatives who enjoy Christmas decorating. Or, they can serve as simple wall-hangings.
They can be found at the more popular temples, such as the Temple of Literature in Hanoi.
8) Ceramic Tea Set – A Traditional Vietnamese Gift
- Price: 1,000k to 3,000k VND
Tea ceremonies are incredibly important in Vietnamese culture.
Most of the high-end tea-sets are from Japan or China, who are revered for their tea cultures. However, there are still many exquisite Vietnamese-made tea-sets, especially if you are traveling near Hanoi and can visit the artisanal ceramic village of Bát Tràng which is approximately 10km from Hanoi.
9) Propaganda Posters – An Unusual Souvenir for History Buffs
- Price: 200k-900k VND
For a uniquely Vietnamese souvenir, get the old style Viet Cong propaganda posters of the 1980s.
These posters may seem hostile and anti-American, keep in mind that Vietnam is now courting more free-trade agreements with the West (e.g. CPTPP) and seeks the USA’s support to deter China’s colonialist aggression in the South China Sea. These posters are little time-capsules of Vietnam’s history and can be appreciated for their historical content, rather than the country’s current geopolitical ambitions.
Look for them in the highest-density tourist areas of large cities.
10) Lacquerware – Nghề Sơn Mài
- Price: 900k – 4,000,000 VND
This exquisite art-form is, at its core, predicated on applying a thin coat of sap from the “Japanese sumac tree” (Toxicodendron vernicifluum). The sheen and durability of the lacquer-coating gives the artwork a distinctive look.
However, the real appeal of the technique is due to the innovation and variety of natural materials used in making the painting/arrangement. For example, artists will use egg-shells, sea-shells, and gold-leafs as inlays, in addition to a variety of natural-pigments.
Due to the rare-nature of lacquer sap and the long, arduous process of slowly applying layer upon layer of the coating, such works can be pricey. However, there are a wide variety of other small lacquerware products that can make great gifts, such as jewelry boxes (hộp đựng trang sức sơn mài), lanterns, flower vase, furnishings and various accessories.
11) Phin – Vietnamese Coffee Filters
- Price: 120k VND
There is no reason not to get a Phin. Although the coffee-maker it is not as dramatic as an espresso maker, it can come in handy when you least expect it: camping trips, a coffee-less office…
If you are Hanoi, you can procure hand-made phins straight from the metal workers on Hàng Điếu or Hàng Thiếc streets. The trip alone is interesting to see the grimy street-level manufacturing happening right before your eyes — not the most romantic trip but very exciting for consumers who care where their products come from.
12) Feng Shui Statues – Gifts for Superstitious Colleagues
The majority of Vietnamese offices have feng-shui statues, the most popular of which is Tỳ Hưu: a mighty mythological beast who is like a dragon/lion/dog combo. He has a big mouth and no anus, so that he can grab all the luck and retain it inside the body.
If you need a good office gift for your boss, the Tỳ Hưu is a solid choice. It is especially good to procure one at the base of Marble Mountain in Da Nang — which is incidentally one of our favourite, most beautiful pagodas to visit.
RELATED: Learn more about Vietnamese superstitions about luck and success
13) Lanterns – A Festive Souvenir from Vietnam
- Price: 20k – 70k VND
There are many different types of lanterns — so beware. Festival lanterns are traditionally made of paper and bamboo. Their colours distinguish the event: red for Tet and weddings, white for funerals. Nowadays, they can be campy and cheap (imagine the cheapest Christmas ornaments sold at Walmart) or they can be hand-crafted and expensive.
Another type of lantern are the colourful, fabric laterns from Hoi An. These secular lanterns are meant for colourful illumination, rather than for specific one-time festivals. They are more durable and asthetically pleasing. It is said that Hoi An lanterns were first introduced to Hoi An by Chinese merchants in the 1600’s.
14) Embroidery Housewares – Old Vietnamese Craftsmanship
- Price: 300k – 5,000k VND
Nicely embroidered pillow covers, stylish table cloths, duvets, mats, and more — exquisite linens and fabric-works are a big business in Vietnam, which originates from their amazing master-craftsmanship in embroidery.
Near Hanoi and HCMC, you can find plenty of shops with good-quality mass-produced products at a reasonable price, as well as hand-made artisan goods. Some are made by women’s coop’s in Mai Chao or Sa Pa, while others are made from local high-end fashion designers.
There is famous Tam My in Hanoi, a multi-story maze of exquisite clothing and fine-linens. But also Look around the streets near Nhà Thờ not far from St. Josephs Cathedral, where there are many more tiny boutique shops.