Thursday, February 13, 2014

Shopping Hanoi

Hanoi has quickly grasped the concepts of the glam slam and the good deal and has stores that would do Paris, New York, or Tokyo proud. The locally made merchandise is far more sophisticated than in Hong Kong and China; designer and brand business is just getting going. Obviously, you don’t go to Vietnam to buy designer merchandise anyway. I shopped nonstop for three full days and returned to Califorinia kicking myself for not buying more. The raw authenticity of the setting is pure charm; the prices are heaven (few items cost more than $25; most cost $5) and you can truly shop ‘til you drop.

The main downtown shopping area in Hanoi is called the District of the 36 Guilds and consists of small streets and alleys that make a village of shopping opps. The downtown Guild Streets are very much divided into sections—Silk Street, Lacquer Corner, Sewing Notions Avenue, etc. Go to the district and then keep your eyes open. This area is just north of Lake Hoan Kiem, locally referred to as simply “the lake”. If you’re looking at a shopping address on a business card, it may say “Hoan Kiem District” after the street address; this is so you know it’s right in the thick of things.

Altho most hotels have some shopping in them, you’ll want to shop downtown. Take a taxi to the cathedral and roam the surrounding streets. Don’t worry about getting lost; as long as you have a taxi card from your hotel, you’ll be fine. Most taxi drivers don’t speak English (or French) so make sure they understand the graphics on the taxi card.

As you probably know, this is a motorcycle culture (moto in French). Do not be surprised if you are working with your tailor or some other artisan and you are invited to hop on back their moto to go to the fabric market or some other venue with them. Wear a helmet? What helmet? This will be the ride of your life, and yes, you are likely to survive. Some how.

Contemporary art from local artists is not only the rage of Vietnam but also of Hong Kong and other parts of Asia. There are galleries everywhere in Hanoi—entire streets of galleries and neighborhoods of dealers.

I spent about five days negotiating over a painting—it was in a big heavy frame, which I obviously didn’t want. The only allowance I was given price wise for the canvas without the frame was $50. Note that it took five different visits and much haggling to get that canvas from $480 to $250. I had it framed at Michael’s in California during one of their 50% off frame specials—now it’s in my family room. When we struck the deal, I paid in USD (cash) and the canvas was taken out of the frame, rolled in parchment and put into a tube. I carried it by hand half way around the world.

I call this the No Name Gallery although it says Ha Noi Gallery out front; you will know it as the dive directly across the street, on the corner, from The Sofitel Metropole Hotel. I have bought some wonderful oils here: small sized canvas maybe 8 inches x 8 inches, flowers in vases, for $25 each. These were easy to pack, made wonderful gifts and were not expensive to have framed at Michael’s in the U.S.

Dong Xuan is a series of street markets and market buildings not too far from the Cathedral—a tad rough, but very low cost and easy to get to. This is the market you want, just avoid the live-bird portion. One floor is devoted to fabric vendors. Various portions of the outdoor streets are devoted to subject matter of merchandise—china or paper …or anything. This market can get very crowded, I have heard complaints from some Born to Shop readers. I love it, but it’s very real-people.
The Night Market is, uh, at night. This is complicated, so please pay attention. As the Born to Shop Traveler, let me tell you flat out, this is not a good market. But, there’s more to it. This is a must-do because of the location of the market to the lake, the brick and mortar stores that stay open into the night, and the little lights strung in the night sky. This isn’t about buying much, it’s about being out in the streets and part of the adventure. There's a good selection of paper-cut cards.

You'll find the best stores, but not necessarily the best prices, on Nha Tho, a short street in the heart of the shopping district, and on Nha Chung, a more mainstream shopping street. Nha Chung means Church Street; the street runs alongside the cathedral.


Nha Chung.
I went downright nuts my first time in this store—everything whispered my name, from the shawls to the bathrobes. I bought handbags, tote bags, drawstring silk pouches, and then more bathrobes. I bought so much that I got a 15% discount. I tried to charge it, but the sales clerk was not adept at using Visa and kept saying my card had expired. A few years later, the store is still good, but not as good. You never know until you try.

Hd Hadong Silk
102 Hang Gai
The place for silk scarves in all shapes, colors and sizes. Don’t miss the silk velvet blazers in the back and of course, you can have a custom dress or two made. Top quality shop.

Khai Silk
121 Nguyen Thai Hoc St.
This is the single-best-known name in local silks throughout the country. A few other branches are dotted around town, with another store in Ho Chi Minh City. This is somewhat of a TT (tourist trap) but is nonetheless a good source for everything silk from bathrobes to umbrellas. The clothes are traditional. 

Marie Linh Home Decor
38 Hang Trong
Although Mme Linh has two stores that sell fashion, you want to have a look at her home style and most particularly her lacquer work. I will not say she has the best lacquer in town, I will say hers is totally different from everyone else’s and is quite amazing, possibly collectible.

54 Traditions
30 Hang Bun
This is the single most famous and trusted gallery for local crafts, tribal arts and cultural antiques. I am still dreaming of the seven foot long articulated wooden dragon puppet that would be fabulous hanging from my high, high ceilings. The gallery is in a house, you take off your shoes to visit the various rooms which are segregated by subject matter. Shipping can be arranged.

Quang’s Ceramic
63 Hang Trong.
This is not a cutie-pie shop and may not really even be a consumer shop—it sort of feels like a hotel supply showroom. Not all of the ceramics are attractive (to my taste), but some of the wares are both stunning and inexpensive. A teapot with six cups was sold as a set only, for $12. I bought many things that I swear were twins of items I saw at Armani Casa in Milan. The company takes credit cards and even shows in Germany.

 65 Hang Gai
A small boutique offering high quality creations by local designers. Shop for clothing, accessories and home d├ęcor - silk scarves, crinkled silk dresses, embroidered blouses, and the best quilts in town. They will do custom work within a couple of days.

27 Pho Nha Tho.
Be still my heart; stop breaking What was once one of the best stores in the world is now sort of ho-hum.  While the merchandise is chic and elegant and can be amazing, you won't rate this as a life changing experience.. The brainchild of an Australian designer, Song sells home style, women's fashion and accessories.  Prices are high for the locale and you can find similar merchandise for less. On the other hand, these guys know style.

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