Hanoi, for me, is an ideal shopping destination. In the French Quarters, you can buy luxury goods (Chanel, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Valentino). In the Old Quarters, you can buy raw materials at wholesale prices. In between, there is high street. This is not a comprehensive shopping guide to Hanoi, but this is what I thought were the good things to buy in the charming city.
This topic will be limited to certain areas in Hanoi (French Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake, and Old Quarter) because these were the only areas in Hanoi I was looking for somethings to buy. There are so many things to buy in Hanoi and, I am very impressed that even their souvenir shops sell good quality products, so it was hard for me to choose which products to buy given my shopping budget of $100 and the fact that we would still be traveling for the next 20 days.
The French Quarters is home to luxury brands. Hermes is in the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel. Gucci and Valentino are in boutiques just across the Metropole hotel. If you go up further on the direction to Hoan Kiem Lake, the Trang Tien mall houses more luxury designer brands. A Louis Vuitton Neverfull monogrammed (big) is $1,400. The sales lady said I could save by buying there as compared to buying in the Philippines especially with the tax refunds I would be able to get at the airport. I would not really know if what she’s saying is true. I was asking for my sister. The luxury brands were enticing but I thought they paled in comparison to the clothes and accessories sold at Thuy Design House at No. 9 Trang Tien in the block across the Hanoi Opera House. Most of the clothes and accessories were made in embroidered silk and in contemporary design.
Five blocks down, at 53A Hang Bai, I fell in love with O’Hara. It was by accident that we were there. We rode a taxi from the Temple of Literature and we were supposed to go to Giang Cafe. I showed the address of Giang Cafe to the driver but he dropped us off at an automotive shop. I guess it was not the fault of the driver because Vietnamese addresses are quite tricky. It turned out to be a wonderful accident anyway because along the way, I saw a pink polka dot maxi dress at the window display and I had to go inside. Unfortunately, after trying on the largest size (XL), I still could not fit the pink dress. (Good to note: Most Vietnamese women are slender so curvy women would have a problem fitting into clothes made for Vietnamese women. I found I could not zip/button the chest portion of most of the O’Hara clothes I fitted). I did find a good linen dress. O’Hara’s clothes are French romantic. The colors are muted — peach, rose, cream, olive, orange, mustard — and the designs were simple and uncomplicated. At the second floor are cocktail dresses in black and red.
Technically not in the French Quarter, but still not in the Old Quarter, is Hang Trong St. It is between St. Joseph’s Cathedral and Hoan Kiem lake and below Hang Giang. I loved the shops there because, while the area near St. Joseph’s Cathedral was filled with tourists, this street was emptier and there were shops selling variety of local products. I enjoyed looking at leather goods, modern styles of basket bags, more Bat Trang ceramics (see photos above), fair trade goods (coffee and soaps), and framed photographs (see photo above). The prices are more expensive though but I picked up 2 packets of ready-to-brew coffee as souvenir.
When it comes to women’s clothes, I think the Old Quarters is as local as it can get. I would classify the clothes there into three: (1) the “Made in Vietnam” clothes, (2) the “made for Vietnam” clothes, and (3) silk and linen clothes. You can easily spot the “Made in Vietnam” clothes because these stores have big “Made in Vietnam” signage. I went into several of these stores and they sell clothes most similar to H&M clothes. This is not surprising because most of H&M’s clothes are manufactured in Vietnam. The “Made in Vietnam” clothes start at 50,000 for tops and 250,000 for dresses. The “made for Vietnam” clothes are different. These are clothes made for Vietnamese women so they are “Vietnamese style.” There are boutiques around the Old Quarter selling various degrees of luxuriousness and I am drawn to their cocktail dresses because they are very flirty. However, as I have discovered in O’Hara, the clothes made for Vietnamese women are not forgiving to curvy women. There are also shops selling clothes made for Vietnamese women in wholesale prices. If you fancy their style, I think you can drive a bargain.
As for the third classification, there were few silk and linen shops in the Old Quarter. At Hang Gai street, Tan My Design has chic linen clothes. But in the same street, I also saw a small shop making and selling linen clothes of simpler design and at a lesser price. While you are in that street, to complete your outfit, you can pick a basket bag at the basket bag store (see first photo) and a hat at the Dong Xuan market (800 meters, about 10-minute walk from Hang Gai). I would suggest though that, if you want to get your clothes cheaper, you buy from shops farthest from Hoan Kiem lake. (Good to note: Some shops ask you to leave your footwear at the door. Best to wear slippers or slip ons).
Other products I loved at the Old Quarter are Ba Trang ceramics. There are several shops selling solely ceramics from Ba Trang but I loved the shop along Pho To Tich. In fact, I loved Pho To Tich (a small lane across Hang Gai St.) because there were almost no people on a Sunday and there were shops selling ceramics, silks, and wood wares. We settled in a shop selling Vietnamese antiques and bought two pairs of wooden chopsticks. Haha. Ba Trang village is just 30 minutes from Hanoi, so if you want to buy more ceramics at even cheaper price, you can check the village out. A teacup and saucer set can be priced as high as 350,000 VND at stores nearer to Hoan Kiem lake. To get to Ba Trang village, go to the Long Bien station (outside of the east gate of the Old Quarter) and ride the No. 47 bus.
In between the French Quarter and the Old Quarter are numerous boutiques and shops. What I did was stroll through as many streets as I can and take note of things I’d like to buy, and go back on our last day to buy those things. The Old Quarter, for me, is the best place to shop. It still is the trading center of Hanoi so locals also frequent it. For me though, to get the essence of the Old Quarter, walk past Hang Bo street and there would be lesser tourists, more varied merchandise, and cheaper prices. Now, if you ask me what I bought from the Old Quarter . . . 500 pieces of bamboo toothpicks.